Never afraid to wrestle her personal demons into songs, Juliana Hatfield has carved out an impressive musical career with her brand of self analysis. From her work with indie darlings the Blake Babies and her critically acclaimed solo albums (beginning with 1992’s Hey Babe), to last year’s Some Girls side project, Hatfield has won fans with songs that blend bright, infectious melodies with lyrics drawn from life’s chaos and confusion. While her latest album continues to mine that dark yet appealing vein, In Exile Deo also represents a breaking of new ground for the popular and influential singer-songwriter.
“I’ve always been pretty confused about love and life,” admits Hatfield, with typically refreshing candor. “But I’ve been digging deep into myself and my past to get to the bottom of things and I’m beginning to understand things much better.” She adds: “Before, I was completely unaware of what I was doing — I was just this idiot savant, spitting out these songs that I wasn’t really thinking about. Now, I’m more aware of what I’m saying and have more control over what I’m thinking. And the self awareness is making me a more confident songwriter and performer.”
Some of the songs on In Exile Deo examine dysfunctional, even destructive tendencies. The urgent opening “Get in Line” reflects the wounded protagonist’s raw vulnerability, while the shuffling “Forever” finds the narrator failing to break bad habits and depressing behavioral patterns. And the title character in the pulsing “Jamie’s in Town” represents the side of oneself that withdraws when the going gets tough. “I crawl into my cave with bloodshot eyes,” sings Hatfield, “little sugar pills to ease my mind.”
Other numbers serve as cautionary tales or wistful admissions of past regret. The soaring pop of “Some Rainy Sunday,” featuring a mellifluous chorus and surging organ fills, looks back on the lingering emotions of a former relationship—a theme also explored on “It Should Have Been You.” Meanwhile, the humorous “Dirty Dog,” about personal boundaries, and the sad “Singing in the Shower,” about a 40-year-old man’s midlife crisis, act as warning signs for what can lay ahead in life.
But in stark contrast to those sobering messages, several songs rank among Hatfield’s most positive compositions. The chiming “Tourist” is a self-affirming anthem, while the driving “Don’t Let Me Down” expresses an admirable resolve. And the upbeat, piano-laced pop of “Sunshine” basks in a joyous, giddy optimism, as Hatfield sings, “I’ve been sleeping through my life, now I’m waking up and I want to stand in the sunshine.”
Now 36, Hatfield has clearly had some revelations about both life and her art. “Time and age only add richness to the whole endeavor,” she says. “As long as you have something to say artistically, personal growth deepens what you’re doing creatively. For me, it was coming to terms with the fact that it’s a personal choice to get your life together and become happy, or else let it continue to run its own, screwed-up course. I could either end up like the guy in ‘Singing in the Shower,’ or take a chance and struggle and try and turn it around for the better.”
The 13 songs on In Exile Deo were written and produced by Hatfield herself, except for “Jamie’s In Town” and “Sunshine,” which were co-produced by David Leonard (Avril Lavigne, John Mellencamp, Shawn Colvin). Dave Way (Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray, India Arie), and Dave Cooke (B-52s, Nick Cave, Graham Parker) mixed the remainder of the album. Her musical collaborators include keyboardist Peter Adams, bassist Josh Lattanzi and drummers Damon Richardson and Steve Scully. Hatfield’s sound was further enhanced by Jill Kurtz’s surging blues harp and Gary Burke’s dreamy string arrangements.
Hatfield first emerged on the pop scene with Boston-based college radio favorites the Blake Babies, teamed with John Strohm and Freda Love. After going solo, Hatfield garnered widespread critical acclaim with solo albums like Hey Babe, Become What You Are, Bed and Beautiful Creature, and such radio-friendly tunes as “My Sister,” “Supermodel,” “Addicted,” “Universal Heartbeat” and “Everybody Loves Me But You.” Meanwhile, her popular song “Spin the Bottle” was featured on the million-selling Reality Bites soundtrack.
With In Exile Deo, the celebrated confessional singer-songwriter admits that she’s reached a creative turning point. Says Hatfield: “I’d always clung to my music because I was so desperate — it was my lifeboat. I always felt that music was some kind of weird knack that I had, that I somehow didn’t deserve.” She adds: “Now I feel like I’m in partnership with my music, that we’re equals, and I’m finally worthy of it. It’s as if I’ve reached the point where I feel I deserve to make music and it’s a beautiful thing.”