Today (November 17, 2023) sees the release of Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO, the third covers album by the singer/songwriter following the release of albums devoted to the music of Olivia Newton-John and The Police.
On this installment, Hatfield does a remarkable job stripping down the music of Jeff Lynne and company to their bare essentials. While it’s far from scarce, the production style is more down to earth and less layered than the heralded bombast that fans of Electric Light Orchestra revere the band for. By stripping things down, Hatfield lets the bones of the songs shine.
We had a chance to ask Juliana Hatfield some questions over email about her love of ELO, the impetus for this new album, and more.
Andy Burns: What is it about ELO’s music that’s resonated with you?
Juliana Hatfield: I love Jeff Lynne’s voice, for one thing. It is so soothing and perfect-sounding. Also I identify with the feelings of alienation and missed connections and things like that; feeling like I am in outer space and everyone else is down on Earth.
Andy Burns: How did you go about picking the songs for your album?
Juliana Hatfield: I picked a few favourites from the 1970’s–songs from my childhood–and then I chose a few older ones and a few newer ones, for variety.
Andy Burns: Jeff Lynne is a masterful songwriter AND an incredible producer – as you set about making this album, what did you discover, if anything, about his artistry?
Juliana Hatfield: I tried to figure out the magic of these songs but really I don’t have any answers; the mystery only deepened. I just have to accept the wonderfulness of what he does and not try and explain any of it.
Andy Burns: One of the things I absolutely love about the album is that you somehow found a middle ground in its production – it’s certainly rawer than ELO’s albums were, but yet we’ve got layered vocals and lots of instruments. Was it hard to find a balance in terms of production and sound?
Juliana Hatfield: I didn’t think about it too much; I just did my thing and organically I found myself settling into that space. I like to be wherein lushness and rawness intermingle.
Andy Burns: A song like “Don’t Bring Me Down,” – it’s iconic; even if someone doesn’t know who ELO is by name, they’ve probably heard this one someplace. Is there any intimidation in taking on songs that are so well-known?
Juliana Hatfield: Oh yes, of course, it is daunting at first, and along the way it is still challenging when I am trying to figure out how to get the songs together. It isn’t always easy and I can’t always figure it out; in fact I had to toss out my first attempts at both “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Strange Magic” because they just weren’t working. They were sounding and feeling awkward and forced. So I started them over and eventually I figured out a way.
Andy Burns: I remember the first time I heard “Showdown,” it was on ELO’s Flashback box set. You do such a great version – do you have any particular memories about that song you could share?
Juliana Hatfield: The song never really had much of an effect on me until recently when I was listening to a ton of ELO in preparation for making the album. And then I came to really dig its slow groove and its dread.
Andy Burns: What was the toughest song to get right? And alternately, was there a song that wasn’t easy to nail?
Juliana Hatfield: Like I said, “Don’t Bring Me Down” — I thought it would be so easy but I was so wrong. Sometimes the songs that appear the simplest are the trickiest to tackle.
Andy Burns: This is your third covers album, and I’m curious if there’s any connective tissue you discovered between the music of Olivia Newton-John, The Police, and ELO that wasn’t necessarily obvious to you before making these records.
Juliana Hatfield: Not really. I mean the most obvious connective tissue is that they were all big presences in my childhood, in terms of what was on the radio and what I was listening to and loving.
Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO Track Listing
1. Sweet Is The Night
2. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head
4. Strange Magic
5. Don’t Bring Me Down
6. Telephone Line
7. Secret Messages
8. Bluebird Is Dead
9. From The End Of The World
10. Ordinary Dream