Goldmine spoke with Juliana Hatfield about her new 13-song album of Olivia Newton-John covers, the 25th anniversary re-release of her debut album Hey Babe, her work with Aimee Mann, along with kind words from Greg Humphreys of Dillon Fence.
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By Warren Kurtz
JULIANA HATFIELD was a member of the Boston band The Blake Babies from the mid-‘80s through the early ‘90s, then charted with the single “My Sister” by The Juliana Hatfield Three. “Spin the Bottle” followed in 1994, from the film Reality Bites. In 1995, she achieved her highest charting singles position with “Universal Heart-Beat” on the Mammoth record label. Many albums have continued over the years. Now Juliana Hatfield balances her alternative rock roots with another inspiration, the music of Olivia Newton-John.
GOLDMINE: When you were part of The Blake Babies, you recorded a fun cover of The Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes.” Now you bring an edge to Olivia Newton-John’s music while still capturing the original beauty. The album opens with your electric guitar notes and a great keyboard backdrop on “I Honestly Love You.”
JULIANA HATFIELD: That was actually an afterthought. When all the other songs on the album were done, I returned to the studio with James Bridges, as the engineer, and played all the instruments on that track including bass and drums, making it tougher and chunkier.
GM: When I listened to your energetic version of “Physical” on the treadmill, I was motivated to go faster.
JH: I could not compete with the original hit. It was natural for me to rock it up. The songwriting is so solid. There was a lot of room to be filled up, so I included multiple keyboard parts. In preparing for all the songs, I listened intently to the original recordings.
GM: When our daughter Brianna and I arrived at Sara Bareilles’ Waitress musical, Brianna’s friend Derek said his seat was “B17.” I shared a bit of the lyrics from “Please Mr. Please” with him, as they were unfamiliar with the song. Then at your suburban Boston concert at Once Somerville, to debut the album, I cheered at the opening notes of “Please Mr. Please,” but was alone at that. I think you are teaching a new generation more music of Olivia Newton-John.
JH: Well, some people don’t show their feelings at concerts. That is such a great song. The melody is one where I just want to sing along. It is a relatable song on the pain of loss, a very universal theme. Emotions are stored in songs.
GM: You also taught me a few songs I didn’t know. Because of you, I finally bought the Xanadu soundtrack so that I could hear the original version of “Suspended in Time.” I also must have missed “Make a Move on Me” in 1982 on the radio, when I was listening to Quarterflash, Joan Jett and The Go-Go’s instead.
JH: “Suspended in Time” is most like a song I would have written. I love the chord progression and it felt most natural. “Make a Move on Me” was a big hit from the Physical album. You know, the album cover photo with short hair and a bandana. I changed it up to be a 4/4 rock song.
GM: A song that everyone knew, swayed to and chanted the chorus to at your concert was “Hopelessly Devoted to You” as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film version of Grease this year.
JH: That is a classic. The chorus hits hard. It is powerful and everyone does know this one, like an anthem.
GM: 40 years ago, while the Grease soundtrack was still being played in our record store, Olivia Newton-John’s Totally Hot album arrived, where she was still wearing her “tell me about it stud” leather jacket from Grease on the cover. I thought that the album’s first single, “A Little More Love,” already had an edge to it and then you added a little more.
JH: I used distortion with a pedal on the verses to make it crunchy and then let the song open up, to be flowery, watery and pretty.
GM: Your version of the song “Totally Hot” initially reminds me of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy), the side one finale on their Abbey Road album.
JH: I did try to bring a ‘60s / ‘70s British rock sound to it, like a Faces feel.
GM: You also included the flip side of the “Totally Hot” single, my favorite song on the album “Dancin’ ‘Round and ‘Round.” I shared your version with its songwriter Adam Mitchell, and he told me, “I’ve always said that a good song is a good song and I think this is a great version. I wouldn’t have thought a lyric like this would work in an up-tempo version, but the punk ethos really seems appropriate to the words in a way that I never would have imagined. This is a really good job. I love the arrangement and, wow, she’s a great singer too. I love it!”
JH: Thank you. I sped it up with a distorting guitar, like a Ramones song, making it bouncy and driving.”
GM: At your concert, in addition to playing ten songs from your new Olivia Newton-John album, you played thirteen of your originals, including a pair from your first solo album Hey Babe for its 25th anniversary and its vinyl debut. “I See You” certainly is catchy.
JH: “I See You” is fun to play and one I hadn’t played in decades. The same with “Forever Baby” from the album. It was fun and something I played a lot in the early ‘90s.
GM: Before you took the stage, Abbie Barrett and her group, did a great job, reminding me of The Pretenders, as they played original songs from their That Shame CD with “Falling,” “Follow the Sun” and my favorite, the emotionally powerful “Everything.” Talent in the Boston area continues. I think back to your work with Aimee Mann on the song “Deathly” from her Bachelor No. 2 album and the Magnolia soundtrack.
JH: Aimee is cool, smart and fantastic. There were shows where I opened for her.
GM: Speaking of opening acts, Brianna and I interviewed your Mammoth labelmate Greg Humphreys of Dillon Fence in 1995, when they opened for Hootie and the Blowfish. I let Greg know that we would be talking and he said, “I’m a fan! Dillon Fence opened for Juliana on a stretch of one of her tours. She was always very sweet to me. I think she’s a great songwriter.
JH: That’s so nice. I can say the same about Greg. I echo it.
GM: Going back to your Mammoth days, a favorite of mine is “Where Would I Be Without You” and your heavy guitar on it.
JH: That is a flip side, for “Universal Heart-Beat,” not as well known, but I like it.
GM: Many of us were first introduced to your music with “My Sister.” At your concert you mentioned another sibling when you said, “My brother and I co-wrote this one,” and then played the moody “Remember November.”
JH: Yes, he wrote the chords and piano part and I wrote the melody and words. It is on my 2008 album How to Walk Away.
GM: There is piano, keyboards and especially guitar on your songs.
JH: I started piano very young and played through high school. That was my main instrument when I started at the Berklee School of Music. Around the age of nine or ten I picked up acoustic guitar. While in college, I wanted to be in a band, and switched to electric guitar and then met people to be in The Blake Babies.
GM: I love every song on your new Olivia Newton-John album. Congratulations. It is also great that a portion of the proceeds helps to fight cancer.
JH: Thank you. I am also pleased with Olivia Newton-John’s tweets about it.
Olivia Newton-John on Twitter: Very flattered that Juliana recorded this album of my music. Great job, Juliana. Thank you for the tribute and for donating a portion of the sales to my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Center, which will help cancer patients on their journey. Enjoying her versions and grateful for her kind donation. Love and gratitude!
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