With her 19th album out, the iconic Mass musician says, “If I’m not working on something, I start to think about the nothingness … I don’t want to fall into that abyss of nihilism.”
With a volume of material that rivals legendary songwriters of all stripes, Juliana Hatfield has never been afraid to say what’s on her mind in her music. It could ride along social, psychological, personal, or existential themes, or even a combination of said topics, and her 19th album, Blood, released via the Mystic, Connecticut-based label American Laundromat Records, examines these subject matters in a more recent lens.
The past few years have been hectic and even mentally taxing for a lot of people, sometimes in a way that straddles the line between surreal and fearful. Hatfield dives into these feelings with a straight-ahead approach that of course involves her amplified guitar.
We spoke about making the album without having a particular prior vision, recording tracks on her laptop, what drives her prolific output, and looking to get back on tour.
You’ve said that going into the making of Blood you didn’t really have a plan, so how did you go about going from a blank slate to creating the songs for the album?
I did come up with music first, so I was just writing the music, and once I had something substantial I started writing about what I was thinking. I don’t really go looking for subjects, I just write about what’s on my mind and I wasn’t feeling that optimistic when I wrote this album. It’s been a challenging few years for people and that’s kind of what I was writing about.
What was the experience like for you making the album primarily at home while in self-isolation due to COVID-19 versus using a recording studio? Did you end up learning a lot when it came to recording yourself on a laptop and diving into the production side of things?
I’ve been producing for many years and I’ve recorded at home onto different kinds of machines, so I know how to produce and mix music already. There was a bit of a learning curve when it came to doing work with my laptop, it’s not really my comfort zone and I don’t really like that kind of technology. I did it because I thought that I should know how to do it, but I do prefer to use a bigger machine that has faders and stuff on it. It was really a process of figuring out the technology and the abilities of GarageBand.
While you were self-isolating, was this album your sole focus? Or were you doing other things to pass the time?
I was working on a lot of other things as well; sometimes I wouldn’t work on my recordings for very long and tackle other tasks. I’m making a quilt, I was building a sculpture out of matchsticks, and I also started running again, so I had lots of projects that I was working on.
Who did the cover art with the girl in a bikini shaped like an angel with no wings and her arms cut off? Do you view it as a symbolization of anything?
No, I did the drawing originally in black and white and then my friend Jed Davis put color onto it. When I drew it, it had no meaning for me other than that it’s a pleasing image that I was drawing and then I drew it a couple of years ago. When the album was done, it just seemed to fit onto the cover, so finally the drawing made sense after the fact.
Blood is your 19th solo album, which is incredible. What do you consider to be your primary inspiration for your prolific output? Do you always find yourself coming up with songs in your head before manifesting them?
My inspiration is the terror of nothingness. If I’m not working on something, I start to think about the nothingness, so I don’t want to fall into that abyss of nihilism. I work on songs and I write them to keep myself occupied enough to not think too much. I like to always be working on something because it keeps me sane, I think. Otherwise, without work then what’s the point? Why are we even here?
That’s also an interesting way to harness your work ethic, to always want to be doing something rather than doing nothing.
It’s not simply about doing nothing, it’s more about the nothingness of existence. I don’t want to go to that area, it’s more of an idea than a literal thing. I just don’t want to be in that headspace. It has more to do with existential dread and I’m trying to avoid going to that area.
With Blood being released, what are your plans for the summer? Do you plan on laying low until it’s safe to do live shows again? Do you plan on doing any more live streams? I know you recently did one at Q Division Studios in Somerville.
I’ve been doing a livestream once a month, which I plan to keep on doing until I hopefully get to go on the road in August and the rest of the summer.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.