Juliana Hatfield has been one of the most prolific singer-songwriters in indie-rock.
Her discography includes dozens of albums, EPs and soundtrack appearances since her 1992 debut solo record, “Hey Babe.” Recently, Hatfield switched gears and is revisiting the catalogs of favorite artists from her youth and recorded their songs in her signature style.
After the success of 2018’s “Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John,” she has released “Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police,” which she’ll promote at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix on Friday, January 24.
“The Police (record) was a little bit easier and I felt more comfortable with the material,” she says, comparing the process of deconstructing and recording songs by the Police and Newton-John.
“It’s more like my style in a way. The way that Sting sings feels really natural to me, not that it’s easy. It takes a lot of energy and effort, but (the melodies), I know them so well. It’s like second nature singing them.
“The Olivia Newton-John songs were much more challenging technically. The songwriting was a little more complicated and the vocalizing was a little more complicated. The Olivia Newton-John thing was like trying to figure out math problems a little bit. Ultimately, it was really gratifying and fulfilling. I love her and the songs so much, but it was not easy.”
Her 2019 version of “Every Breath You Take” is not the first time she’s covered it on an album. Her 2002 release “Gold Stars 1992–2002: The Juliana Hatfield Collection” featured the classic song in a completely different arrangement.
“I had an urge to try it again with my 2019 brain, which has evolved from my 2002 brain,” Hatfield says. “My 2002 brain was immersed in grunge and I was playing a Les Paul guitar through Marshall stacks, so that was kind of the sound I was into then. But today I’m more into a ‘cruddy’ sound with, with just something small. I’m playing some smaller amplifiers, Fenders and Ampegs. It’s just a different aesthetic now that I like. So, I came at it from a different angle. I wanted it to be a little ‘cruddier’ and a little more rhythmic. That chugging baseline that I started with, I came up with that and it really made the song feel different, I think.”
Hatfield says there were other songs recorded that didn’t make the album.
“We recorded a version of ‘Truth Hits Everybody,’ which I left off the album because I felt like I just didn’t do anything very interesting with it,” Hatfield says.
“It was just a very straight-ahead, faithful version of the song, and I felt it was kind of blah. I set it aside and, but then I just listened to it the other day and it’s actually pretty good. I kind of regret not putting it on the album.”
She says she was contemplating doing “Driven to Tears,” but her engineer, who was younger than her, never heard The Police’s version.
“(He) told me he knew (it) from seeing Pearl Jam do it,” she recalls.
“My engineer dialed it up for me from YouTube and I saw Pearl Jam doing it and they did a pretty note-for-note faithful version. I just thought if Pearl Jam has the definitive cover of ‘Driven to Tears,’ then I don’t really need to do it. I let Pearl Jam have that one.”
The Police tribute comes on the heels of “Weird,” a personal album released earlier this year. The Newton-John record followed “Pussycat,” the 2017 powerful anti-Trump album written in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.
The collections aren’t part of a “serious record/cover record” cycle.
“No, I don’t really strategize or plan very well,” Hatfield says.
“I just do. I just play it by ear all the time. I guess making the covers albums, maybe they both inspired me to want to write more of my own songs. ‘Pussycat’ came before Olivia Newton-John, but yeah, ‘Pussycat’ was a pretty dark, angry record and I felt after that I needed to go toward something beautiful and light and gorgeous, which was Olivia Newton-John. And then after that, I went back into the darkness with ‘Weird.’ I think it’s just a balance.
Part of what makes “Juliana Hatfield Sings The Police” “light and gorgeous” is the album artwork by Boston’s Nicole Anguish. Hatfield says she was chosen specifically for her style for the Newton-John and The Police albums.
“She does these illustrations of faces that don’t have all the features drawn in, so I thought that would work really well because she could evoke me and Olivia Newton-John without being too specific about it.
“I didn’t want to use a really detailed image of Olivia’s face because that felt like theft or something. I didn’t want to exploit her image. I think Nicole made it work in a really respectful way, evoking Olivia Newton-John by putting her next to me—her with the blonde hair and me with the brown hair. She did the same thing with The Police in a really cool way. She subtly used the colors from ‘Synchronicity’—the yellow, blue, and red—and she used those colors in the album cover to evoke The Police in a really subtle way.”
With two fantastic albums of covers and a 30-year discography to draw on, what songs can fans expect on this tour? Hatfield doesn’t know for sure.
“It’s hard, it complicated. I want to do some from the last four albums—the two covers albums and the two original albums and then go back to the very beginning,” Hatfield says.
“I want to do a couple from my first album, ‘Hey Babe,’ and then a couple from the first Atlantic album, ‘Become What You Are,’ and then a few in between from other albums.”
Crescent Ballroom, 308 N. Second Avenue, Phoenix, crescentphx.com, 7 p.m. Friday, January 24, $20 in advance, $25 day of show.