DAVE RAYBURN: The release of JULIANA HATFIELD SINGS THE POLICE marks the second in a recent series of cover albums that puts the spotlight on another artist’s endearing catalog. Why The Police?
JULIANA HATFIELD: I sort of did it on a whim. Actually, I was preparing to do Phil Collins covers, and then sort of at the last minute… you know what, I don’t really have an emotional connection to Phil Collins. And, there’s just not enough depth there. So, I just went sort of automatically to The Police because I do have an emotional connection from childhood. They were a big, big thing for me during my adolescence. Same as with the Olivia Newton-John record. It’s like I’m being drawn toward artists that were very important to me at a certain time in my life. I mean, I have a plan to do more of these albums and I think that in the future I’ll be able to look back and say, “Oh yes, these all had something to do with what I became.”
DAVE: The radio classic “Roxanne” is represented here with the sparse presentation of a dirty guitar, a slow march beat, and voice. It’s an attention-getter, and it underlines the serious lyrical storyline without falling into the danceable environment of the original. How did this arrangement come to be?
JULIANA: I might have first tried a version with no drums. It was just going to be guitar and vocals. I thought that would be kind of powerful. And then we did a version with this drum machine that I thought was so goofy and funny… I mean kind of goofy because it’s so plodding and there’s not any nuance. It’s just like “boom, chhh, boom”. This drum thing that was making me laugh ended up working really well in the song. It was transformed into something really cool and kind of ominous. That’s how I like to work. I like for accidents to happen. I like to have an open mind. I don’t go in there with a plan laid out. I have a loose plan, but then I like to let things enter in. And, I thought it was also interesting to have “Roxanne” sung by a woman, which I think gives it a different flavor in the sense that I’m singing to a friend or a sister and I’m trying to empathize with this person, like I’m on the same side as her, and I’m trying to tell her as a friend, “Look, this isn’t good for you. Don’t do this. You don’t need to do this.”
DAVE: What kind of challenges did you face when tackling “Hungry For You (J’aurais Toujours Faim De Toi)”, which is sung, almost entirely, in French? Were you already somewhat familiar or fluent with the language or did this present a very specific obstacle in doing what you otherwise do quite naturally?
JULIANA: No, I’m a little bit familiar with French, and I studied a lot of it in school. And, I even wrote and recorded a song in French for my second album for Atlantic Records in 1995… a song called “Fleur De Lys”. So, I had a little experience of my own singing in French, and also recorded another song in French a long time ago. It was fun. It was like I understood a little bit of what he was saying. I understood that Sting was doing a sort of English-ified version of some of the pronunciation. Like, he wasn’t pronouncing everything exactly correct. And, I think he was probably doing that deliberately, ‘cause I don’t think anything he does is by accident. And, I thought that was cool. You know, I tried to match him like when he was kind of, maybe, slack on some of the pronunciation. I tried to match him. I didn’t want to be with perfect French pronunciation because that would have not been the spirit of the song.
DAVE: “Every Breath You Take” remains the most successful and widely known composition from the Police songbook. Curiously enough though, you originally released your own version of it back in 2000, initially appearing as a hard-to-find bonus track on an import version of the BEAUTIFUL CREATURE album. Why did you choose to revisit this song nearly twenty years later, and how would you contrast the two?
JULIANA: It’s like I’m Captain Ahab and “Every Breath You Take” is my Moby Dick. It’s like, I don’t know, I just feel like I needed to take another stab at it. I didn’t quite slay it last time. Actually, you know, this is going to sound really insane, but in my early version of the song, when it starts repeating at the end on the outro, it’s like, “I’ll be watching you” [sings], you know that part? And then it goes, “ooooooh” [sings], I did it one time too early. Sting goes “ooooooh” [sings] after four times through, but on my early version I did it on the third time, and it always bugged me. So, I needed to do it again so I could do the “ooooooh” [sings] on the fourth time. That’s part of it, but seriously, I wanted to come at it from a different angle where it was a little bit cruddier and mushier and more stark, more paired down. My version from 2000 was kind of like Grunge. That was what I was into at the time, and I just wanted to do something that was a little bit more dynamic and weird.
(Photo by Stacee Sledge)
DAVE: How much of this album is a true solo outing for you, and how much outside involvement did you invite in?
JULIANA: It was really local. A couple of local guys did some of the drums and bass. I don’t want to minimize their input by calling them “local guys”. I mean, they both live around here in the Boston area. In fact, Ed Valauskas, the guy who played some of the bass, I go way back with him. I played with him a bunch. He’s played on a bunch of my recordings. He’s toured with me. He’s the studio manager where I like to work. So, he’s a really good friend and a really great guy, so he’s more than just a “local guy”. And, I wanted to do a lot of it myself… a lot of the bass, because Sting’s bass playing is so fun to play along to. But, at the same time, I wanted to record some of the basic tracks with a band. So, I had Ed play some bass, and then his drummer, Chris Anzalone, so we could be a live trio to start.
DAVE: Just as the Police were.
JULIANA: Yeah. But Chris was a new guy. I had never met him before. Just a couple nights before the first scheduled session, I asked Ed if he knew any drummers who could come and play some Police songs like tomorrow, and he recommended this guy who was available, and he ended up being great. So, we started off with this trio situation, and then I ended re-doing some drums and playing some bass. I probably played half the bass, and Ed played half, approximately. ‘Cause, I just wanted to do some of it myself because it’s so fun playing those bass lines.
DAVE: Do you have a favorite track on the new album?
JULIANA: Right now, I’m sort of really into “Canary In A Coalmine”. It’s just so tight and fun and punchy. It’s very satisfying whenever I listen to it. It’s just like a punch in the face, in a really good way.
DAVE: You’ve noted that the songs you chose “resonate in the present moment”. Which song of the twelve do you think stands as the best example of that observation?
JULIANA: Well, in terms of the way the world is right now… “Rehumanize Yourself”. Talking about white nationalism and fascism and stuff, which… just look at the news and you see it happening. Racism and white supremacy are right out there… out in the open.
DAVE: Younger listeners that come out to your shows may not have had the exposure to these artists in the traditional sense that our generation had. How do you feel about being a possible gateway conveyor of this music to newer generations?
JULIANA: I think it’s wonderful when someone hears me playing a cover and then is curious and goes and looks up the original artist. I think that’s great. That was sort of happening in the studio with my engineer, James, who was born in the 80s. And there were interns working with me who are in their twenties who really weren’t born when The Police were happening. Some of the young interns were hearing these songs for the first time when I was recording them, so they’d be curious and look up The Police. I think it’s great. You know, when you’re young, you’re constantly being introduced to artists that happened before your time. You go and look up the history. It’s always happening. Like, every generation is looking back at stuff that happened before. If I can be a part of that process, it’s great. And also, another thing I think is great is when I can make someone appreciate something they didn’t appreciate before. It happened with the Olivia Newton-John record. People were like, “Wow, that song’s actually good. I never realized it. I’m going to listen to Olivia now and see what I missed the first time around.” I think a good song is a good song, and if it has a strong structure… melodic and harmonic, it can be covered by lots of different people from different angles, and it’ll work because it’s a strong song.
DAVE: When did your own personal interest in making music take hold? Was there a particular song or artist that made you say, “I want to do that!”?
JULIANA: Well, I think all the stuff I’ve been doing, like Olivia Newton-John and The Police both were inspirations to me. And, I would think secretly… oh, I wanna do this. I wanna be singing on stage. But I felt that it was kind of out of reach until “college rock” started happening, when I was in college. Like R.E.M.’s first EP. Like, early R.E.M., The Replacements, and X. Those were the big three for me where I realized… wow, I can actually do this because this stuff… it was a little more accessible to me. Like, with R.E.M., when I sat down and tried to learn the songs, I found that I could actually play them. And, with X and The Replacements, the voices were kind of scrappy and scruffy and not polished. So, that kind of stuff… post-Punk, or whatever it was called… that’s when I realized that, wow, I could actually do this, and I don’t have to be as polished as Olivia.
DAVE: Your 2016 collaboration with Paul Westerberg (aka The I Don’t Cares) raised a lot of eyebrows. Are there plans for a follow-up, or would you entertain another duet style record with someone else rooted in melodic punk or power pop… for example John Doe, Peter Case, or Matthew Sweet?
JULIANA: I don’t know if there’s going to be another I Don’t Cares thing. I don’t know. But, I’m definitely up for doing something along those lines.
DAVE: Well, you mentioned X… so I think John Doe would be a great match, and you’ve worked with him before, right?
JULIANA: Yeah, I know John. Yeah, maybe… that could happen, maybe.
DAVE: Alright! I’ll cross my fingers now.
DAVE: During your time on American Laundromat Records, each of your albums has seen release in multiple vinyl variations (different colors, etc.). What’s your take on the vinyl revolution that has been enjoying a surprisingly healthy surge in the digital age?
JULIANA: I think it’s great. It’s just another, different sonic experience that people should know about. For me, I think digital files sound like shit. Downloaded music sounds like shit to me. I don’t even really listen to it. I don’t download or stream anything. I don’t like it. I don’t think it sounds good, and I don’t understand it. I like that there are other options, and I like the experience of listening to a whole album front to back rather than having bits and pieces pop up at random. I mean, when I make an album, I’m thinking of the whole thing, and I put a lot of time into the sequencing. So, it’s cool when people can appreciate the flow of one song after the other. And, it’s nice that, with albums, the artwork is more important because you can actually see it and read it. I think it’s great that kids can have vinyl again.
DAVE: That was part of the process for me, you know? You put the album on and sit there Indian-style and analyze every detail on that cover, and that’s how you learn who plays on a record, who’s in the band, who the producer is…
JULIANA: Yeah! I have so many memories of just album covers and backs and inserts just burned into my mind. I can see them in my mind. And, I feel sorry for people who are listening to music and there’s no visual. There’s just some file that pops up on their playlist or whatever.
DAVE: Well, thankfully, it’s back… to a degree. And, I’m seeing the younger generation definitely enjoying it.
JULIANA: I think it’s great. It’s too bad that vinyl is so expensive these days… expensive to make. Maybe if more and more people demand more and more, the prices will start to go down again. I don’t know.
DAVE: I think a lot of the pressing plants went away over the years, so that kind of factors into the availability of being able to press records.
JULIANA: Yeah, I know that when American Laundromat was setting up the record, there was a really long lead-in for vinyl.
(Photo by David Doobinin)
DAVE: What’s on the horizon?
JULIANA: I’m going to tour, but not until January. I’ll be playing some Police songs and other stuff when that happens. I’m trying to write right now, and hopefully after the tour I’ll start recording the next album.
Thanks to Mike Donohue, Jocelynn Pryor, Stephen Schnee, Joe Spadaro and Juliana Hatfield
JULIANA HATFIELD SINGS THE POLICE