An uncompromising reaction to the polish of 2004’s In Exile Deo.
As raw and as uncommercial as Juliana has ever been, this is a brutal album, in part an overdue reaction to the reluctant alterna-queen period of the early 90s. What Do I Care references the inescapable past and the title echoes the theme of Bed’s 'Let’s Blow It All'.
Recorded without the usual studio trickery on her voice and instrumentation, this is pure sound and as close to the heart-beat of the artist as can be. Released on her own label, recorded quickly and exactly how she wanted, this a triumph of artistic indulgence.
This was the right record at the right time for whatever was going on in her head.
The stripped down acoustic bleakness of Hole In The Sky , referencing 9/11 fits in to the album well.
The old themes of 1993’s Supermodel and 2000’s My Protégée get updated for a critique on the female singers turning to sexual imagery to boost sales. In a letter originally posted on her website at the time of the album’s release, Juliana stated that “everything else is Made in China” so why not her? No-one from Mariah Carey to Gwen Stefani would escape the outburst. And yes, the sleeve contains a picture of Juliana in the bath. Perfect.
Nowhere is this theme better defined than on the less than 90 seconds guitar burst that is Going Blonde:
“I don’t want nothing / means I want something / millions of diamonds / sparkling and shining / singing stupid songs / I’m going blonde”.
For all its reactionary energy, the record bizarrely sits well with the ‘sophisticated’ In Exile Deo as confirmation of an artist, still after all these years hitting creative highs.
One of Juliana's landmark records, Made In China is an undoubted, brutal success.
"She's the new version of herself, the now version, and what does she care if you don't like it? But you will."
Johnny Loftus, AllMusic
"Hatfield's going on 40 but still stuck in adolescene, complaining, "I don't want to go to school today/ I just wanna play guitar all day" on "Stay Awake"."
Rachel Khong, Pitchfork
"Made In China is a confused, sloppy, childish, conflicted mess, so if Hatfield's words are to be taken at face value, the album is nonetheless a remarkably astute, accurate statement of artistic identity. It's a mess, all right, but it's a mess that nonetheless compels for its immediacy."
Jonathan Keefe, Slant
"Songwriter eschews pop conventions and spews lyrical venom"
Jim Motavalli, Paste
With Made In China, Juliana Hatfield transforms her trademark pop songs into rough-cut guitar jams. The eighth solo record for Hatfield, formerly of late-’80s alt-rock darlings Blake Babies and bassist on the Lemonheads’ It’s A Shame About Ray, is a marked departure from the more polished, singer/songwriter feel of 2004’s In Exile Deo. “Going Blonde” is a perfect example of this loose ethic; at just more than a minute, the song is the perfect pop/punk rave-up, combining Hatfield’s squealing “nah-nah”s and squalling guitars. In contrast, the equally raw but considerably darker “Send Money” grinds along on a guitar riff that’s as thick as boiled lead. Issuing the grungy, stripped-down Made In China on her own Ye Olde Records label meant that Hatfield had only to meet her own expectations.
Are you still living in the Boston area?
Yep. I live in Cambridge. I’ve lived here for about four years.
Tell me about the open letter you posted on your Web site about the new record. It seems to be designed to confuse.
I was actually trying to clarify some things. Before I put the record out, people were starting to ask, “Oh, what’s the significance of the photograph on the cover? What are you trying to say with that?” I hadn’t even thought about it. And there were questions from people interpreting songs. I thought that maybe I’d just prevent any questions that people might have by explaining things. I guess I was just sort of talking about the record and what it means.
It’s full of contradictions, though.
That’s because I’m full of contradictions. I remember being very depressed when I wrote that. I was depressed and trying to explain things in that frame of mind and that’s what came out of me. I guess I was just trying to express some truths about how I feel about the record.
The cover (of the record) is provocative, yet you take the industry to task in the letter for their “sex sells” mentality.
I don’t really know if I’m taking it to task. I’m just telling it like it is. It is what it is. The way I see it, all the popular singers are strippers. That’s just how I see it, and I think a lot of other people see it that way. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong or bad or good. I mean, I’m entertained by some of it. I just think it’s a little bit sad and disheartening that really talented people have to play that game.
Do you think that’s anything new, though?
No, it’s not. I think I brought it up because of the photograph issue. People were starting to ask me. My manager was asking me, “How are you going to explain this naked torso on your album cover?” To me, it was almost like a cool art shot. I never really thought about it. It’s from a series of self-portrait photographs that I took of myself about two years ago. I find myself a fascinating subject. They were lying around. I dug them out of a drawer somewhere and thought it would be a cool album cover. There’s really no thought put into it other than that. So I kind of backtracked and thought about the meaning for it. People need meanings to everything. People want you to intellectualize every choice you make.
Let’s talk about the music. This record seems like a conscious effort to get back to basics.
Yeah. I just wanted to do it kind of fast, without too much thought put into the actual performances to capture the raw, early takes of everything. It just kind of gives it a good energy. It’s also cheaper that way. And easier. I’m pretty lazy. After my last album, which was a pretty involved, painstaking process in the studio, I wasn’t feeling up to the task of ironing out all the little flaws. I just wanted to play it fast and fun.
I see you recruited some youngsters (members of the Massachusetts trio the Unbusted, featuring Hatfield's ex-boyfriend, Joe Keefe) on this record. Was that part of the plan to get a raw sound?
Nah, they were just sort of around. I was hanging around them and I was a really big fan. They had been doing some shows with me. Their band opened for me on a tour and they were just kind of there, so I had them come in and do it. They were the best answer to the problem of who’s going to play on this album.
Why the self-release? Seems a lot of artists are doing it these days.
I think the industry is forcing them to, pushing everyone in that direction. For me, it just became the only answer and everything was leading me to putting out my own record. It’s gone exactly how I wanted it to go. I got the record out, it’s in some stores and we’re doing some mail-order business, too, which is great, because it’s really empowering to see exactly who’s buying it, where they’re coming from and I can see exactly how many copies I’ve sold. It’s not such a mystery to me now. I can audit the record company and see truthfully how many records I’ve sold. It’s just really cool to be hands-on with everything.
Is it something you’ll continue to do?
Well, for a while. I’m really not into the business side of it. It’s a business and that’s kind of a drag, because I don’t really care about money. I find money boring and accounting boring and so I’m probably not going to ever make a lot of money in it, because I don’t have the mind of a business person. To me, it’s not about maximizing profits, it’s about being totally independent. The benefit is the freedom of it, you know? I don’t have to go on tour if I don’t feel like it. There’s no label pressure to go on tour. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I can make all the choices.
Sounds like you’re pretty ambivalent about commercial success.
Well, of course I am. I mean, at this point, how can I possibly care about that stuff? To me, the commercial side of it now is about making a living. I never really cared about achieving commercial success. As soon as I was signed to a record company, I felt like I made it because I was able to quit my day job. To me, success was just not having to have a boss and not having a day job. So I’ve been living my own version of success since the early ’90s when I first got signed and I haven’t had a job since then. I’m pretty happy about that. When I did have a little bit of commercial success, it really didn’t suit my temperament at all. I’m a terrible public person. I’m happier where I am now.
It seems like you consider yourself an outsider.
Yeah. I never really expected to win the hearts of the masses.
How do you look back on that whole early-’90s era? Any regrets?
I probably did too many interviews. I said too many stupid things. Seriously, I wish I would have just kept my mouth shut and refused to do any interviews. I was just so young and naïve and stupid. I had no filter. I had no media coach like bands do today. I was just like, “Yeah, I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.” I wasn’t very articulate and I didn’t think things through. I probably should have just kept my mouth shut and let the music speak for itself, but you have to promote, so I promoted.
Back to the new record, is “Send Money” autobiographical or is there a specific incident that inspired it?
I wasn’t writing about a particular instance, but more than once I’ve been approached by overeager Christians offering to help me to be saved. They’re just like overeager proselytizers trying to open me up to the joys of their belief system. I’m just a very private person. So I’m just kind of offended whenever someone tries to impose their belief system on to me. It’s like when people offer to pray for you, like there’s something wrong with you. As if you need to be prayed for? I find that really offensive. It’s like, “If you want to help me, give me money, then you’ll really be helping me. My soul is fine, thanks.” A lot of so-called Christian souls are not fine. People need to look inside themselves and look at the lives they’re leading and fix themselves before they try to fix other people. A perfect example is the Catholic priests, who we all found out last year were raping little children. These spiritual leaders who are telling people what is right in wrong. Those are the people who should really be fixing what’s wrong inside themselves instead of trying to fix everyone else. You know what I’m trying to say, right?
I’m with you on all counts.
I’m sure it’s the way a lot of people feel. Are you Catholic?
I was raised Protestant, but my current belief system reflects everything you just said.
Have you read Under The Banner Of Heaven?
No, I haven’t. Tell me about it.
It’s by this guy named Jon Krakauer, who wrote Into The Wild and Into Thin Air. It’s partly a history of Mormonism. It’s also telling the story of these fundamentalist Mormons who have been compelled by god to kill some fellow Mormons. They kill, in very vicious ways, Mormons of their group who they claim god said were bad people. It just sort of feeds into what I already said. The most rabidly religious people are the most rabidly evil.
And it continues today.
It never stops. As long as there are religions, there are going to be people who are hiding their rottenness behind the veil of religion.
Although criticised in some quarters of the press for sounding too polished and packaged, this album is an absolute gem.
The themes of dysfunction, incompatibility and alienation are again explored on this album but with a look to the future and not always a positive one.
But for the most part, the themes concentrate on the personal demons we face, the habits we know we must break to make our lives what we want them to be. Sometimes Juliana takes on the role of commentator such as on the tale of the 40 year old Singing In The Shower, “dreaming of nights he’s been missing all of his life”.
On tracks such as the dark Forever she acknowledges a bad habit and tells herself “just one more, then I’ll quit, forever”. It could be a tribute to nicotine or an acknowledgement of a bad behavioural trait.
Then, just as the album nears its close, comes the truly upbeat moment on the delightful Sunshine: *“i've been sleeping through my life / now I'm waking up / and I want to stand in the sunshine”. *The song has a beautiful uplifting tune to match.
The AOR production and songs structured like Because We Love You undoubtedly led to the allegation in Q magazine that Juliana was turning into Sheryl Crow. Meant as an insult but reflecting a natural maturity in the songwriting process of a woman in her mid 30s. In Exile Deo stands up to repeated plays more than any other in the “adult female rock” genre.
The inclusion of Dot Allison’s Tomorrow Never Comes is nonetheless a curious one. Hardly differing from Allison’s superior version it doesn’t quite fit on this album, despite the lyrics.
For those in personal crisis this is an album of unashamed comfort and inspiration.
"In the best sense, Hatfield sounds mature for the first time, bringing together the precious pop and ringing rock that she had compartmentalized on the simultaneously released Beautiful Creature and Total System Failure, and writing with a wry, knowing sense of irony."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, AllMusic
The Blake Babies reunion spawned this ‘side project’ all female trio of Juliana Hatfield, Freda Love and Heidi Gluck. Not always as musically dark as Juliana’s other work; a simple, light, but not lightweight guitar pop record.
There are some magnificent hooks here. A good one to listen to when driving too. Necessito is so infectious it shouldn't be played in the morning unless you are happy singing it to yourself all day! The album finishes with a beautiful reworking of Robert Johnson’s blues classic, Malted Milk.