Tag Archives: Music


Juliana Hatfield Says Goodbye To The Stage, Hello To Art School

Here’s a conundrum: what do you do when the thing you love makes you sick? Juliana Hatfield has been trying to answer that question for a long time. In 2008 she put out a hopefully-titled album, How To Walk Away. At 44, she’s finally making her move. We met for tea recently at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, where Hatfield is enrolled in an intensive studio art program, to talk about closing the book on performing and starting a new chapter as a painter.

Q: How’s school going?

A: It’s going great. I’m not really ready to show my stuff to people. I feel like I’m just here at school trying to develop my skills and ideas. One of the faculty used the premature birth analogy. He said, “Don’t push your work out prematurely.” I don’t want to do that.

Q: How long is the program?

A: Just a year. It’s a post-baccalaureate certificate program. But a lot of people see it as pre-MFA training.

Q: Are you looking at it that way?

A: Well, I wasn’t. I really just wanted to learn and have a more intensive art school experience and just develop, but I think I’m going to apply to a couple of MFA programs, although I don’t know if that would be practical for me.

Q: That brings up the question of plans.

A: If I could afford to, I would just paint for the foreseeable future. It’s the way I saw music before. I only wanted to do that. Now I want to paint. That is probably going to sound so pretentious coming from someone who’s been a musician. It’s weird, no one even knows I’m doing this school. None of my quote unquote fans knows that I’m in school.  I haven’t really told anyone.

Q: Why not?

A: I’m doing it for me. I always felt that I had potential but I put it on the back burner when I started doing music full-time. Now I’m trying to see if I can develop the skills that I have.


Filed under: Interviews Tags: , , , , ,
drum machine

And Now For Something Completely Different.

I went to Kidder Farm last week. Usually when I visit I politely listen to and then ignore Gary’s suggestions for fresh approaches to songwriting. That’s not to say he doesn’t have good ideas, just that they haven’t worked for me. Taking a walk didn’t work. Coming up with a melody first didn’t work. I think I’m too inexperienced. Maybe strumming guitar and staring into space is my method. But this time I was desperate or tipsy enough to agree that starting a new song on a drum machine would be an excellent idea. Here’s how it went: Gary unearthed the drum machine, plugged it in, and left.

I spent half a day scrolling through the preset patterns: Rock 1, Rock 2, Rock 3, Rock 4, and so forth. Hard Rock 1, 2, and 3. Rockabilly. Various Technos. Some Funk and Latin. Reggae (as if). Dixie. Polka. Jazz. R&B. Fusion. You’re thinking, as I was, wouldn’t Country Rock or Ballad be a smart choice for the newbie? But no. The beat that won my heart was Rap 3. It’s sharp. It swings. It’s not like me. Beyond that I really don’t know and I really don’t have to. My choices don’t have to make sense. It’s not like I’m searching for a sound or strategizing a career. I’m exploring, pure and if not exactly simple then definitely agenda-less. And there was something titillating about being so far out of my comfort zone. Which leads to my next choice: a keyboard. I don’t play keyboard. Not a bit. Never took lessons as a kid and never fooled around as a teenager. But the keyboard is where I and Rap 3 wanted to go. So we did. Gary unearthed a keyboard, plugged it in, and left.

I found myself in another world of preset sounds. I scrolled through a lot of them.  I’m vaguely embarassed to say that I chose Voice Ooh (39), which sounds like a capella singing and is pretty cheesy when you play it on the middle and higher notes but on the bottom of the keyboard it sounds less humanoid and pretty cool. The most number of fingers I seemed to be able to use simultaneously was two, so I poked around with my thumb and pinkie in the key of C, because I know enough to know that I could avoid the black keys. I  poked and poked some more until I found a pattern I liked. I spent a long time figuring out the names of the sort-of chords I was playing, for no reason other than it seemed like a crime to not know. I spent a very long time playing with tempo. Fast felt frantic and technically prohibitive. Slow felt slow-jammy and totally faux. Midtempo seemed the only option. And then it was time to, what? I wasn’t writing a song, at least not in the narrative, intuitive way I’d done previously, so much as making components that would later be sliced and diced and fashioned into a song. How fashionable.

Beats, check. Synth-poppy chords, check. Some kind of simple melodic line ought to come next, partly because that would balance the busy rhythm and staccato chords, and partly because I could do it with one finger. So I chose a new sound, Vib Pad (87), and made a little melody. A very little melody. Dear reader, here it is. In fact, here is a lot more of my three humble parts than you would ever want to listen to because I don’t know how to edit in GarageBand, so it goes on and on and on. Just press stop.

Synth Pop Parts by Middlemojo

Filed under: I am trying to write some songs Tags: , , , ,
lucky-number-seven-is--painting your toes_wallpaper

Different Kind of Lucky

I vowed to finish and post “Different Kind of Lucky” a couple of weeks ago but if you’ve been reading this blog you know that despite my best intentions a few things have gotten in the way. Well, one thing. Me. The song is finally done and there’s even a line about good intentions in the chorus. This is real life, people. Anyway, I had started thinking about how sometimes when things go wrong it’s not just a drag but an opportunity. I don’t really know what sort of song it is, which sort of bothers me. I recorded it late at night with no effects but in my my head I hear lots of clattering instruments, all shambling and propulsive-like. Also, THERE IS A BRIDGE. My first one. Sometimes I really can’t believe I’m doing this.

Different Kind of Lucky by Middlemojo

Filed under: I am trying to write some songs Tags: , , , ,
Scott Miller

Scott Miller Has Drawers Full Of Songs. Somebody Give Him A Deadline.

Behold the cult band, that scintillating species of rock group whose breadth of popularity is inversely proportional to the depth of its fans’ devotion. Scott Miller is behind two of them: 1980s college radio darlings Game Theory and the next decade’s lush, loopy Loud Family. He’s an eccentric, cerebral power popster, deeply loved but not by enough people, according to Miller’s calculations, to justify his musical existence. At 51, he is not at all sure he will make another album. Miller is, however, releasing a second edition of his book, “Music: What Happened?,” a collection of reviews of his favorite songs grouped like mixtapes from each of the last 50-plus years. He called from San Mateo, California, where he lives with his wife and two daughters and works as a computer programmer.

Q: I have to say I feel weirdly close to you even though I don’t know you because I’m a critic who’s writing music and you’re a musician who writes criticism. What made you want to write about music?

A: It all started with a band, and it’s just a tiny little band, but it has its followers and they have this fan site and I was doing a question and answer thing. No matter what kind of a question people emailed, about physics or world politics or whatever, I tried to answer it.

Q: That’s the Ask Scott column at the Loudfamily.com.

A: Ask Scott, exactly. I did that for a while and I started thinking that what I really want to do is try to collect all my favorite songs from over the years, because it’s suddenly easy with iTunes, and instead of Ask Scott I would write about a year and pick my favorite songs and write about those. It’s like a little justification of my choices. And so it became one of those a week. It wasn’t really a decision to become a music writer, but I certainly had strong urges to write about music, I think.

Q: I’m struck by what you said about justifying your choices. There’s something self-validating about putting your feelings about music into words.

A: I couldn’t agree with you more. There is a self-validation dimension to that.


Filed under: Interviews Tags: , , ,

Listening Lab: Over the Rhine

There’s a song called “The Laugh of Recognition” on an album called The Long Surrender which is the latest release in the 20-year career of the husband-and-wife duo from southern Ohio called Over the Rhine. I love them. Karin Bergquist says this on the band’s website of the new album’s title: It speaks to our ongoing desire to let go of certain expectations (and much of what we are so convinced we know for sure) in favor of remaining open and curious. It seems like many of our friends are currently wrestling with various forms of ‘letting go,’ so hopefully the ideas conjured by the title feel somewhat universal. And I think the title speaks to the arc of a lifelong commitment to writing and performing regardless of recognition. Learning when to work hard and when to let go. Learning to leave room for grace to billow our sails occasionally. Learning not to white-knuckle everything.

Here’s to mystery, and tenacity, and the knowledge that wide eyes and wisdom aren’t mutually exclusive.

Filed under: Word/Play Tags: , ,