Pete on Petra Haden's Sell Out - Haden to tour with it?

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sat Mar 5 06:09:26 CST 2005

>From the Los Angeles Times at:

All-voice Who tribute goes miles and miles
Petra Haden accepted a challenge to vocally re-create
'The Who Sell Out.' And Pete Townshend likes it.
By Richard Cromelin, Times Staff Writer

It's not exactly that Petra Haden isn't taking this
thing seriously. It's just that it was really a
private project taken on as an exercise, and she had
no intention of playing it for anyone except friends,
primarily Mike Watt, the Los Angeles musician who
challenged her to try it in the first place.

Anyway, who in the world would want a start-to-finish,
home-recorded re-creation of the Who's classic 1967
album "The Who Sell Out," done entirely a cappella,
with Haden's multitracked singing emulating every
instrumental and vocal line of the original?
Especially when her results weren't exactly state of
the art.
That's why Haden, one of jazz musician Charlie Haden's
triplet daughters and a longtime presence on L.A.'s
pop and experimental music scene, can't quite get her
head around the way this thing is taking on a life of
its own.

"I played it for Watt over the phone," she says. "He
said, 'Great, now put it out.' And I thought, 'Are you
serious?' ... It's really lo-fi. I was reading the
lyrics and you could hear the paper crinkling, you
could hear tape noise. I recorded some of the tracks
wrong and my voice wasn't all there, like I recorded
it underwater."

But after a little Pro Tools cleanup and a touch of
reverb, the CD of "Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell
Out" was released last week by the independent label
Bar/None, and now she has a new set of concerns.

"I'm kind of nervous about what these die-hard Who
fans are going to think," she says, fretting her way
through lunch at a deli near her sister Tanya's
MacArthur Park-area home. "Like, they're going to want
to kill me."

Not the Who fan who matters most.

"I heard the songs as if for the first time, and I was
really pleased to hear how beautiful they are," says
the Who's Pete Townshend. "In many cases Petra has
released nuances that might be lost to the casual
listener to the Who's album. For example, the vocal
harmonies on 'I Can See for Miles' are carefully
analyzed, and you hear all the parts....

"She's so smart, because she listened first to what
was on the original record before she started her own
thesis with it. That is such a gift for one musician
to give another — to really listen."

"The Who Sell Out" is Townshend's favorite Who album,
an opinion shared by many fans of the English band.
Simultaneously a celebration and a spoof of the era's
pop radio experience and the youth culture it
embodied, it stitched together a set of varied songs
with original jingles for Radio London and comical
commercials for such products as Odorono deodorant.

Musically, the album brought out a lot of the Who's
Beach Boys side, as well as touches of music hall and
even some jazz vocals. There were seeds of "Tommy" and
"Quadrophenia" in the project, and though the album
wasn't a commercial hit, the taut, explosive "I Can
See for Miles" became the Who's only U.S. Top 10

Watt's challenge struck Haden as "off the wall," but
to Townshend the undertaking made perfect sense.

"The original Who album was a crazy concept, and
Petra's action is equally nuts," says the musician,
responding by e-mail to questions on the project.
"Take a load of talent and chance it on an art-school
exercise in installation recording. I really feel she
has done something entirely new here.... I love this
CD and Petra puts me in an Odorono sweat."

Haden, 33, who had never listened to the album before
she started her remodeling, says that "when I first
heard it, it sounded kind of like Gilbert & Sullivan.
The commercials, that wasn't rock. That was just like

Teaching herself to use Watt's eight-track recorder as
she went along, Haden echoed the process she'd used on
her 1996 album, "Imaginaryland," an a cappella work
that originated with Steve Reich-like stacking of

Over the years, she has ranged freely from such
experimentation to the somewhat more conventional pop
turf of That Dog, a band that included her sister
Rachel, and released three albums on Geffen's DGC
label in the mid-'90s.

Also a skilled violinist, she has an on-again,
off-again duo called Miss Murgatroid with accordionist
Alicia Rose, and she plans to record with her sisters
as the Haden Triplets. She recently released an album
with guitarist Bill Frisell in which they cover such
personal favorites as Henry Mancini's "Moon River" and
Coldplay's "Yellow."

"I'm just kind of scattered," Haden says. "I like
collaborating with people."

The high regard of her peers was demonstrated at a
2000 benefit held for her when she was recuperating
from being struck by a car. Participants at the
Knitting Factory show included Beck, Tenacious D and
the Go-Go's.

But for all those credits, "The Who Sell Out" looks
like the project to nudge her out of the wings and
closer to center stage.

"We're getting incredible press response," says Glenn
Morrow, owner of Hoboken, N.J.-based Bar/None. "Some
records you don't get any reaction, but I'm feeling
the love out there, the kind of kinetic buzz — you
know, people calling up going, 'Why isn't this at
Vintage Vinyl? I need it immediately.' "

And now even the reluctant artiste is getting into the
spirit. Haden is assembling a female choir to perform
the album live at least a couple of times.

"So far it's six people, but I want nine or 10. We
practiced 'I Can See for Miles' about a week ago. It
turned out so good that I almost cried....

"I still have my insecurities about the record," she
says. "Every day I still think of something I could
have done better. But I did it, now it's here, and I'm
just going for the ride." 

-Brian in Atlanta
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