Although she can’t remember the exact origins of how she ended up in a band named the Juliana Hatfield Three, singer-songwriter Juliana Hatfield
admits that it was probably partially to provide a bit of a safety net as she worked to find her confidence as a solo artist.
“It’s kind of a terrible name,” Hatfield says during a recent phone interview. “I think I was just trying to make a play on jazz or something kind of old time like that, a jazzy kind of name. I guess I was maybe trying to be funny, you know? But it was a way of establishing that yes, this is a band, but yes, I am the leader and yes, I am the front person. It kind of gave me an out once I wanted to break up the band.”
Hatfield says that the group, which also features drummer Todd Phillips and bassist Dean Fisher, really helped her to find her footing as an artist in those days. “It was good to have them around me to kind of buffer me from the world,” she says. “Because it can be lonely being a solo artist and definitely there’s more pressure and anxiety when I’m out there on my own.”
Sales of the band’s 1993 guitar-driven album Become What You Are
were lifted by the success of the catchy single “My Sister,” which became an alternative rock radio hit. Another cut from the album, “Spin The Bottle,” nabbed a slot on the soundtrack for the Reality Bites
movie in 1994 and Hatfield’s profile continued to rise. But there had been a lot of hard work on the road to get to that point.
“Todd and Dean and I, back then we toured so much. We were just touring constantly from before the album came out,” Hatfield recalls. “We were touring on my solo album Hey Babe
and then playing a lot of the songs from Become What You Are
live before we recorded the album. So by the time we went into record Become What You Are
, we had been playing the songs live all over the world and the U.S., just touring and touring and touring. So I think because of that, even though I kind of had this peak of popularity and then it kind of faded, I feel like we did the work and I still have a career now because of some of the stuff that we did back then. But bands today, they don’t have to tour and tour and tour to get a record company to support them and tour and tour to make the record company happy. They can just record something at home and put it on the Internet and then they can explode overnight.”
But, as Hatfield points out, that overnight success in today’s music industry is a lot harder to maintain. “I think it’s worse today for bands in terms of them not having longevity,” she says. “I think it’s so much harder now to get people to pay attention for more than five minutes. I feel bad for new bands, because they can experience a lot of attention really soon and then they can’t hold onto it.”
Happily, there’s something new for fans of the Juliana Hatfield Three to hold onto, however. Hatfield resurrected the group for a long overdue second album, Whatever, My Love
, which was released in mid-February. It was a surprising development that seemed to come out of nowhere, but as Hatfield explains, it all happened pretty organically.
“It started out that I was thinking about making another solo album. I had this bunch of songs and I asked Todd Phillips if he wanted to play drums on my next album and he said, “Yeah, I would love to and hey, why don’t you ask Dean if he wants to play bass?’ Before that, the thought had not ever occurred to me to get the band back together. But as soon as Todd suggested it, I thought, ‘Why not?’ I got in touch with Dean and everybody was into it. So really initially it was a plan to just make an album.”
The sessions for the new album helped Hatfield to finally find a home for “If I Could,” the first single, which was a song that she had demoed several times in the past.
“Maybe it never worked because it needed to be played by Todd and Dean,” she says. “There’s something about that musical chemistry. I’m not sure, but I definitely have had the song for a while and I couldn’t let go of it. I couldn’t throw it away. I recorded it about three times and it never felt quite right. I don’t know why it worked this time. I think it was time for it to be reborn.”
Even if it took a couple of decades, Whatever, My Love
is a welcome return to action for the group and Hatfield says that the album came together pretty easily.
“It was surprisingly easy,” she says. “I was worried because we had not played together in over 20 years when I made the plans to make this album. We didn’t know how it would go. But I just took a chance and I gambled. When we got to the studio, I think we were all hoping that it would work and it did. It went more smoothly than I even imagined that it would.”
The band’s upcoming performance at the Music Box Supper Club
will feature material from the new album and happily, a full album performance of Become What You Are
“I kind of put some feelers out to fans, like, would anyone be interested in seeing us play this whole album live? People were very responsive to that. I just got a lot of really positive feedback with people saying that they would really like to see that,” she says. “You know, my friend Evan [Dando], doing [the Lemonheads
album] It’s A Shame About Ray
, it seems like people were very responsive to that. Also, I just feel like I wanted to play with Dean and Todd again. I thought it would be kind of fun to go and try to just play music with them. I thought it would be a fun thing to do.”
“I know that’s the album that most people know,” Hatfield admits. “So we might as well just give the people what they know they like and then they can come to the new album via the old album if they want to. They can maybe discover the new album after they’ve seen the show.”
The Juliana Hatfield Trhee “Become What You Are” 21st Anniversary Tour, These Knees, 8 p.m. Friday, March 6, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $20 ADV, $22 DOS, musicboxcle.com.