The dream of the '90s is alive and well in the 21st century.
The era that gave us Liz Phair, Juliana Hatfield, Hole, and riot grrl bands has paved the way for our current moment with women like Courtney Barnett, Laura Stevenson, Snail Mail, and Lucy Dacus.
“People have been telling me that, 'Oh, this sounds like you, they sound like you,'” Juliana Hatfield says over the phone, reflecting on her influence on modern music. “I don’t really hear the connection myself. I’d bet that a lot of the people that sound like me don’t know who I am.”
Hatfield may not hear it, but the echoes of her music are everywhere. Pitched somewhere between stoner and sleepover host, Hatfield’s earnest voice, heard on early albums like Hey Babe and her breakout record, Become What You Are, has become a blueprint for groups like Girlpool.
In addition to writing and recording a slew of original records (cutting an average of an album a year, making her one of the more prolific '90s alumni), Hatfield uses her distinctive voice to put her stamp on a broad range of covers. Her 2012 self-titled record had her tackling songs from Teenage Fanclub, Bad Company, Nada Surf, and Liz Phair. She’s gone on to record full album tributes to Olivia Newton-John in 2018 and last year’s ode to The Police, Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police.
Hatfield finds the process of immersing herself deeply in other people’s songbooks to be an empowering one.
“What’s helpful about learning other people’s songs is that it takes away some of the fear and mystery behind the whole process when you can break things down and realize that, wow, I can actually play these chords — it's not that complicated,” Hatfield says. “It’s really empowering being able to break it down into pieces that you can actually wrap your own hands around.”
The singer is touring in support of both The Police covers album and her 2019 album, Weird. It’s not the first time she’s dropped two whole albums in one year. This year marks the 20th anniversary of a previous double-dip when both Beautiful Creature and Juliana’s Pony: Total System Failure came out.
“I have so many conflicting emotions and ideas running around, so it made complete sense to make those two albums,” Hatfield says. “I was just trying to express the different parts of my personality 'cause I’m not really steady.”
Perhaps the most deeply conflicted and emotional of Hatfield’s albums is 2017’s Pussycat. The singer unleashes a torrent of justifiable rage and sadness over Donald Trump’s election. Whether it’s imagining the horror Melania must feel having sex with her husband on “Rhinoceros” or reflecting on the impossibility of bipartisanship in “The Impossible Song,” it’s a record that’s not afraid to pour plenty of salt on America’s wounds.
“We’re just on a spiral, a downward spiral, and there’s no turning back. We’re all on our way down,” Hatfield says. “What’s happening now is all the rot is being exposed. All the underground rot is being brought into the light, and we can see how deeply rooted it is in everything. And it’s never gonna be completely obliterated, because people are too invested in being rotten.”
It’s not all bad, though, in Hatfield’s estimation. At least we have art.
“Music is an escape from all that,” she says. “I can sing songs like ‘The Impossible Song,’ and I can sing about the possibility of people being cool to each other. But I don’t really have a lot of hope for the future of mankind.”
Juliana Hatfield is scheduled to perform on Friday, January 24, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets are $20 via Eventbrite.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.