"Passage of time is weird," Juliana Hatfield says. "Something can feel like yesterday and also like a million years ago."
That's how it was when the 47-year-old singer/guitarist returned to the studio with her group the Juliana Hatfield Three for the first time since 1993. The band started to play songs from their debut album, Become What You Are, and muscle memory kicked in. Sure, there were some guitar parts Hatfield had to go over again, but for the most part, it was easy as riding bike.
"It's been a really long time since I played most of those songs," Hatfield says. "The cool thing is that it all came back really quickly. We toured so much back then in the '90s and played those songs so much."
It only took the alt-rock group about 21 years to record its second album: Whatever, My Love was released in February. With a new project in tow, the Juliana Hatfield Three has hit the road to play Become What You Are in its entirety, along with some new tunes as well. The tour stops at the Neighborhood Theatre on March 23.
"I'm a fatalist," Hatfield says. "I don't look back and regret things. I never wanted to [reunite the band] until now. Now seems like the perfect time because I want to do it now and didn't want to before."
Hatfield originally contacted drummer Todd Philips to play on a new solo album, and when he suggested JH3 bassist Dean Fisher join them, Hatfield knew the timing was right for a reunion. Given that the trio's first album was Hatfield's most successful, national press has taken notice with articles featured in USA Today, Boston Globe, Seattle Times and countless music blogs.
It's worth noting that Hatfield wasn't sitting on her laurels for the last 22 years though. She's released 11 solo albums since then, reunited with her original band Blake Babies and kept up a consistent touring regiment. One might think Hatfield could be a little upset in a "I've been here all along, if you were paying attention" kind of way, but she's not.
"I'm not pissed off," she says. "It's nice when people appreciate what you do. If people are interested in this, that's fine. It's not a huge buzz. We're not going to set the world on fire. It's a nice level of interest. It's nice that people care and want to see it."
There's a calm shyness in Hatfield's voice as we chat about Boston's unrelenting snow accumulations and her first album. The introverted singer admits it's an odd dichotomy in her life of keeping personal things private, while getting up on stage and shouting lyrics through an amplifier.
"I don't feel any hesitation about being honest about subject matter, but I don't give out all the details of my personal life," Hatfield says of her lyrics. "It's crafted ... it's not a diary open to the public."
When Hatfield's solo work first started hitting airwaves, people viewed her pop-friendly alt-rock as a lyrical alternative. Her songs sounded more like journal entries that told it like it is, remaining unpolished on the musical landscape. She didn't make a conscious decision to do that though.
"I was very self-absorbed," Hatfield says. "I was just trying to take care of myself. Writing songs was therapeutic. It helped me to be less miserable. Some people go to therapists and talk over problems. Other people have drugs or whatever they do to deal with emotional problems. I would always go to writing songs to just keep myself from falling apart. My natural inclination is just to be honest and not try to invent personas or anything."
Whatever, My Love follows suit. It's a Juliana Hatfield Three album without sounding dated or like more than two decades have gone by. "You make me feel invisible," Hatfield sings to open the jangly first track, "Invisible." There's no flash or showing off here. They're simply crafted songs based around strumming chords reminiscent of some of '90s alt-rock's finest moments.
Just don't take her lyrics too literally. She's honest, but not that honest. A recent Boston Globe review of her album stated the critic's interpretation as fact — "'If I Could' delivers a pep talk to the younger Hatfield," he writes — and Hatfield, in turn, called him out on social media for his erroneous statement. "I would NEVER say/sing/write something as treacly and self-empowering as this about MYSELF," she posted on Facebook.
"People can misinterpret my songs, and that's fine," she says. "I don't need everyone to know exactly what I was thinking. That review was annoying because he was snarky about it. If his review was nicer, I wouldn't have said anything. It made the song sound stupid and made me look like a bad songwriter. I had to correct him."
For the most part, though, Hatfield deals with criticism as she's been dealing with all of the snow that her hometown of Boston has been getting this year.
"You just deal with it and adjust," she says. "We get all kinds of weather up here and you just take what comes. If you can enjoy the quiet, it's really pretty."