NEW YORK (Billboard) - Juliana Hatfield’s new album is called “Peace & Love,” but considering its stripped-down sound and the remarkably low-key way Hatfield plans to promote it, “Peace & Quiet” might have been more accurate.
Due February 16 on the singer’s own Ye Olde Records label, the 12-song set marks a stylistic about-face from 2008’s relatively glossy “How to Walk Away,” which was produced in New York by Andy Chase and included guest spots by Fountains of Wayne guitarist Jody Porter and Richard Butler of Psychedelic Furs.
In contrast, Hatfield performed and recorded the hushed, folky “Peace & Love” entirely on her own in her apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts; in his liner notes, Boston Phoenix writer James Parker draws comparisons to Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” bare-bones landmarks celebrated for their sonic and emotional raggedness.
Though it earned glowing reviews, “How to Walk Away” failed to score the kind of sales numbers Hatfield racked up in the early ‘90s thanks to alternative hits like “My Sister” and “Spin the Bottle,” the latter of which was featured prominently in the 1994 movie “Reality Bites.” (According to Nielsen SoundScan, “How to Walk Away” has sold 9,600 copies; the singer’s biggest-selling release, at 267,000 copies, is 1993’s “Become What You Are.”)
Yet Hatfield, who’s currently managing her own career, insists that the change of pace on “Peace & Love” doesn’t represent a reaction to the disappointing commercial performance of its precursor. Rather, she says, it’s the creative result of a difficult year in which she faced a series of health problems related to an eating disorder and “just wanted to hole up and write about the stuff that happened.”
She allows that returning to her do-it-yourself roots made economic sense. “The last one was a big financial risk that came out of my own pocket,” she says, “and this time I thought it might be reckless to put that much money into a project that wasn’t necessarily going to sell.” Hatfield estimates that making “Peace & Love” cost $125; that’s how much she paid a piano tuner to come to her apartment.
She’s spending more, she says, to hire a publicist at and a licensing rep — expenses she counts as necessities because “someone has to tell people the record is coming out” and because a handful of tracks from “How to Walk Away” earned revenue-generating placements in such TV shows as “Friday Night Lights.” Several others were made into Muzak, she says, which came as a “total surprise.” Less necessary, in Hatfield’s view, is the new album’s availability in big-box retail outlets; physical distribution is being handled exclusively by the Coalition of Independent Music Stores’ Junket Boy service.
Given her exceptionally low overhead, Hatfield feels confident in her decision not to tour to promote “Peace & Love.” The singer detailed her love-hate relationship with the road in her warts-and-all 2008 memoir, “When I Grow Up,” and now she says she’s avoiding it in an effort to stay healthy. “I always lose too much weight and get really anxious,” she says. “And the audiences aren’t so big, so I don’t make that much money anyway.
“What I’m doing is marketing this record to the people who already like me,” she continues, adding that her next two projects are nonmusical ones: another nonfiction book and “something else I don’t want to talk about yet.”
“I’m not really reaching out to broaden my audience at this point,” she says. “I guess you could say I’m downsizing myself.”