Why Juliana Hatfield Has Stood the Test of Time

The Juliana Hatfield Three is celebrating the 21st anniversary of <em>Become What You Are</em>.

The Juliana Hatfield Three is celebrating the 21st anniversary of Become What You Are.

Juliana Hatfield still matters. To think otherwise borders on irresponsible and is, at best, willfully ignorant.

In my mind, the Boston alt-rocker will forever be linked with Liz Phair, who made a bigger initial splash, but has failed to remain vital. As for Hatfield, she always stuck to her own path, and achieved a more lasting impression.

I first became aware of the Juliana Hatfield Three when "My Sister" received some rotation on MTV in 1993. Alternative had broken by then. Gone were the ultra-macho metalheads that had ruled the channel for a decade and this new wave of musicians that flew past me each day were so much easier to relate to.

They looked like me, and thought the way I wished I could think -- they way I knew I wanted to think. An immediate crush developed upon seeing her. But that's not why she matters. She matters because it's important to stay true to yourself and Hatfield, it seems, always has.

Hatfield has stuck with what she knows in catchy, off-kilter guitar rock and collaborations like Minor Alps with Matthew Caws, which was one of 2013's hidden gems. She seems still to be restless in a way, and like she has some great things to say and some tricks up her sleeve. When you look at many of her contemporaries, even the ones still putting out new material and touring, the vast majority don't have much left in the tank creatively, while hers appears to be a bottomless well.

What I've heard from this year's JH3 album, Whatever My Love, mostly still leaves me with the same impression Become What You Are did some 20-plus years ago. There's an urgency, a vitality there. As a result, so many hours were spent listening to that record and Phair's Exile in Guyville. Both are great records, and both represent some of the best the '90s had to offer. Only one of them had a follow-up record that lived up to the hype, however.


Hatfield's third record, Only Everything, sounds like the best record Dinosaur Jr. never made, while Phair's sophomore effort, Whip-Smart, sounds like a gutted version of Guyville. Hatfield always seemed like she's just trying to put out a better record than the prior one and nothing more. Phair always seemed like she was chasing record sales -- artistic integrity be damned. And that's maybe the most important difference here.

If Only We Were Dogs by The Juliana Hatfield Three from American Laundromat Records on Vimeo.

Hatfield's work feels like it comes from her heart, and doesn't feel calculated. Buying a new Beyoncé single can feel more like a reaction to marketing than a visceral need to hear the song again. Time will tell if I'm buying a temporary piece of pop culture or a lasting piece of art. But Hatfield's music never seems like that. I return to it -- Become What You Are in particular -- in times of dread or anxiety. It calms me in a way that I can't fully describe, but everyone has a few records that work for them like that, I guess.

I guess, after all this, I can't fully untie Hatfield and Phair from each other in my head. I bought their albums mere weeks apart and they were both major steps in forming my listening habits as a teenager and beyond.

But I only really care what Hatfield might care to do anymore. Even if an album wasn't a home run, it was still, at the very least, interesting. Respect is earned, it's not a sleight of hand magic trick to be coaxed from another person. Hatfield matters because she doesn't try to be someone she's not to make me like her. She's just herself.

The Juliana Hatfield Three's Become What You Are 21st Anniversary Tour. Sunday, March 8 at Turf Club. Tickets.

The 10 Most Underrated Guitarists in the History of Rock
The Best New Minnesota Musicians of 2014
53 things you might not know about Prince
73 things you might not know about Bob Dylan