Haden article in Creem



Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Mon Apr 25 05:46:58 CDT 2005


>From Creem Magazine at:
http://tinyurl.com/bx7xe
(includes out-take picture from cover session)

Petra Haden
Petra Haden Sells Out

For those of us who were disappointed by Todd
Rundgren's pedestrian A Capella, Bjork's too-weird
Medulla or any of Bobby McFerren's oeuvre, the thought
of Petra Haden's voice-only rendition of a classic Who
album is likely to elicit shrieks.

But Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out is more
enjoyable than any of the above, at least to these
ears. But maybe that's because she's done this kind of
thing before.

Haden's first a cappella record is 1996's
Imaginaryland. Her father, legendary jazz bassist
Charlie Haden, had given her a four-track, and she
wanted to test it out. "I don't play guitar. I play
the violin, but I didn't have a pickup on my violin
yet. So I tested it out using my voice, pretending my
voice was a bass, writing songs," she said. "I just
kind of wrote for fun little melodies without lyrics.
That turned out to be my Imaginaryland record."

About four years ago, frequent collaborator Mike Watt
suggested Haden use that same approach and re-record
the Who's classic 1967 LP The Who Sell Out. To that
end, Watt lent Haden an eight-track recorder with The
Who Sell Out recorded on one of the tracks and the
other seven blank, for her to fill up with her
singing.

"I started it with 'I Can See For Miles,' because that
was the most popular song and it seemed like it was
the easiest to do, and the funnest," Haden said. "I
started...just trying sing all the parts like what I
heard - which was really trippy because I heard all
these backward guitars and I was thinking 'How am I
going to do that?' So I tried to make backward sounds
with my voice."

Over the phone, Haden demonstrated some of the vocal
contortions she had to go through to capture a guitar
solo and added: "I remember thinking 'God I feel like
a geek,'" she said. Truth be told, she kinda sounded
like one too. But listening to the finished work,
those moments of geekiness layered together created a
real work of beauty.

Haden would work on it in spurts, with long breaks in
between. But she found the process enjoyable.

"I thought it was fun, and the more I listened to it
the more it made sense, like 'Wow, now I understand
why he wanted me to do this.' It was kinda
theatrical," she said. In fact, she's even considering
assembling a choir to do a few shows.

She's also experiencing a new-found love of the Who.
"I didn't even have a Who record before, and now
they're one of my favorite bands," Haden said.

The work has been well received. Pete Townshend called
the record "exquisite." Watt, who first delved into
The Who Sell Out with departed Minutemen partner D.
Boon, wrote: "It was generous of her to take on such a
thing, something alien to her but she seemed to enjoy
the challenge of it. Me, I was curious as hell to see
how such and endeavor would manifest itself – this is
the power of music to make ideas come alive, to
breathe life in little boy daydream pasts so far
removed by time."

It was through her father that Haden first met Watt.
The elder Haden shared a bill with Watt's Minutemen
when Petra was 12. Watt later helped her brother's
band, the Treacherous Jaywalkers, get signed to SST.

"He's just kind of like a family friend now," Haden
said. "He's a good teacher. Sometimes before recording
with him I get really nervous, and he has a way of
making me less nervous—saying things like 'just think
of spin cycles' and stuff. He's really funny."

Haden has appeared on Watt's albums The Secondman's
Middle Stand and Ball-Hog or Tugboat. She has also
worked with the likes of Beck, Green Day and many
others. Throughout the '90s, she worked with the bands
The Rentals and that dog.

Another new release by Haden is an album with
guitarist Bill Frisell called, fittingly, Petra Haden
& Bill Frisell. She said she hooked up with Frisell
after a show she played in Seattle.

"After the show, he said he really liked it. We just
kind of e-mailed each other, and eventually he asked
me to record a record with him, and of course I jumped
up and down," she said.

The two didn't have the time to get together to write
material, so at Frisell's suggestion they recorded
covers of songs they like. The result features songs
by Stevie Wonder, Eliot Smith, Tom Waits, the Foo
Fighters song "Floaty" and the standard "Moon River."
There's also some Tuvan Cowboy Music and a Coldplay
song on the  record.

"I was thinking maybe that's a little too soon," she
said of the Coldplay cut. "It hadn't been out for very
long. But once he played it on his guitar I just said
'OK, it's beautiful, let's do it.'"

The duo also recorded one of Haden's own songs.

"There's no words on that song because I'm kind of bad
at writing words," Haden said. "I was so happy to
record that with him because I just wanted it to sound
like a real song, so he listed to it and he just
played. 'I said Bill, just do your thing. Make it
better.' And he did."

—Brian J. Bowe
March 2005 


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