Name: Juliana Hatfield
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current events and releases: Juliana Hatfield unfortunately had to cancel her upcoming tour. Her latest full-length Blood, however, is still available, and the next best thing. The album has the urgency, freshness and anger of a debut, containing some of the most captivating compositions of her entire career. Built around her recognisable no-frills-to-the-point sound, but enriched by the occasional electronic impulse and blissfully crunching guitars, this is the work of a songwriter who doesn't look back. Or as Juliana puts it in this interview: "Once a project is done, I move on to the next project."
If you enjoyed this interview with Juliana Hatfield, visit her website for everything you ever wanted to know about her. You can also find her on twitter for recent updates.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I can find inspiration anywhere … in my surroundings; my plants, my dog, my tv, the weather, the street, overheard conversations, news, books.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I am not very conceptual and I am anti-intellectual. I just follow my whims and let them lead me wherever they want to take me.
After I have finished and recorded a batch of songs, then I can try and figure out what it all means.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Nah. I am not very organized or ritualistic. I just jot stuff down and mess around with a guitar until ideas start flowing, and then I try and burrow down into the most promising bits until a song forms.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
No. I just need to be alone. Other than that my approach is pretty sloppy.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I usually try to come up with some guitar chords—a progression or a riff—and then a melody and then I write words to fit the melody.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
I usually have some music first and then I try to make lyrics fit into the music and melody.
I have never had much luck putting pre-written words to music. I don’t write poetry. I write music and then I make words fit into it.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I like lyrics with subtext. I like being able to interpret other peoples’ lyrics rather than having the whole meaning spelled out for me.
I try not to be too obvious. I think I’ve gotten better with this over time.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I write a whole lot of garbage lyrics and then chop them down about 90% until I have something that doesn’t embarrass me. Same with the music; I write a lot of junk and then I edit and tweak and edit and tweak ad infinitum.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
Sometimes I am drilling down like a factory worker and pounding the song into being with blood sweat and tears. And sometimes the universe sends me gifts and I receive them with awe and gratitude.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
You just have to make choices along the way. Sometimes you have to backpedal or stop and start over. At some point a song will decide it is done and that is an exhilarating moment.
It’s an instinct, knowing when a song is complete. You have to be able to trust that instinct and just leave the song alone and trust that it is what it was meant to be.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Yeah, like I said, it feels like I am tapping into something mystical. But it also involves a lot of work so it is a mixture of real-world and cosmic.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I just know when it’s done. I can sense its done-ness. It’s like cooking. You know when to turn off the stove so it doesn’t burn.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
When a song of mine is done, it’s done and I let it be. I never go back and try and do anything else to it. I only move forward; I write more songs.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I produce my own stuff and mix my own stuff. I work with a couple of engineers whose style I like and who can help me get sounds I hear in my head - sounds I otherwise might not know how to achieve from a technical standpoint.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
No. I don’t feel empty. I feel relaxed and satisfied and proud. And then I move on to the next thing. Once a project is done, I move on to the next project.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Of course making music is not the same as making a cup of coffee. I am not saying anything to anyone with a cup of coffee. I am not communicating my thoughts and feelings when I make a cup of coffee.
But yes, I have my own way of doing things so I guess you could say that there is creativity in everything I/we do.