Juliana Hatfield: 20 Questions (Circa 2012)

In early 2012, Juliana Hatfield was deep into her second PledgeMusic project, this one to raise funds for an all-covers album. As with her first Pledge project, she offered a variety of premiums – if you pledged a certain amount above the baseline, you could get original artwork, autographed memorabilia or even a cover song of your choice. The latter would have been the best, but she was asking $1000; a tad too much for my budget. I opted for the much more reasonable $20 premium, “20 Questions.” It was exactly what you think: you e-mailed 20 questions to her and she e-mailed you back with her answers.

It was so much fun that I did it again; the bulk of that Q&A fueled Juliana Hatfield’s Bed, Unmade.

These 20 are a mix from both sets (though mostly the first).

Is white chocolate your favorite drug?

Yes! (Often, when I say “you” in a song I mean “I,” like in much of “Sunshine,” and often, when I say “I” in a song, I mean “you.”) Although I have recently really cut down on the sugar, almost completely—I was/am kind of a sugar addict and I realized it was dragging me down.

What are your go-to albums, i.e. the ones you’ve returned to over and over again throughout your listening life?

Really, just all the classics that wouldn’t surprise you—stuff that stands the test of time and isn’t dated like a lot of other stuff: Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, stuff like that.

What was the first 45 or LP you purchased with your own money?

It might have been Soap Opera by the Kinks. I don’t remember the details, but I remember loving that album and listening to it tons and singing along with my best friend, Robin.

Which of your albums/songs do you consider your best (and why)?

I think there are good moments on every record but i think that none of them is great all the way through. I feel I haven’t made my best album yet—it will be down the road.

You almost named “There’s Always Another Girl” after a phrase from John Irving’s “The World According to Garp,” “Speeches Delivered to Animals and Plants.” What are some of your favorite books/novels and have they (ever) influenced your songs?

Sometimes books get into songs—phrases, titles, ideas, characters—but I think more often it is films that work their way in. “Mabel” is all about the character of Mabel from “A Woman Under the Influence” and “Vagabond” from There’s Always Another Girl is named after the French film Vagabond—and the song is all about the film, about the girl in the film, a very haunting film.

When you’re on tour promoting a new album or just doing a one-off show, how do you decide on the set list?

Oh, God, the set list-writing is always a shambles. I have no system and no organizing principle and It’s always a stressful half-hour before the show when I sit down and think, “Shit, what the heck are we gonna play, and what first, and then what, and then what? How do I make it flow?? What do I do???” And it’s kind of a nightmare and I never get it right. I think that what I need to do is spend a long time, pre-tour, creating a perfectly conceived and constructed set list and then just do it every night—the same list—so I don’t have to waste all that time and energy worrying and stressing about it right before I go on, when I am already nervous about everything else anyway.

I remember reading on your (old) blog about your participation at a Bruce Springsteen tribute concert. Are you a fan of his?

I really haven’t ever heard an album of his from start to finish. I would say I’m really only familiar with the radio songs. Honestly, I never really connected with him on a deep level, but then again I might just be ignorant of a lot of his music, so i can’t really say I have a super-informed opinion. The tribute concert just seemed like such a fun thing that I couldn’t pass it up, and I chose to do one of his radio hits (“Cover Me”).

“Rats in the Attic” from “Made in China” has a very distinctive Neil Young & Crazy Horse vibe to my ears. Was that intentional or just a happy accident?

Just accident. Of course, I love Crazy Horse, but I never set about to do anything in particular or to take from anywhere specific—I try to do my own thing and not let influences be consciously manifested or contemplated.

My wife Diane and I saw you at the World Café Live in Philadelphia with Evan Dando in early 2011. Wonderful concert. Have you two given any thought to doing a duet album together? (If not, you really should.)

I think that would be really fun. If we can get our schedules together maybe it will happen. We haven’t had a lot of luck writing together so we might have to do an album of cover song duets.

julianawhenigrowupWhat led you to write When I Grow Up?

I always wanted to try and write a book, to see if it could be done, and I couldn’t think of a story idea, so I just wrote a tour diary, and then later I added the bits about things on the past, to give the tour diary some context.

In the book and on your old blog you wrote quite openly about some of the issues (depression, anorexia) you’ve faced in your life. Very brave thing to do. Did you have any doubts about doing so?

Naw, not really—I just went ahead and did it, like I always do. It is only later that I had doubts. Now I wonder why I did it and I am kind of embarrassed that I wrote about all that.

Why did you take down your old blog?

I don’t remember. I guess I like to have control of what goes out into the world. I had it up for a while and then I felt done with it, so I took it down so it wouldn’t keep being reprinted and redistributed after its time, after it felt relevant to me.

In your book you write about liking Olivia Newton-John as a kid. If you were to cover one of her songs, which would it be?

I don’t think I could do any of her songs. I thought about [it] for this covers album, but nothing feels authentic when I try to do it. She had such a sweet voice and a personality and could bring to life songs that I wouldn’t be able to bring to life. And some of her songs are really goofy.

My wife and I are huge animal lovers – though we’ve always had cats, not dogs. How have your animal companions improved your life?

My dogs keep me humble. And they get me out of the house. They live honesty and directness; they don’t play games—they let me know what they want and need, when they want and need it. And patience—they will wait and wait without complaining. And gratidude—they are grateful for everything. And they live in the moment, each moment, and they don’t ever hold any grudges. Plus, they keep me warm on cold winter nights when they sleep on my bed.

You opted out of the major-label world in the ‘90s. In retrospect, would you make the same decision again?

i don’t have any regrets, no

MP3s, CDs or vinyl?


How do you find new music?

People tell me about things and I read about things and I hear about things. Only a few weeks ago I was reading the Sunday New York Times and someone was talking about liking an album by the National. It made me curious about the National. I know—well, I know now—that they’ve been around for at least 10 years, but I’d never heard their music. But this little thing in the Times made me go and research the band (listening to snippets on iTunes) and now I am a fan.

Which up-and-coming singers do you like?

I am sort of out-of-the-loop. Nothing is coming to mind. Is that weird? I keep discovering old singers that are new to me.

I recently found myself in a conversation with someone who insisted that the illegal downloading of music only hurt the record companies. “The artists make most of their money from touring,” he argued. Please respond.

It’s not true in my case—I don’t draw big crowds. It’s actually really hard for me to make any money on tour unless I tour by myself, with no band and no more than a one-person crew (a guy who does sound and tour manages. I thank God I found someone who can do both important jobs really well at the same time (saves money not having to pay two separate people to do the two jobs). I have gone on the road with absolutely no crew (to maximize my earning potential) and I can tell you that it’s really not fun at all, or healthy having to do everything by myself—all the driving, moving/loading equipment in and out, trying to get paid at the end of the night, getting directions and planning to get to each venue on time, booking hotels in each city, counting and setting up T-shirts/CDs, doing interviews, patiently and gratefully talking to and signing multiple things for all the fans who want it (this takes up precious time which I could alternatively be using to take care of all the other multiple things that endlessly need taking care of when you are the talent, the tour manager, the roadie, etc. etc.), not to mention playing the gig without a band or anyone to back me up. etc. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying that your source is wrong/misinformed/ignorant/brainwashed. Some people (Madonna, Radiohead, and many more lesser-known artists who are not me but who draw better than I do) make tons on the road but I don’t make much playing live, when you take into account all the expenses of bringing a band on the road (renting van/bus, tolls, parking, gas, airplane tickets, paying everyone decently, hotels, per diems, etc. etc. etc.). Since i own most of my masters, post-Atlantic records, and I am paid directly for any purchases of my music, I think my job/life would be easier if everyone who downloaded any of my music paid for it. If they did, I could tour more—I would have more money with which to go on the road properly and slightly comfortably—and if I were a bit more comfortable on the road I would be happier and healthier and I would play better and I would play/go on the road more often. But I do have to say that it is impossible to calculate how many people have been turned on to my music for the first time via illegal/unpaid download. It is good to win new fans, but it does seem that not many new fans are coming out to my shows, so I don’t know how much all the unpaid music is benefiting me.

What advice would you give to an aspiring young rock musician?

Don’t be afraid to say no, often!

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