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With her sweet girlish voice, combat boots and shy persona, Juliana Hatfield was the “It” girl of the 90’s alt-rock circuit. One of the best live musicians around, Juliana rocks harder than most thanks to a combination of aggressive guitar playing and hook-laden pop tunes that are simply awesome. Music fans adore her and music journalists have a hard time figuring out this introverted, self-described loner. That is until now.  

“When I Grow Up” ($24.95, John Wiley & Sons)
is a surprisingly revealing and touching memoir of Juliana’s life on the road and her struggles with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. DISH talked to Juliana about the book, her latest CD, sharing in the age of the Internet and her 20 years in music.

DISH: You start your memoir questioning why you’re still in the music business. How the novelty of playing in rock clubs has worn off, but you’re unsure about what else you would do. Have you gotten feedback from people going through a similar situation?

HATFIELD: Friends of mine have told me after reading the book they’ve really related to what I was talking about. I think even people who have more or less success than I do, or did, experience a lot of the same things. There’s a lot of common ground in the music industry. A lot of the same kind of ups and downs.

DISH: You’ve been smart in having a real work ethic when it comes to your career choices. You wanted to be a musician so you attended Boston’s Berkelee College of Music. You enrolled in a memoir writing class before you released your book. Are you methodical by nature or is it a case of following directions to get to your goals?

JULIANA: I would not say I’m methodical. I’m pretty lazy and scattered. And I think that’s why it takes me a long time to do things. It took me 5, 6 years to finish the book because I didn’t work on it every day. I think I’m really ambitious but I’m also lazy. It’s a really weird combination. Feeling really strongly what I want to do and I’m never quite sure how to do it and I just learn by doing it. I went to music school to find a band. I took a memoir writing class to help me understand what I was doing. I like to learn things.

DISH: You write in your book how you always felt your music should speak for itself. You shouldn’t have to offer more than just the songs in so far as publicity and photo shoots. Yet you’ve written a book, you have a website, a blog, you’re on MySpace (myspace.com/julianahatfield).  Do you feel that you’ve kept so much to yourself for so long that it’s like the floodgates have opened and you wanted to share yourself with the world?

JULIANA: Maybe there’s a little to that. In writing a book, it’s made me want to say more than what a three minute pop song could say. I want to explore prose. I read a lot of books but I really don’t listen to a lot of music. I think I got a little bit bored with pop music and just wanted to branch out. Be more detailed and making myself really clear where little is left for interpretation. And with the blog it’s a matter of professionally having to update your profile or else people are going to forget about you. And you have to learn the new technology or you’re going to be left behind.

DISH: Last fall, you wrote on your blog (An Arm and A Leg) about your stay at an eating disorder clinic. How are you doing?

JULIANA: I’m doing great. I gained 10 lbs. I’m doing so much better. I was having a rough Fall and the weight loss related to what I was going through in my life

DISH: On your website (julianahatfield.com), you combined your spring cleaning with a poetry contest?

JULIANA: When I first started spring cleaning, very early this year, I had an electric guitar, this Les Paul. I knew it was worth some decent money so I thought I’d sell it. Maybe go to Ebay. Then I thought, “before I go to Ebay, I’ll announce it on my message board in case any of my fans wanted first shot at it.” So I did a mini-auction on my message board and the price kept going up and up and I started to get really uncomfortable. I felt people were bidding more than it was worth because it was mine. They were my fans so I chose a guy that was a big fan in Denmark, so I sent it to him. Since I sold it for a little bit more than it was worth, I wanted to assuage some of my guilt, so I found another guitar I wanted to get rid of and instead of selling it, I wanted to give it to someone. I thought of this idea, I’ll give it to someone whose poem I liked, so I invited people to submit a poem (titled “Guitar”) and I chose a winner and sent her the guitar. So now I don’t feel bad about selling my other guitar.

DISH: You write in your book about your parent’s unhappy marriage, their subsequent divorce and how your mom set aside her own musical ambitions as a concert pianist for a stable home life. What was your mother’s reaction to the book?

JULIANA: She’s proud of it. Proud of me. It’s not easy to write a book and have it published. She’s a journalist by trade, she’s written a couple of books. The chapter about the harpsichord that my dad built for her (an instrument he subsequently destroyed when he discovered Juliana’s mom went on a trip to visit an old boyfriend), it was very personal but she gave me all of the details because I was too young to remember that. She was fine with my writing about it. And she had written a whole book about the guy she loved so she was fine with all of it.

DISH: On your latest CD, “How To Walk Away” ($15.98, Ye Olde Records, yeolderecords.com), you co-wrote the track “Remember November” with your brother, Jason. Was this the first time you’ve worked musically with a family member?  

JULIANA: We’ve done some collaborating in the past. He had bands and would have me come and sing on his recordings sometimes and he’s been on other stuff of mine. Actually, I don’t know if we’ve ever written together before so I think this is the first time a song has been on an album of mine. The song was inspired by my meeting a fan after a show in Sweden. The Scandinavian tour happened in November. My brother had the title and it just made me think of meeting this person in Sweden. It was a very intense sort of meeting. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, I felt we understood each other. It was a very brief handshake, really. The song came out of that…making a connection with a person you don’t even know.

DISH: What was it like working with Psychedelic Furs lead singer Richard Butler (invited by Juliana’s producer Andy Chase) who sings with you on “This Lonely Love”?

JULIANA: It was great. He came in one day to the studio for a couple of hours and he was really nice, really good-natured. It was surreal being there and hearing that iconic voice coming out. I grew up with that voice. He’s a really nice guy.

DISH: Three years ago, you launched your own label, Ye Olde Records. What’s the biggest challenge of running your own label?

JULIANA: I’m learning as I go. I was smarter with “How To Walk Away” than I was with “Made In China” which was my first album that came out on Ye Olde. I think I made some mistakes with that record or failed to see certain opportunities because I just didn’t know how to do it. I’m learning about what to do and what not to do as I go.

DISH: Do you have plans to write another book?

JULIANA: I do. I have a concept. I have an idea.

For more about Juliana Hatfield go to www.julianahatfield.com

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 105 - September 2018
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