Photo by Brad Walsh
When writing her forthcoming new album, Pussycat, Juliana Hatfield was inspired by the same bastard of a muse calling to many artists these days: the mess that is our current political and cultural climate. The album’s lead single, “Impossible Song”, addressed this head-on, admitting she wants to “blow my top” in “these contentious times.” It’s a call for civility and common ground, but sometimes screaming for peace can just make you more upset. It’s in times like that when it helps to think back to better days, which is exactly what Hatfield does on her new single, “Wonder Why”.
A comforting piece of alternative guitar pop, the song finds the Boston-based songwriter recalling her time growing up in Duxbury, Massachusetts. “Colors and furniture and TV shows and movies and events specific to my experience of that era soothe me, somehow,” Hatfield tells Consequence of Sound of the track’s nostalgia. The lyrics find her fondly questioning all the quirks of her childhood home, from the “the curly sheepskin rug we called The Furry” to wondering “why my parents chose a brown and orange scheme/ And why that seemed okay to me.”
Take a listen:
In addition to premiering the new song, Hatfield took the time to answer a few questions about what went into creating Pussycat. She touched on everything from how the new effort fits into the modern artistic movement, how “Wonder Why” is different, and even her feelings on Lorde.
After spending 2015 reuniting The Juliana Hatfield Three and forming The I Don’t Cares with Paul Westerberg, I know your intention was to take a bit of hiatus from songwriting. When was it that you realized the world wasn’t going to let you take that break and that you had to get back into the studio?
It wasn’t my intention to take a break from songwriting; I just felt I had nothing to say, nothing I wanted to say. But then suddenly, late last fall, I did (have things to say), and the writing started to happen at a fast pace. I am my muse’s bitch–I obey when she comes around and puts ideas into my head.
The story of the album is that it all came together in under two weeks — from recording to mixing. I’m curious about the songwriting itself though; was a lot of that done on the fly in those 12-and-a-half days? How quickly did these songs pour out of you?
Most of the writing happened in a month or two, I think. It’s hard to remember, exactly. But everything was mostly written in the month or two before I went into the studio.
It’s clear that the current political climate is inspiring a lot of artists to write some pretty pertinent material. How do you see Pussycat and these songs adding to the conversation? What’s the perspective you’re trying to take with the album?
It will be interesting to see what kinds of music and art starts to come out this year. Millions and millions of people are anxious and angry and those things will seek expression. My album is anxious and angry. Also sad. It is definitely inspired by current events but it is also really personal and continues a thread that I have always been weaving into my music. I have always written protest songs and songs that are anti-sexism, anti-abuse, anti-pollution, anti-hypocrisy, anti-asshole. So, in a way, I am doing what I have always done. I just have more to work with now.
Can you talk a bit about “Winder Why”? Specifically, what was the songwriting process for this one like in particular, and what was the message you wanted to get across?
“Wonder Why” is different than the rest of the songs on the album in terms of its subject matter. It is very nostalgic. It is memories from the 1970’s when I was a child. Colors and furniture and TV shows and movies and events specific to my experience of that era soothe me, somehow. It’s escapism and lately escapism is more important to me than ever. In my mind I go back there to my childhood and it comforts me. And even the melody is reminiscent of the great AM radio pop hits of the 1970’s. It’s a little bit ELO or something. Not intentionally but just because that era and its music and feeling is really ingrained in my psyche. Some of the details in the song are factually incorrect because I needed certain words to fit and to rhyme. My childhood kitchen, for example, was light blue and not avocado green.
You have an incredibly active social media life, and you spend a lot of time taking aim at the current administration. Yet there’s also been a lot of backlash against “celebrities”, musicians, and the like expressing such opinions. What do you say to people who might think it’s not someone with your sort of notoriety to speak out about things like this?
I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly active, compared to most people. I don’t do Facebook and I don’t Tweet every day.
As for the second part of the question, I think it’s stupid and nonsensical for anyone to say or think that a famous person or a person who makes a living as a creative artist should not express his or her opinions. This is (or was) a free country and every single one of us has the right to freedom of speech. A celebrity is a person. Anyone who says anything like “Shut up and sing” or “Shut up and play football” (to someone like Colin Kaepernick) is a mean, dumb jerk-off. And I have the right to say that.
I also saw you recently wrote a piece about Lorde’s new single, “Green Light”, on Talkhouse. I’m curious, as someone writing such a politically and culturally minded album, where do you see “pop” music like Lorde fitting into the current milieu and how valuable it is?
Lorde rocks. She is a great songwriter and a great singer and she is smart and able and thoughtful. She is a great role model for young girls and it is very important that girls have good role models right now because the American president is teaching people how to hate and lie and boast and insult and how to assault and demean women. Young people need role models to show them better ways to be.