Juliana Hatfield has been praised by fans and critics alike for her tuneful contributions to the golden age of indie rock. But even she admits to fangirling out when The Police shared a link on social media to her latest album, “Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police.”
“I think I screamed and jumped up and down for a minute,” she tells Highway 81 Revisited. “It was exciting to me, I’m not exaggerating. It was great to even have this project acknowledged by the source. It was very fucking cool.”
Released last November, the 12-song album runs the gamut from iconic hits like opener “Can’t Stand Losing You” to “Landlord,” a 1979 B-side. The reason Hatfield chose to pay homage to The Police — her second covers album in as many years following 2018’s “Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John” — was simple: “There are just so many great songs, and the songs hold up over time.”
“They still have meaning,” she continues, “for me and for the world. This existential angst, always these great universal themes, that are still completely relevant and powerful, I think. And then just the great melodies and the hooks, and it’s really fun music and really fun to sing and play, but it has some substance and depth. I love the combination of extreme catchiness and the darkness and the depth. The love songs aren’t just straight love songs. There’s a real darkness.”
Hatfield, who was a member of Blake Babies and The Lemonheads in the ’90s, quickly dismisses the notion that performing songs written and originally sung by a man had any impact on her approach to them.
“No, not at all. I don’t think gender matters at all in these songs,” she says. “I did not change the gender because I think sometimes when a woman sings a man’s song, sometimes they change the gender and I always find that very jarring. It disturbs the song. It takes you out of the trance of song. I don’t think it matters what pronouns I sing. Plus it changes my perspective too. With ‘Roxanne,’ when Sting sings about it it’s a different story, it’s about a streetwalker, being in this agonized love affair with a streetwalker. When I sing ‘Roxanne’ I’m singing about a friend who’s a streetwalker.”
Hatfield, who last year also released “Weird,” an original album, said the covers have allowed to her to shake off some habits she’s built over the course of more than a dozen solo albums, starting with 1992’s “Hey Babe.”
“I get to get away from myself,” says Hatfield. “It’s like getting away from myself, really, and getting away from my own habits as a songwriter. I get frustrated with the way I repeat things. I have chord formations and structures, and I fall into those. Having to learn other people’s songs, it really gets me out of those ruts, and that’s a big thing that I like about it, and just exploring the joyfulness of the songs that I love and have loved for decades. It’s an immersion in good feelings for the most part, although it can be challenging.”
Speaking of that joy, Hatfield says Newton-John “was like a fairy godmother to me when I was a kid.”
“I really felt like this was the sparkling angel in my life and such a source of comfort and joy, and her music was really comforting,” she says. “When I was recording her music, it was almost like I was more afraid to…I didn’t want to damage any of the music. I was just careful about trying to really respect it and not do anything to tarnish it any way. And Olivia Newton-John was much more challenging to record because the songwriting was a bit more complex and it was tougher to sing those melodies because she has such a wide range and her voice is so live. When I sing Police songs, I feel like I have a more natural affinity for those melodies. It’s easier for me to bang those out.”
Hatfield says she will “hunker down” to write a new album when she comes off the road — her tour wraps up Friday at Music Hall of Williamsburg — but it sounds like another covers album is in the cards as well. She won’t reveal who she’ll be paying tribute to next, but she dropped at least one intriguing name.
“Yes, it’s something that I’m loving doing,” she says. “I don’t want to say [who] because I don’t want to give it away, but I actually have it narrowed down to a couple. Someone suggested to me doing Duran Duran, and I thought that was a pretty great idea. I think I could do a lot with Duran Duran, bring it down to earth, get some dirt on it and scuzz it up.”