Juliana Hatfield is an independent songwriter, musician, writer and artist who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has recorded well over a dozen albums, first with the Blake Babies and later as a solo artist, and has sung and played on records by other artists, ranging from Giant Sand to the Lemonheads to Aimee Mann. In addition to writing and arranging the songs, singing lead vocals and harmonies, playing guitar, bass and keyboard parts, Juliana produced or co- produced many of the records she has released. Juliana continues to write and record real, vital music with a unique voice and an old-fashioned, do-it-yourself work ethic. Juliana recently founded Ye Olde Records to put out her own recordings. Before setting off on a U.S. tour supporting the band X, Juliana was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about how she goes about producing records, including her album Made in China.
First I wanted to ask you about the different producers you've worked with, starting with the early Blake Babies records and Gary Smith, through people like Paul Kolderie, Sean Slade and Scott Litt.
Well, Gary Smith was the first real producer we worked with in the Blake Babies and we learned so much about recording from working with him, just because we were so green. He was really a stickler for separating sounds and getting really clean, pristine sounding recordings — it was the '80s — so with him we experienced the bizarre tactic of recording cymbals separately from the rest of the drum set, which was bizarre for Freda [Love Smith, the Blake Babies' drummer] and bizarre to see. It was like, when she would record the drums she'd be pretending to play a cymbal on her leg and then they would overdub all of the high hats and the rides and crashes and everything. So, the recordings that Gary produced were really well produced, and it was good for us because we learned how to polish things and how to do something other than just a live, raw band performance. We learned how to focus on perfecting performances and stuff like that.
The first Blake Babies record you did at the old Fort Apache in Roxbury?
No, I never went there. I'm talking about Earwig and Sunburn. We did them at the Cambridge Fort Apache, after the studio moved there from Roxbury.
What about Nicely, Nicely?
That one we did on our own. That was like demos we did at the Boston Film and Video Foundation. We knew someone who worked there and he was able to get us cheap or free time late at night. It was just us like going in and playing. I don't even remember, so I can't tell you much about those sessions. It was in the middle of the night- I think I was half asleep.
What about Rosy Jack World?
That was done in different places, if I remember correctly. We did some of that in Indiana with Paul Mahern. I know we did "Nirvana" in Indiana, but I don't remember where we did the other songs. Paul worked on the first Some Girls record too, [Feel It] — he and Jake Smith worked on that together.
What about Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade?
From Paul and Sean I learned about the beauty of big rock and roll guitars. They mixed guitars really loudly and they weren't afraid to record really loud amplifiers. I think Gary was more afraid to push the volume. Sean and Paul were all about rock and roll, whereas Gary would be trying to shape and tame and mold and polish a band. Sean and Paul were more like capturing what makes them them. They recorded Dinosaur [Jr]. Other engineers probably kicked Dinosaur out of the studio for being so incredibly loud, but not Paul and Sean.
There's some funny stuff that Matt Ashare wrote about talking to Paul and Sean about recording the early Dinosaur records.
And they're just good for coming up with quick, sensible arrangement ideas, like putting a keyboard here or doubling a guitar part there — really good instincts about arranging.
Did you play keyboard parts on the stuff you did with Sean and Paul?
Yeah, on Only Everything I played all of the keyboard parts, I think. I played piano, clavichord, organ, yeah.
What about some of the different studios you've worked in, from Fort Apache to Q Division to Bearsville to Cherokee, and all the other studios you've worked in? Are there certain things you remember liking or disliking about the different studios? What really struck you as a good studio environment or vibe?
The Fort Apache on Camp Street in Cambridge always had a really good vibe, which is something that you can't really explain. You walk in and it has such a great feeling. The main room where the drums are recorded is such a good, warm-sounding room. And the vibe in that studio is so nice and welcoming, whereas some other studios, just the fact that you're confronted by a person at a desk asking who you...