Heidi Gluck, Juliana Hatfield and Freda Love form a brand new band
Juliana Hatfield first made rock ’n’ roll noise in the late ’80s as the magnetic frontwoman for the Boston-based indie band Blake Babies. There and in her subsequent solo career, she crafted edgy rock confessionals from a distinctly female perspective, at a time when that was anything but the norm. The alienation in her lyrics was consistently tempered by an appealingly youthful earnestness, as wide-eyed and wide open as the early Jam. The 1992 hits “My Sister” and “Spin the Bottle” temporarily made her an alt-rock cover girl, a role she’s always claimed she was uncomfortable with.
Heidi Gluck, Juliana Hatfield and Freda Love of Some Girls
She didn’t have to put up with it for long, in any case: She and Atlantic parted company after just two albums (though a third, recorded for the label in 1996, remains unreleased). Since then, she has gone her own way, often confounding critical and audience expectations. In 1998, she released the deliberately unpolished Bed and in 2000 she put out two full-length albums simultaneously. The following year saw a Blake Babies reunion tour and CD (God Bless the Blake Babies). Though a native of Massachusetts, Hatfield has had many connections to Indiana over the years, beginning with her father, who’s from Bedford. Two-thirds of the Blake Babies, John Strohm and Freda Love, were Bloomington transplants whom she met at the Berklee College of Music. Their last release, Rosy Jack World, was partly recorded in Indianapolis. But nothing Hatfield has done up to now has had quite the full-on Hoosier vibe of her current project, Some Girls.
The band reunites Hatfield and Love (currently living in Bloomington) once again. Heidi Gluck (of The Pieces) plays bass. Their new debut album was demo-ed at Queensize Studio in Indy and recorded at Echo Park in Bloomington, with Jake Smith (Mysteries of Life, Vulgar Boatmen) producing. (For the sake of full disclosure, I should point out that I’m friends with this group and that their producer and I play in two bands together.) The resulting CD, Feel It, might be the strongest of Hatfield’s long career. The album is aptly named: With the drums front and center in the mix, this is music you feel before anything else. Perhaps because Love and Gluck are providing such sure pockets, Hatfield sounds uncharacteristically relaxed throughout. Her lyrics don’t have to work as hard as usual, as she lets the melodies and rhythms carry more of the songs’ meaning. The title track, with its catchy tune and slinky push-pull feel, is the instant grabber. But soon enough, you start to notice others, like the grunge-funk groove of “Necessito,” featuring an addictive chorus, sung half in Spanish. “Almost True” suggests Rosanne Cash: Brill Building pop gone honky-tonkin’. Robert Johnson’s “Malted Milk” has been part of Hatfield’s live repertoire since Blake Baby days, though never sounding quite like this. Built around her delicate rhythm guitar and Gluck’s evocative slide, the performance turns the ancient blues into a reverie, a sexy daydream.
Some Girls finds its genesis in the Blake Babies reunion — an experience that Love describes as “nothing but fun for me,” but which, for Hatfield, started off better than it ended. “At first it was really fun and exciting,” Hatfield recalls, “because it felt like the same chemistry we had at the beginning musically was still there. Then when we went on tour, it became clear that the same tensions that had always existed between me and John Strohm were also still there. I think I’d forgotten about that and only remembered the good stuff. I mean, I love John Strohm but we don’t really get along so well.” But touring also made Hatfield remember how much she enjoyed playing with Love. “I’ve played with guy drummers who have been showoffs, who play too much stuff that’s not necessary. Freda tends to give a song just what it needs. She doesn’t try to smother a song in her skills. There’s also a buoyancy to her playing that kind of lifts me up and makes me feel lighter on my feet. A lot of times when I’m trying to put a song together with a band, it’s hard to get a groove happening. But with Freda, finding that groove happens really fast and easily.” Love notices the same thing and attributes it to the fact that the Blakes were her first band. “I feel like I learned how to play drums sitting behind Juliana — so we definitely fall into a really easy groove a lot of times. There were a couple of times on both the reunion record and the Some Girls record, when we were trying to record something with the full band and it wasn’t really working. Then when just Juliana and I would do it with nobody else, it worked really easily.” Following the tour, both women began thinking in terms of a new collaboration. “I’d also had a taste of Freda’s songwriting on the reunion album,” Hatfield remembers. “I realized that she had things to say as a songwriter that I was really interested in and digging. So I wanted to explore some more of that.” The two began exchanging cassettes through the mail, expanding on each other’s ideas. For Hatfield, the process was liberating. “When I write my own stuff I feel almost too earnest about it. I feel like I have to explain everything and really get a point across. But with Freda I felt like I could just leave things be. When she would send me lyrics, I didn’t always know exactly what she was trying to say, but I knew it was something meaningful and real — and that was all I needed to know. I could add on to what she had written, just knowing that. And for me, that was great, to leave some of the mystery in the songs, to not have to explain it all.”
The new album definitely represents a coming-out party for Love, who wrote or contributed to over half the songs. While a couple of Hatfield’s new tunes are three-chord rock ’n’ roll groovefests (seemingly influenced by Love’s other band, the Mysteries of Life), Love’s own compositions lean surprisingly in a somewhat more complex, almost classic-pop direction. Despite some country accents around the edges, one could easily imagine Dusty Springfield singing “Almost True” or “The Getaway.” The latter, in particular, carries an especially gorgeous melody, one that breaks your heart when it dips, just before the chorus, on the line “But I can’t forget about it.” Love’s forays into songwriting can be traced back to Lola, one of the most sadly unsung local bands in recent memory. Love formed the all-female collective in 1997 with Bloomington songwriters Gretchen Holtz, Janas Hoyt and Sophia Travis. At times the lineup also included Gluck and violist Kathy Kolata. “I feel like Some Girls kind of started with Lola,” Love says. “Before that, I never would have conceived of trying to sing and play drums at the same time. Lola is definitely where I really started thinking more about writing songs and got more confidence. It was such an encouraging environment. We didn’t have a lot of shows or business stuff to worry about, so it was a really low-pressure band but a really creative one. I’ve never been in a band that was so exploratory.” The lynchpin in this story is “Nothing Ever Happens,” the first song Love ever wrote and perhaps still her best. As the strutting lead track on Lola’s first EP, “Nothing Ever Happens” traces a simple, irresistible melody over a couple of chords, perfectly evoking the too-familiar walk home that the lyrics describe. Yet despite the complaint in the chorus (“Nothing ever happens to me”), the whole thing comes across as defiant, invigorating, even celebratory. It’s probably the most upbeat song about ennui ever written. Re-recorded in 2001 by the Blake Babies, the song was a highpoint of their reunion album. It’s currently featured in the Disney remake of Freaky Friday, as well as in Some Girls’ live set. With its emphasis on simplicity, rhythm and low-key subject matter, “Nothing Ever Happens” could almost be a blueprint for the new album, the looking glass on God Bless the Blake Babies, behind which Some Girls was waiting. With an album’s worth of material worked up, Love and Hatfield needed a bass player. Love turned to Heidi Gluck, asking initially if she could help them demo the songs at Queensize. The combination clicked and Gluck was asked to join the band. “She was fast and her parts were all really good,” Hatfield recalls, “and then she seemed also like a person that I’d like to get to know. She’s a great musician.” Gluck, who moved to Indianapolis just two years ago, has quickly become one of the most recognizable faces on the city’s music scene. She has played in Lola and with June Panic, but it’s her work with The Pieces for which she’s best known. On Feel It, Gluck’s multiple talents are utilized to full effect. (Love calls her “our secret weapon.”) Her fluid bass lines are subtle and full of feeling. She also adds harmonies and evocative touches on harmonica and slide guitar to several songs. Her lap-steel work on “Malted Milk” goes a long way toward giving the track its languid hot-summer feel. Gluck is the one member of the band to express any reservations about the album, which was recorded a year ago on a tight budget in just seven days. “My level of playing is way better now than it was then. I wish I could have contributed a little more.” She also worries that the fact that the trio was still getting to know each other when they made the record is too apparent. To these ears, her concerns are understandable but unfounded. Feel It sounds like the work of not just three talented musicians, but of a real band. To Love, the limited recording schedule was almost an asset. “There might be a couple things here or there where I wish we’d had more time to go back and fix it. But for the most part, I like the fact that it’s not fussed over, that we didn’t have time to obsess about the details. I can really hear that when I listen to it. I think it’s pretty fresh.” All three Some Girls agree that playing in an all-female rock group is a unique experience. Gluck says that, compared to The Pieces, “It’s really quieter — not just musically, but the way we speak to each other when we’re rehearsing. We’re all very gentle with each other. I like it. But I think that also means that it takes more time to become a group and comfortable with each other.”
When Hatfield is asked how her music has changed over the years, she instantly notes, “It’s gotten less popular.” Pressed, however, she admits that she thinks a little more about singing these days. “I feel like I have more control over my singing now. My voice is a little bit lower, a little more substantial — although I still have a long way to go.” That extra confidence and richness in her singing is pretty hard to miss. In fact, for someone whose voice in the past was most often described as “girlish,” on tracks like “The Getaway” or “Table For One” (from last year’s Gold Stars, an overview of her solo years) Hatfield sounds positively soulful. Exactly where she fits into today’s musical landscape is not an easy question for Hatfield. On the one hand, she says, “I do really feel like there are kindred souls out there on the road, a lot of brothers and sisters doing what we’re doing at the same level: making cheap records, putting them out on small labels, getting tours together. Comrades. But musically, commercially, I don’t know. I see myself fitting in on the fringes, where I always have, really. That moment when I had a song on the radio was kind of a fluke and I saw it that way at the time, like, ‘This is really weird. Why is this happening to me?’ It seems like I have always been too much of something and not enough of something else to make sense to people. For indie people, I’m too commercial. But for commercial people, I’m too indie.” Yet more than one early review has compared Feel It favorably to Liz Phair’s new album, suggesting that fans disappointed by Phair’s apparent grab for the mainstream would do well to seek out the Some Girls disc. It’s a comparison that Hatfield finds flattering (“because she’s written pretty smart music”) and that Love, an unabashedly huge Liz Phair fan, finds curious. “It’s funny,” Love observes. “She’s one of my biggest influences. I’m kind of obsessed with her. Maybe that’s just a coincidence. Or maybe the fact that people are saying that means that that influence is coming through.” Coincidence or not, the observation rings true. Unlike Phair’s album, Feel It proves that it’s possible for a singer to advance, to offer a somewhat more mature version of her music, and still rock. As Gluck and Love start thinking already about making a second Some Girls disc, Hatfield is just finishing up her next solo record — which she admits won’t have much carryover from this band. “It’s got that earnest heavy feeling that all of my solo stuff does. And it’s all guys playing on it, so that’s different too.” Likewise, the current tour features no Juliana Hatfield solo material — just the tunes from Feel It, a handful of covers and a couple of Mysteries of Life songs. At their show last week in Boston, the audience cheered for an encore for a full 20 minutes — the houselights had long come back up — until the trio, who had already exhausted their entire repertoire, were forced to return and play their two opening numbers over again. With Feel It, Some Girls have delivered an impressive debut: a slab of hard-hitting, light-on-its-feet, 21st-century rock ’n’ roll. All three women are proud of the new disc, but for Freda it’s been a particularly satisfying experience. “The album sounds so Midwestern in so many ways I think — which makes me really happy. I feel like it brings together the Boston music scene that I was a part of and then my whole Midwestern musical family. I feel like this record brings my whole musical career together. I like that.”