Juliana Hatfield: “There is some biting stuff on this album – the Fender Mini Twin is cute, but it makes really good fuzz sounds”
Since the delivery of his first solo album Hi baby in 1992 – or perhaps since the co-founding of the cult Massachusetts college rock unit, the Blake Babies in the mid-1980s – Juliana Hatfield built one of the most impressive and eye-catching catalogs of all independent rock.
At least from a technical point of view, this consistency was called into question when the musician started working on her 19th full solo, Some blood.
After the untimely demise of a once-reliable digital 8-track, Hatfield spent the first few months of the pandemic reluctantly learning how to use GarageBand, on which she followed much of Some bloodguitars and synthesizer work (overdubs eventually took place at Q Division studios in Somerville, MA).
Like Hatfield’s work on recent efforts like 2019 Weird or Andy Summers-celebrating the same year Juliana Hatfield sings the police, Some blood tracks like Mouthful of blood run away with heavy guitar hooks and synthetic mellotron.
From the jump, however, Some bloodintroduction of The shame of love takes a wild pivot of the model via ultra-compressed “coarse” guitar textures recorded by laptop mics, and collaborator Jed Davis’ almost EDM production touches that rips Hatfield chords into ribbons of digital noise. That said, the innate meaning of Hatfield’s melody remains unchanged.
Talk with Guitar world, Hatfield entered the bowels of Some blood, the surprisingly big bite of a Fender Mini Twin, and how a recent round of live performances is bringing some impressive and deep bloody cuts back into the limelight.
In terms of tones and textures, there’s a lot to unbox with the disc opening, The shame of love – the fuzz, a few touches of electronic production. Even with the clatter of this intro, it looks like an unplugged electric or blocked acoustics. What happens with these first sound moments?
“Well, for some of the songs, I was working with a guy from Connecticut named Jed Davis. He was helping me troubleshoot GarageBand, which I had never used before. I would text him and he would guide me so I could figure it out. Then I started sending him little music samples, just to have fun.
“A lot of songs started with me sending Jed chord progressions. They weren’t registered for mass consumption, but he took these really crass things that I gave him, processed them and made them cool.
“The shame of love I am the one playing the acoustic guitar in the Photo Booth app, I just play in the camera built into my laptop. It’s 20 seconds of music and video that I recorded so that I can remember the phrasing, and that there is a capo on the second fret.
“He left it alone at first, sounding shitty like he was, then later in the outro I ended up rehearsing those intro chords with an electric guitar.
How was GarageBand troubleshooting while writing Some blood?
“It was hell. I am so miserable with the technology. I used to record in an 8-track digital machine that I sat on a table – it had eight faders, super simple; I would burn my mixes using its built-in CD burner.
“This machine broke down, so when the lockdown happened I decided I had to bite the bullet and figure out how to work on GarageBand. What upsets me is that I like being able to grab things and make them move, so that I can see with my hand that I am [working] a machine. It’s different when you have your finger on a slider or trackpad.
“What really kills me [about GarageBand], is the fact that there are endless possibilities. It’s like a maze, isn’t it? You walk in there and you can go in millions of directions. It hurts my brain; I do not like it. It seems to complicate everything.
“I know people think it simplifies everything, but for me… even looking at the screen, it’s hard for me to understand everything. It’s too much visual information, there is just too much to learn. I mean, I basically figured it out, but I’m probably using a percent of its capacity.
In terms of tangibles, then, and off the beaten track, what were you using in terms of guitars and amps?
“Like I said, some of them started off by sending these shitty tapes to Jed. Part of it was on acoustic guitar, just playing through the built-in mic – I’m thinking of the song Torture I probably installed a mic to get a decent acoustic guitar sound.
“Some of them were videos of me playing electric guitar. I mainly used my first electric First Act, a Delia LS.
“[For tone,] I really scaled it down, mostly using GarageBand audio, as I didn’t really like the others. I’m not comfortable making noise in my apartment, because of my neighbors, so I started using this GarageBand sound, but later I went to the studio and started using amplifiers.
“There’s this sound, it’s called ‘World’s Smallest Amp’ on my version of GarageBand. It’s a bit of a rough sound, which I like. Not too clean and not frosty warped.
“There’s a lot of it on the album, but there’s choice, biting stuff there, and for that I was using a tiny Fender Mini Twin. Smaller than a bread box, only a few inches in diameter. It’s cute, but it makes great fuzz sounds. I think I plugged this into my [Z.Vex] Fuzz Factory for two things too. You can hear it in some places, like the bridge of Ashamed of love. “
At Had a dream, looks like there’s some kind of rotating effect there …
“It was an acoustic guitar piece that Jed fucked with. I wrote the pinch part with my fingers, because I wanted her to have that resonant bite. I tried playing it on the electric guitar, but it didn’t sound right.
“There’s also an overdub guitar coming in in the intro, and that was done in a real studio, an old Silvertone guitar going into the Neve preamp.”
Some blood follow your tribute to the police album [2019’s Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police]. Did getting out of the mindset of this blanket project affect this material?
“Maybe I shouldn’t say it, but when Had a dream came out of me, I had [also] started working on a volume 2. I was building tracks for 10 more Police songs, [though it’s] a project that I have since abandoned.
“I’m not sure I’ll do it anymore, but I had started recording A man in a suitcase, and it inspired me to write Had a dream. Just the way the chorus rolls [starts singing] “ Do I have to be the man in a suitcase / Is it me, the man in the face of the stranger? Who inspired the guh-guh-guh, guh-guh-guh [rhythmic pattern] in Had a dream.
“I was coming out of Man in suitcase, and my brain twisted it into something else. That was really the only influence the Police album had on those songs.
On the new disc Parts, it almost sounds like you’ve made a beat with the feedback sound, or a patch chord coming out of a take. There is that kind of crackle.
“That’s what it is: a split second of noise between chords. That was a few years ago, but I was doing an album at Q Division, sitting in the control room with a guitar plugged in, with a chorus effect on it.
“I was playing a little chord progression that I liked and recorded it. When I started writing songs for the new album, I would go back and look at all these little pieces of music that I had recorded and found this one.
“What was great was not the chord progression, but the split second of chug noise when I stopped playing the chords. I sent it to Jed and said, ‘Can you capture that noise, that song between the chords? And he took that and built a loop for Pieces.”
Some of the nastiest fuzz on the record are in Parts, too much. Was it through the Mini Twin?
“Maybe it was the miniature twin, but it’s possible I made it to Q Division.”
Over the past few months you’ve been doing these solo live shows covering specific moments in your catalog. Did performing older albums in their entirety – maybe some songs for the first time in years – give you a better understanding of your career? Do you see the starting line from then to now?
“Before I started doing these livestreams, I hardly ever went back and didn’t listen to any of my old recordings; as soon as I finished making an album, I practically put it away. Coming back and listening to the old songs, I was happy to realize that I have written a lot of great songs over the years.
“I mean, awesome is subjective, but I did a good job. I don’t know if I really realized that until recently I didn’t have to be embarrassed by everything I did.
“It’s solid work. I have [got] a talent for putting songs together – it’s something I’ve mastered from the start, I guess. But lyrically, some of the elders are hard to listen to!