Blake Babies Interview
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Blake Babies Interview / Juliana and friends talk Dando and new record, God Bless 'em.

Blakes Babies: The final track on the last BLAKE BABIES release for 10 years, "Rosy Jack World" was an acoustic ballad named after a soon to be famous band, "Nirvana" (the song) which lyrically pre-empted the effect the Seattle trio would have on all music to come. The sweetly sung acoustic ballad was about the life saving power of a good tune (containing the under quoted line, "Here comes the song I love it so much, makes me want to go and fuck shit up") It was an unintentionally appropriate goodbye from a bands band, three kids who got together, according to guitarist John Strohm
" because we wanted to play a gig" .

Blake Babies

BLAKE BABIES, along with The Pixies, Galaxie 500 and The Lemonheads were an integral part of the fertile Boston scene of the late eighties. Although never attaining the critical kudos of their geographically connected band friends,The Blake Babies nevertheless influenced the slew of grunge/alternative bands in the decade that followed. Putting the emphasis back on the music rather than the image. While guitarist John Strohm admits it was an exciting time his famously modest band mate Juliana Hatfield is quick to point out that they never felt a part of their hometown movement.

"We felt that we weren't as "cool" or as "hip" as some of the more popular bands like the Pixies or Dinosaur Jr." Hatfield is quick to point out, " I felt that the Blake Babies were more nerdy, more fans than stars". However, around the time of their sophomore album,"Sunburn" the band seem ready and willing to break into the mainstream on their own terms. After being courted by a couple of major labels the band realized it was an unrealizable dream, as Strohm confesses:

"we had to do it on our own terms, which no labels that approached us seemed to be willing to consent to. I now see that, since we were never big, that was a naive notion to have."

After five years, two LPs and EPs together the band - JULIANA HATFIELD, JOHN STROHM and FREDA LOVE split in 1991 on the cusp of their own and alternative music's move into the mainstream. The very same year as SONIC YOUTH claimed, "Punk broke" Strohm says that the break up was a natural consequence of growing apart:

"When we broke up it was out of necessity. We simply weren't feeling it any more and we needed to immerse ourselves in fresh, new projects. I don't know if I regret it or not, but we definitely did what we had to do."

For Hatfield it was important for her to refresh her musical palette "The break up just, simply, seemed to be the right thing to do at the time needed to move on and work with some different people and change the context." All the band members changed the context and went onto to their own solo careers with varying degrees of success. Stohm and Love continued, initially with the band ANTENNA and Hatfield on her own.

Cut to 1997 and the three band members shared the bill when ANTENNA supported Hatfield, and while the three band member did not end up sharing the stage, it put the wheels in motion for a proper reunion, as Hatfield says, "Freda and I started a dialogue about maybe trying to get together and record something with me and the Mysteries of Life. Well, that never happened (out-of-synch schedules) but then 1 1/2 years ago Freda suggested trying a Blake Babies thing and we were able to make it happen, logistically."

Hatfield had enjoyed major success as a solo artist. Her 1992 solo album, "Hey Babe" was a critical and commercial success. Musically, the sound was just as sweet as The Blake Babies, if not slightly harder. However, the media took the album's confessional lyrics, and applied them to her indefinable relationship to then 'it' boy, Evan Dando (who had played been bassist for the Blakes for a while). Suddenly Hatfield became the latest big thing, her personal life was dissected and spat out again by the media. Hatfield says of that time now:

"I did not enjoy it. I didn't sign on for that part of the career. I just wanted to make records and play gigs, you know? It definitely took away from serious criticism and original thought about my music. I was thrown on some dumb dung heap of an "alternababe" bandwagon. After that I retreated and was glad to have the trend spotting media back off and stop caring."

After the media interest in Hatfield and grunge faded, Hatfield continued to release records albeit in a much lower key fashion . After her last two releases, last years"Total System's Failure"and "Beautiful Creature" Hatfield was ready to be part of her old band again:

"It was very refreshing and relaxing for me."she says" I had gotten to a point where I was sick of myself musically and welcomed the collaboration with the others. It's tiring to have to be the boss and make all the creative decisions, all the business decisions, and to be the focus of all the attention makes me uncomfortable. I love having the spotlight off of me."

For Strohm it was equally easy to come back to the band he had begun with two college friends "We certainly maintain a level of respect for one another's musical talent and abilities, so it is very easy to let each other do our bits."

The band reconvened in 1999 to write and record new material together. However, in the midst of this they played a reunion show on New Years Eve. Taking the stage for the first time since 1991proved to be an odd but ultimately satisfying experience for all involved, "It was a bit of a mindfuck" admits Hatfield now." 10 years had gone by and those years flashed before me and made me deeply consider what I have and have not accomplished in those years. At the same time, playing together felt so natural, almost as if we had never broken up." For Strohm there were no such ambiguous feelings, "It was just a fun-ass time. We felt psyched that we had made a really good album and wanted to celebrate".

The reunited band welcomed back one time member Evan Dando on bass and backing vocals. Dando played on 1988 album, "Earwig" and "Slow Learner" EP. Hatfield and Strohm returned the favour by playing in Dando's band the Lemonheads at various times in the nineties. The beautiful harmony vocals of Dando and Hatfield on "My Drug Buddy"on the Lemonheads' "It's A Shame About Ray" remains a highlight of the bands career. As with bass duties, Dando also resumed backing vocal on The Blake Babies new album and reunion show.

A highlight of the New Years show (and the new album) was Dando's lead vocal performance of "Brain Damage" a song he'd written with Ben Lee containing the lyrics "I've tried all the drugs that I could find.....the brain damage is all in your head " alluding rather clearly to his well documented substance abuse. As it seems now natural to interpret Dando's substance addiction as a consequence of his early success, did the prospect of mega-stardom become a less attractive prospect to his sometime band members?

"I toured with Evan for a couple of years during the height of his fame, and I think he's happier to be somewhat out of the spotlight" Strohm says. He remains the most talented person I have ever known, and I only hope that he continues to make great music for many years to come. The world needs it. Was it a warning? Well, I think we all know better than to get into the kind of trouble Ev got into, what with the drugs and taking his shirt off at photo shoots."

Hatfield is more contemplative "Evan's "success" or "failure" is entirely a media-created thing:

"He has never failed as a songwriter or a singer. He has continued to write and play and just because you didn't see it on t.v. doesn't mean it hasnıt been happening. The music we make is fulfilling. Period. The creating of it is a beautiful thing. That's what people need to understand".

The New Year's show completed the band set about finishing their album.The band set on the shelf for a year while they shopped around for a suitable record deal.When they found it, with ROUNDER RECORDS the album, "God Bless The Blake Babies" was released in March of this year to almost universal critical acclaim.The songs are a mix of their classic powerpop sound and a more grown up sound that is more than a little influenced by Strohm's solo Americana-influenced sound. Along with Dando's track, lyrically there is a definite narcotic haze to the proceedings, Strohm admits this didn't go unnoticed amongst the band members:

"The working title for the album was 'High As A Kite', confesses Strohm, " We don't take drugs ourselves, but here's a news flash: the music biz is full of drug fuckups, and we have had the pleasure of knowing many of them. It's a real tragedy, because ideally drugs are one of God's gifts to mankind, providing us with the ability to escape reality in a most pleasant way. The problem is that people lack the proper reverence, respect and caution when using them. They let the drugs control them and, in doing so, lose control of their lives."

Main lyricist Hatfield however is denies the songs were written with any preconceived themes in mind, " It was not conscious "she says now, " Itıs just that drugs are part of life. They're everywhere. Whether it's heroin or alcohol or nicotine or pot or cocaine or prozac or valium or ecstasy or chocolate doesnıt really matter. We all have drugs we love and we all have loved people who love drugs."

The future is uncertain for the band with Hatfield working on another solo album and Strohm off to law school next month. However, with all parties admitting that the reunion was fun,who knows? At least the band have given us a brilliant new album to hold close to our hearts and remind us why this band is truly blessed.


Harmonically, there was never a better pairing than Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield. At the peak of The Lemonheads popularity they were the Gram and Emmylou of the grunge generation. The two first blended vocals way back in 88 on The Blake Babies "Slow Learner" EP and, here they are again, doing a duet on "Brain Damage", a song on The Babies first studio album for 10 years. Lyrically it's both amusing and unsettling considering Dando's well documented substance abuse: "I've done all the drugs that I could find…the brain damage is all in your head". However, it is by no means the highlight of this innovative album. While Juliana Hatfield solo albums have never been as unified as you might wish them to be, her bittersweet 'my lover done me wrong' songs have never had a better context than when they are rubbing shoulders with guitarist John Strohm's sonically adventurous numbers and drummer Freda Love Smith's simpler blusey efforts. In fact, there is enough light and dark here to make you heartily agree with the album title, God Bless 'em indeed.

Report and Review compiled by Priya Elangasinghe©


2-4-7-MUSIC.COM 2006

STILL refusing to dumb it down.

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