Under The Big Black Sun
I was a teenager living in this small town in Massachusetts. My older brother decided to join the army and his girlfriend moved in with us. She became the cool, older sister that I never had and her record collection was really a really important education. I remember one day she put on the X song “Motel Room In My Bed” and I thought it was the most exciting, glorious sound I’d ever heard. It made me realise that I was looking for something much more raw and weird and tough than the pop stuff on the radio, but without losing any of the melody. I didn’t really understand that they’re singing about sex and poverty and death, but somehow I still related to the angst underneath.
Again, it’s unpolished and kind of raw but there’s a lot of beauty to the songs. The band was not a stardom vehicle for the singer – everything was equally important and working together to create this totally new sound. I related to what seemed like the inarticulation of the words because I was very inarticulate myself, I didn’t really know how to communicate. So I liked that the singer wasn’t making all the words clear. All the feeling came through, regardless of what the words were saying. Music for me was always about transmitting honesty and emotion and it wasn’t so much about the words. Up until my twenties I never even really listened to lyrics, it was all about just hearing sound.
Let It Be
Paul Westerberg’s voice was like a beacon to me. I recognised its defiant sadness, like we had been siblings in another life. I really related to the misfit attitude of always defying authority, even at personal risk: the idea of self-sabotage as heroism. Later, Paul and I made music together, and it was very exciting to get to know this hero of mine as an actual person. He hasn’t lost any of his musical power. But the fact that he doesn’t want to share his music with the public, I totally get it, because it’s very draining. Paul said to me once about music that I needed to save some for myself – don’t give everything to the audience because then you’ll have nothing of yourself left.
You’re Living All Over Me
A huge, huge inspiration to me. J Mascis is one of my top five guitar players of all time, the way he soloed was just totally mind-blowing. I love the combination of heaviness and beauty with this album, and just the ache running through it. I was listening to it this morning in preparation for this interview, and I started crying because of the ache. Blake Babies, my first band, we all lived together in this apartment in Boston and we were obsessed with this record. I remember sitting in front of the stereo, head between speakers, just absorbing the sound. It felt like it was from another planet, and I wanted to go there.
SUB POP, 1989
Another album that blew the minds of me and the Blake Babies when we were all living together in the late ’80s. When we went on tour, we had the cassette of Bleach and we put it in the van and we would all just bliss out on it. Just the relentlessness of the disillusionment, I found so pure. It was there from the very beginning; you could almost predict his suicide because it was like he was almost defeated before he started. He really was the voice of a generation, although I hate that expression. He spoke to us and he spoke for us. But at the root of it he was a great rock voice – and a genius, really.
OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN & ELO
It was a marriage of two of my favourite childhood artists of the ’70s who came together on the soundtrack to this crazy, excellent movie. Olivia Newton-John was a really graceful and gracious artist with no pretension. I was very moved by the sound of her voice. She was really mainstream, but she also seemed kind of natural, like she wasn’t trying too hard to make the audience love her. She was never trying to pander to the crowd in my opinion, she was just lovable by nature. And then ELO, they’re a whole other category of genius. Obviously I love them – I just made an album of all ELO songs.
Sting had a unique singing voice, he didn’t sound like anyone. I was in a cover band in high school and we did a lot of Police songs, so I had a real affinity for the way that Sting sang those songs. The chemistry between those three guys was unreal. All the lore says that they fought, even came to blows at times. I don’t know if that’s true, but some of the best bands have volatile personal relationships and maybe that’s necessary when you have such strong personalities blending together musically. And I’m wearing a Sting concert T-shirt! I went to see him a couple of weeks ago play in Boston with my oldest friend in the world. It was kind of a nostalgia trip, but Sting still sang and played bass amazingly.
REAL RECORDS, 1979
Chrissie Hynde is one of the great rock voices of all time. Such a boss, such a badass, such a great songwriter. I’m still waiting for someone else to live up to the example that she made. And I love that some of the songwriting’s kind of experimental – the second song on that album is in 7/8 time, it’s in a non-traditional time signature, which is so cool. It’s such a rock thing to do and it’s a little bit progressive. What else can you say about her? She’s just one of the great singers: so tough, so smart. A great example and inspiration. The real deals, they don’t stop – they just keep doing it, because it’s in their blood.
Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO is out now via American Laundromat