A couple of years ago, singer-songwriter Juliana Hatfield was struggling to write songs for a new studio album. But then Donald Trump was elected president, and the songs quickly came to her as she tried to capture her outrage for what would become her 2017 album Pussycat
So did it feel cathartic to release that album and tour behind it?
“Well, not really,” says Hatfield, who returns to town to play with Bird Streets at 8 p.m. on Sunday, June 23, at Music Box Supper Club
. “It just felt necessary for me to say my piece. At the end of it, I didn’t feel a lot better about the situation. The situation still exists. In some ways, I feel like the arts aren’t that effective as a means of change. For me, I just had to say something. I guess that’s what artists do. I talk about how they feel about things and then other people can find comfort or solidarity or whatever it is. It felt good to vent a little bit. I also felt like I didn’t change anything.”
The one exception was the song “When You’re a Star,” a track that referenced comedian Bill Cosby, who, at the time, was accused of sexual assault.
“In that song, I say, ‘They never prosecute your kind,’” says Hatfield. “But he wound up in jail. I turned out to be wrong about that. Sometimes, they do prosecute people who do bad things. That’s a little bit of hope.”
The songs on Hatfield’s latest album, Weird
, aren’t as political in nature, though Hatfield doesn’t shy away from social issues on occasion.
“After I had finished [last year’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John
], I had a lot of musical ideas,” says Hatfield. “I went back into the studio and recorded a bunch of music. I took a month or two off to write lyrics. I don’t usually work like that. I usually have full songs written, but I just felt like I wanted to do things a little differently. I focused on the lyrics all at once. What emerged was a portrait of my life right now, which is pretty solitary and slightly isolated but not unpleasantly so. I was exploring what it’s like to be alone a lot of the time. Sometimes, it’s not necessarily a bad thing but could be a very good thing. My spirit is very resilient and indomitable. It can’t be killed. I should be bitter at this point, but I’m not.”
In “Broken Doll,” a gritty mid-tempo rocker, Hatfield sings about how bodies start breaking down and things fall apart physically. But she tries to keep a sense of humor about it; the song’s humor comes across clearly in the music video that features Hatfield dressed as a Playboy Bunny that’s been “taken out to pasture.”
“It was my idea was to go shoot on a friend’s farm and do something with the donkey,” says Hatfield when asked about the music video. “I just said, ‘I want to be a playboy bunny on a farm where there’s a donkey.’ [Director Rachel Lichtman] said, ‘I got it.’ And she totally made it come to life. It’s about how glamour is such a lie and so stupid and making fun of how it’s so unreal. There are other feminist ideas in there too.”
Another album highlight, “Lost Ship,” features laconic vocals and shimmering guitars. It comes across as a particularly cool and trippy ballad.
“I was thinking about how being alone is an escape,” says Hatfield when asked about the tune. “I thought about I can’t be myself unless I’m alone. It’s about how much I love dreaming and napping and closing my eyes. It’s about the freedom I have to do that and escaping in my mind and how my solitude is an escape.”
The brittle “Paid to Lie” might be directed at the current administration, but Hatfield says the song doesn’t only pertain to the people currently running our country.
“I didn’t name any names, but you can guess,” she says. “One particular lady has that job [of lying to the public about the President]. I think the song will age well because it’s always been true since the beginning of politics. They’ve been lying to the public they’re supposed to be serving. That will never change.”
For the current tour, Hatfield recruited Dean Fisher to play bass and has “two local Boston guys who I’ve never toured with before” in the band as well. They'll play songs from her 30-plus year career.
“I am looking forward to the tour, but, as usual, I have a combination of excitement and anxiety leading up to it,” Hatfield admits. “But I do think it will be really fun to do some of the new songs.”
Juliana Hatfield, Bird Streets, 8 p.m. Sunday, June 23, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main St., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $20 ADV, $25 DOS, musicboxcle.com.
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