Interview with Juliana Hatfield by Ann Scanlon
Photos by Steve Rapport
From Vox Magazine January 1994
Go ahead punk...
No drink, no drugs and no sins of the flesh? Kurt Cobain and the other heretics may put on dresses and lipstick, but Juliana Hatfield is grunge's answer to Joan Of Arc
Juliana Hatfield is a pretty imposing sight. Dark shades shield her blue eyes, and a faded portrait of Henry Lee Lucas, the cult serial killer, glares ominously from her black T-shirt.
The young Bostonian's appearance recalls 'A Dame With A Rod', a Dirty Weekend-style revenge fantasy from her recent album, in which the heroine blows away a rapist with the words: "I got a gun /And no mercy for scum."
"I get mad at the fact that, as a woman in America in the '90s, I have to worry about being attacked all the time," says Juliana. "No one wants to be a victim, and anyone who is attacked when they're defenceless - men as well as women - can relate to the fantasy of suddenly fighting back and being so mad that you just want to kill."
Today, however, Juliana isn't so much a dame with a rod as a girl with a couple of plastic pistols, which the photographer has given her for the photo shoot at an old look-out post, warding San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. ' Nevertheless, she pulls a series of convincingly mean poses and, quite unprompted, even sticks the barrel of the gun into her wide open mouth.
It's impossible to believe that she doesn't appreciate the sexual implications of a gun shooting its load into the back of her throat, but she looks innocent when she withdraws it from her mouth. The gesture is either carefully calculated or incredibly naive - and made all the more so by the knowledge that, at 26, Juliana Hatfield is still a virgin.
If losing her virginity was a career move for Madonna, then keeping it has proved to be an even better one for Juliana Hatfield. When she said "I'm a virgin" (and meant it) during an interview in a US magazine last year, she became an overnight enigma. Good-looking virgins in their mid-20s don't tend to "out" themselves, and one who also plays in a rock'n'roll band and is known to be "a close friend" of an alternative sex god such as The Lemonheads' Evan Dando is unheard of.
"Believe me," says Hatfield, earnestly, "it wasn't thought of as a career move. I seriously thought that particular article would appear in one magazine, be on the newsstand for a month and then disappear - I didn't realise what a big fuckin' deal everyone would make of it." Momentarily, she looks unsure of herself Only momentarily, though.
"I wanted to present the idea that maybe sex isn't a very big deal. I think there are a lot of people out there who don't care about sex, but who you never hear from, so I thought I should say it. The magazine I did the interview for is full of beef-cake hunky guys and scantily-clad models, so I thought it would be really funny to say that I didn't care about sex in a magazine that's full of sex and beauty - but no one really got the joke."
One person who did get the joke was Dando. Indeed, the Lemonheads' latest single, 'It's About Time', was written specifically for Juliana (it's about time she lost her virginity, the song implies, and preferably to him). Both Hatfield and Dando refuse to say exactly how close they are, but they've lived together, played music together and generally inspired each other. "Ever since I've known Evan, his songs have blown me away" enthuses Juliana. "He inspires me to try to write good songs, but I don't know if he likes my music as much as I like his. I think he just likes the idea of me playing music-he thinks this cool chick playing music is really cool."
Hatfield first met Dando when she was studying music at college, and her band, Blake Babies, were part of the same Boston scene as The Lemonheads and Dinosaur Jr. Blake Babies released four albums and gained indie cult status before Hatfield decided on a solo career, the first fruits of which appeared on last year's Hey Babe album. Hatfield's brittle, post-grunge pop was well received in the press, but she was upset when it was widely assumed that much of the hurt and confusion in her songs was inspired by Dando ("I hold him like a loaded gun/I know he might go off with anyone' from 'Forever Baby' being a particularly good example). "To me, those songs are finely crafted pieces of work, not diary entries," she insists. "But I get upset by the way people connect me to every single word - literally."
Hatfield grew to hate Hey Babe and surrounded herself with a proper band (drummer Todd Philips and bassist Dean Fisher), which she called The Juliana Hatfield Three, before recording a much dirtier and harder second album, Become What You Are. Lyrically, Hatfield proved that she could be spectacularly inscrutable and, rather than just writing about herself, her subjects ranged from an attack on a $5,000-a-day "piece of ass" ('Supermodel') to a song about a sibling that, in reality, she doesn't actually have ('My Sister') and another about Henry Rollins ('President Garfield').
'President Garfield' includes the line: "I want his power inside of me," but lest that be taken as a formal invitation to Rollins, Hatfield quickly qualifies it with the couplet: 'And I'm not talkin' about a piece of meat/I'm sayin'somethin' really deep."
"People are gonna assume that this is a song about me, saying that I want to fuck Henry Rollins," she says, "so I put in those lines to tell everyone that I'm not talking about sex. I'm talking about his spiritual power or whatever it is."
Like Rollins, Juliana doesn't do drugs or drink much either - indeed, her only vices seem to be smoking (which she isn't actually doing today) and swearing that Nirvana make her want to "fuck shit up' (on Hey Babe). To her, however, it's no big deal. "I didn't make a conscious choice about never getting drunk, it's just happened that way. It's a healthy, natural thing. Not a weird, compulsive thing."
Juliana says that she derives pleasure from "nature, sport, art and good things like kissing - the first kiss between two people is something really good in life", and although she has never wanted to have sexual intercourse, it doesn't mean she won't. "I know I'm probably gonna want to have a baby some day," she says, "and if I haven't had sex by then, I will. IT do it 'cos I'll want a baby."
Juliana once suffered from anorexia (she deals with eating disorders on the current album's 'Addicted') and Hey Babe features a jarring song called 'Ugly' ("I'm ugly with a capital U/And I don't need a mirror to see that it's true'). These days, however, she feels much better about herself. "I just recently started to realise that I look OK. I'm pretty lucky that I don't have any problems with my weight and I should be happy about that part of myself But it's weird, 'cos people make such a big deal about how people in bands look, especially if you're a girl. It's like, people say: 'PJ Harvey, what a dog! She's ugly.' I've read that in English papers - and they would never say that about some ugly guy in a band."
As you might expect from someone who wrote a disparaging song called 'Supermodel', Juliana has read Naomi Wolf's best-selling attack on the cosmetics industry, The Beauty Myth, but regarded it as "very obvious stuff". She feels much closer to the views that Germaine Greer expressed in 1970's The Female Eunuch than those of new-wave feminists (such as Wolf and Susan Faludi).
"To make big steps, you've got to take action yourself and not listen to other people," states Juliana. "I never wanted to be part of a group. Any group -feminist groups, empowerment groups - that's all bullshit! If you want to achieve things in life, you've just got to do them, and if you're talented and smart, you'll succeed."
Whereas both anorexia and celibacy can be seen as ways of controlling her body ("they're both little ways to keep control"), Juliana Hatfield now seems to be more concerned with taking charge of her whole life. She confessess that she "always" knew she wanted to be a musician and although she started out with nothing more than "a vague feeling that I wanted to do something beautiful and pure and powerful", these days her vision of her purpose is much clearer. Certainly, she has learned that her songs are far too precious to be remembered merely for the details of her private life and an unconsummated love affair with Evan Dando.
'The stuff on Hey Babe was really internal and kind of personal sounding," she says. "So, on Become What You Are, I deliberately wrote about other things and tried to force myself to do something different from what I would do instinctively. I don't want to be afraid to do things that come naturally, like love songs, but now I'm going to distance myself from them and make them more universal."
A HATFUL OF HATFIELD
Born from an Allan Ginsberg lecture on William Blake Babies' spirited debut was released in 1987. Still Juliana's favourite only 1,000 copies were ever pressed (distributed by K and Rough Trade in the UK), so if you've got a copy, you're probably related to someone in the band.
(Utility UTIL 6)
One of the earliest releases on Billy Bragg's showcase - label Utility, hence the generic sleeve and the lack of media coverage. Released in 1989, the seven tracks, mostly Hatfield's, were recorded in Massachusetts' now famous Apache Indian studios. Evan Dando guested on bass and vocals.
Blake Babies' second release in 1989 still sounds remarkably fresh, long-term producer Gary Smith keeping a clean sheet on this mammoth 15-tracker. Dando helps out with more wobbly backing vocals, though not on the Babies' cover of the Stooges' 'Loose'.
Came out in late 1990 in the States, but didn't get a British release until Spring 1992. Ironically, though the album brought the band their first real recognition, it was their last. With Hatfield stuck in Boston and guitarist John Strohm and drummer ' Freda Boner/Love in Indiana, a split was almost inevitable.
INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
A compilation of tracks from Blake Babies' Mammoth releases: Earwig, Sunburn and the 'Rosy Jack World' EP.
Dando helps out again on Juliana's solo debut, a more downbeat venture. A second stab at 'Nirvana' gets the adrenalin going, but its the analytical songs such as 'Ugly' that leave an impression. Juliana hates it.
THE JULIANA HATFIELD THREE
BECOME WHAT YOU ARE
Sweet yet abrasive guitar pop and a personal view on universal themes. Hence, her father's career in fashion journalism and her own anorexia explain 'Supermodel', while her relationship 'With her brothers spawns 'My Sister.