For this week’s Drop Juliana Hatfield passed along “So Alone” from her 10th solo album How To Walk Away. We’re longtime fans of Hatfield’s music and her blog (she has an autobiography coming out via Wiley And Sons in 2009, by the way), so we asked her a few questions and let her take the floor. We printed some of her thoughts on “So Alone” in the ‘Gum Drop proper. You can listen to the track and see the excerpt here. Otherwise, we have her honest, insightful responses in full here:
STEREOGUM: It’s an interesting angle on the archetypal suicide/depression story — someone wants to die/disappear, but they already have disappeared on one level by pushing away the people close to them … or at least an aspect of them is invisible. Did an actual person inspired the narrative, or is this more a fictional character or composite? Do you see the character “fading away” completely?
JULIANA HATFIELD: On one hand, this song was inspired by a person I know who struggles with a mental illness that makes him very scared and paranoid, sometimes. And he tries to hide his fear and paranoia — and the voices in his head — from people, when they flare up, because he doesn’t want people to know. He thinks his problem is somewhat shameful, and dangerous, and that people wouldn’t understand- and wouldn’t want to know- what he goes through. I imagine him having nights like these — like the one in the song.
On the other hand, the song is totally autobiographical. I am singing about a very long, dark, difficult night in which I was having a kind of an anxiety attack alone in my apartment. My heart was beating way too strongly and sort of irregularly, as one’s heart does when in the throes of an anxiety attack. I was sure that I was about to have, or was having, a heart attack. I desperately wanted to distract myself from this terrifying, foreboding pounding of my heart and so I tried calling the few friends I could think to call (like it says in the song, I have pushed many people away and out of my life, over the years), but none of them answered — I got only voice mail or answering machines. For the most part these were people I hadn’t spoken to in months, and so of course I couldn’t very well bust out and ask that they “call me right back I’m freaking out I’m scared I think I’m dying please help me” because that would sound insane, especially coming from someone who hadn’t been in touch in a while, and it would be putting too much of a burden on these people, none of whom I was in the habit of asking for — or unburdening — anything. And so I sat there in my apartment, really scared, hyper-tuned in to all these weird, unpleasant sensations that seemed to have overtaken my body — besides the heart feeling like it was about to explode, I felt kind of nauseous and also my lower back hurt a lot, out of nowhere, and so of course I was convinced that I had cancer which had spread to my spine. I just felt generally really wretched and doomed and I was convinced I was dying and I had no one to talk me down or to help take my mind off of this terrible (temporary) reality. I really wanted to go to sleep and escape the nightmare of the night but sleep was out of the question with my worried mind and heart racing. At some point I poured myself a shot of Jameson, hoping to calm myself. But my anxiety was so strong that the shot had little effect. So I took an Ambien.
And then, as I sat on the couch, waiting/hoping/praying for the sleeping pill to take effect and save me from my misery and terror, I started to hallucinate. (Maybe an effect of the sleeping pill mixed with the drink?) There was originally a whole other verse of “So Alone” describing my hallucinations at that moment but I ended up removing this part because it made the song too long and it made me sound a little too insane.
What happened was this: the whole room came alive. The walls and floor started undulating, as if the rug on the floor in front of me was floating on water, and the walls were making the same sort of rippling motions. And then I suddenly had the sense that every piece of furniture in the room was a living, breathing being; each with its own distinct personality. I was sitting on the couch and I turned to my left and started talking to the chair there- a really cool, stylish Danish modern rocking chair that is one continuous curved line of wood shaped like a “J”. I was convinced that this chair was alive and sentient and that it was intelligent and that it would listen to me and that we could have a conversation. At that point I was starting to fade away — the Ambien was kicking in — and so I don’t remember what I said to the chair. I wish I could recall, because it was probably hilarious.
Anyway, I woke up the next morning and I felt fine. It was just a really bad night. Not a normal night for me, fortunately.
STEREOGUM: The song starts in second person, but toward the end of the track, it shifts to the first person: “And I’m talking to myself / Is anybody listening?” What can we make of that?
JH: I refer to the subject of the song as “you” because even when my own experiences inspire a song, I know that there are other people going through similar things (because people are pretty much the same all over; we all have the same range of emotions, give or take a few degrees at the extreme edges), and I like to include them, so that the song is a communal experience rather than just me monologuing about my problems. In the end when I switch from “you” to “me” — “I’m talking to myself” etc., I am shifting perspective in order to admit, outright, to the listener that this song is a cry for help, from me to him/her. Or a cry for understanding/solidarity. I want to say that I have the same feelings and the same freakouts and the same fears and the same depressions and anxieties as any listener who may have identified himself with the “you” of the main body of the song. And in doing this — explicitly coming clean about my own sadness and loneliness and (occasional) emotional disturbances — I hoped to make the listener, and myself, feel less alone. And to kind of nullify or solve the problem — the aloneness — of the song, “So Alone”.
STEREOGUM: Musically, what’s that dub-like sound/percussive echo/pulse? It adds something haunting…
JH: That haunting dub/echo sound is a loop that Andy Chase, my producer, lay down underneath the song before we began recording. In preproduction, he would sometimes create a beat or groove, with a drum machine, in order to help determine the right tempo and feel and mood for a song. It was an arranging tool. Sometimes Andy would leave the loop in, just for texture. It works well in this song — it has just the right amount of eerie, mysterious je ne sais quoi for this dark, gloomy, scary song.
But, like I said, there is hope at the end! We are not so alone because lots of us are miserable and so we can be miserable together! We are unified, in some shadowy way, in our loneliness and fear. I see the song as ultimately sort of hopeful. If you can acknowledge how miserable you are — if you can articulate it, particularly in a work of art- then you can express it to others, and that is a way to connect with those others, and to feel less alone.
How To Walk Away is out 8/19 on Juliana’s Ye Old Records. [Photo Credit: Jonathan Stark]
Of course, each Drop also has a giveaway. This week, three winners each get the Joy Division prize pack, which includes Control, the Anton Corbijn-directed film and the Grant Gee-directed documentary, Joy Division. Take a look at the respective trailers to help you better differentiate between the two.
And, here are what the covers look like.
Contrast/compare. Control is out 6/3 on DVD and Joy Division, 6/17. It’s a very Ian Curtis summer. Sign-up to win here. Also, there’s still time to enter to win an Ovation acoustic guitar from Brendan James. You can do that here.
CONTEST ENDS 06/18/08 AT 12PM EST.