Review Fix chats with who discuss the vinyl re-release Blake Babies’ Juliana Hatfield and John Strohm, who discuss the re-release of their 1993 album, Innocence and Experience.
Review Fix: How does it feel to see the album reissued?
Juliana Hatfield: It feels great to know that people are still interested in listening to the Blake Babies, great that we haven’t been completely forgotten.
John Strohm: I’m just grateful there’s any lingering interest. I love that we’ve reached the point with vinyl where labels like American Laundromat are able to elevate certain releases by putting out high-quality vinyl, and it’s certainly exciting and flattering that there’s a market. With some of these tracks it’s been over thirty years since their initial release. That’s pretty wild.
Review Fix: What made this album special for you when it was originally released?
JH: Well, it was a compilation of a lot of stuff that had already been released so for me personally it wasn’t so crucial that it was even put together. But I think it was nice for a lot of people out there who maybe hadn’t heard the original albums to be able to grab one single overview that contained a bunch of songs from a bunch of different places so that they could get a taste of the band.
JS: I enjoyed compiling this album, but it was intended to be a sort of retrospective once the band was in the process of breaking up. It was really emotional for us at the time, but I think we all believed we were on our way to more significant career accomplishments after Blake Babies. It was true for each of us I suppose, but not necessarily in the careers we intended. But I think it’s undeniable that our band launched Juliana as a force in popular music in the 90s, and any ambivalence I might have felt at the time has resolved into feeling very proud of what we all did together.
Review Fix: What about now?
JH: I just think it’s cool that it is being issued on special fun vinyl.
JS: I don’t necessarily think this is the career retrospective I would put together now. I’m glad one of the Sunburn demos (Star) made it, because there’s an energy in those recordings that isn’t really present in the album tracks. I’m also glad there’s a live track, because the live band was very different from the recorded band. I’m also of the opinion that our very best recorded work as a band was God Bless the Blake Babies, which came out a decade after this album was released as a reunion. I sincerely hope we’re able to record something else in the future, because I’m not convinced our creative chemistry is tapped. We are all close these days, and I think we all share very positive feelings about the band generally. We’re as proud of this work as we could be, considering how young and naïve we were at the time!
Review Fix: What song do you think has aged the best?
JH: It’s hard to pick just one but I do think that “Cesspool” is still as righteous and passionate a song as it ever was. It deals with the issue of industrial pollution and the corruption of those with economic power. These things are, unfortunately, ongoing problems in our society.
JS: The song I like to listen to the best is Sanctify, and I think it’s because it’s an equal collaboration between the three of us. I wrote the chords and melody and then I showed it to Freda, who wrote most of the words. Freda is a fantastic lyricist and we should have encouraged her to write more at the time. Juliana was a great song finisher at the time, if I gave her a song at any stage she always put her own stamp on it in re-writing the melody to suit her voice and writing lyrics she felt comfortable singing. Juliana has proven many times over that she’s a great songwriter on her own, but many of my favorite songs from the band are ones that we wrote together, because the ideas I started developed into much better songs than I’d have been able to write on my own. That collaborative spirit is really present on Sanctify, and therefore it’s a great example of the band at the height of its powers.
Review Fix: What do you think the legacy of this album is?
JH: It’s a kind of a greatest-hits of a band who never had any real hits, and I like that–the idea that we have a legacy that is worth being proud of simply because of the quality of the work and the effort we put into it.
JS: I know from the feedback we’ve already received that this release is something our longtime fans are very happy exists, so that justifies the release in my opinion. Joe from the label decided to reissue this collection rather than one of the albums we released as a group because this was his introduction to the band. That’s probably true of a lot of people who discovered the band after Juliana launched her solo career. I felt very hopeful at the time that the music we made would influence great music that followed us – that is the legacy I hoped for over anything else. If people still mention our band in another 20 or 30 years, I hope that it’s in recognition of the influence we had on later generations of artists. That would be the best possible outcome.
Review Fix: What’s next?
JH: I am working on a new (solo) album. I am trying to put out at least one every year.
JS: With respect to the band, I have no idea. I work in the music business, and I’m far more focused on the music I’m championing in that capacity than any music I made or will make. I’m super proud of what Juliana has done in her career, and I’m thrilled at how prolific and high-quality her recent output has been. She clearly doesn’t need to get the old band back together to do amazing work. Freda struggles a bit with the physical rigors of drumming due to a back injury, so it’s unlikely she’ll be behind the kit in the immediate future. But we have had fairly recent discussions about possibly making new music together, and I think we’re all open to it. But we’re also all very busy leading lives that are dominated by work, family, and our interests to make it difficult to find the time to do much else.
Review Fix: Anything else you’d like to add?
JS: I want to add that I’m just incredibly grateful to Joe and American Laundromat for all the hard work he does to champion music from our era and community. I understand the challenges of running a record label these days as well as just about anybody, and I know it’s a true passion project for him. I’ve met many passionate music fans along the way, and many who would love to see music from their favorite era elevated and celebrated. But I haven’t met many music fans who have the vision, insight, risk-tolerance, or work ethic to actually serve the music and the artists in a meaningful way.