Juliana Hatfield, Matthew Caws partnership a Minor accomplishment

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

BY MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

November 15, 2013 3:26PM

Musicians seek inspiration from their personal lives, news headlines, and often each other. Which is why, for many musicians now entering the third decade of writing songs, side projects are becoming a formidable way to feed the creative flame without burning out.

Minor Alps, a new band featuring Matthew Caws of Nada Surf and Juliana Hatfield, joins several other recent male-female partnerships, including She & Him (M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel), Jenny & Johnny (Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice), and the covers project by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, that are creating new music that draws strength from the successes of their individual pasts. Last month the band released “Get There” (Barsuk), a debut album that takes them to Schubas Sunday for a duo show that will include new music plus selections from each other’s catalogs.

Hatfield, whose solo career emerged from the Blake Babies in the early 1990s, says she always hoped for a natural collaborator — a tour with former Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando last year “wasn’t very successful” because she hoped they would write together. But with Caws, the creative relationship clicked because she was already a fan of his music and often discovered herself singing Nada Surf songs at home.

“We both have an instinctive sense of melody that comes from a really primal place,” she says. “Singing with him is like having a hand in the glove. It just fit.”

Unlike those other bands listed above, the two lead vocals in Minor Alps are twined together to create a single sound on songs like “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” a driving guitar-pop tune, and electro-pop hook of “If I Wanted Trouble.” The warmth in their dual vocals emphasizes the inherent anxiety embedded in the songs.

“We’re just trying to be honest about what we’re singing about. I don’t believe songs that try to say everything in a simple slogan. Like a song that says ‘I believe in love’ because I haven’t figured out what love is,” she says. “We’re trying to be honest about how complicated it all is. It’s a balancing act.”

There are practical rewards from pausing from your own music to dive into collaborating, she says: “I get a little sick of myself as a solo artist. I get a little bit bored. So partially it’s to have some new blood injected into the work I’m doing.”

Of course, launching a new band in 2013 is much different than in 1993, so familiarity helps. Hatfield says writing new songs while knowing she has long connected with an audience who appreciates her body of work is critical to getting ears tuned to Minor Alps, even though it doesn’t necessarily impact the
creative impulse of the music.

“That’s the beautiful thing, to know that when I put something out there, there will be people who understand what I’m saying,” she says. “But writing for me is really a solitary pursuit. I like it that way. Songwriting is like going to church. I’m connecting to something and it’s rewarding in really important ways. I don’t need to share it with anyone to feel good about it.”

But when she does: “That’s the extra, super, wonderful part.”

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