New Pete interview on Petra Haden SIngs

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sun Mar 13 06:35:59 CST 2005

>From the Boston Globe at:

She opened her mouth and the Who came out
Petra Haden re-creates 'Sell Out,' note for note
By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff  |  March 13, 2005

Deeply weird ideas, cooked up late at night over the
telephone, rarely transcend the supremely whimsical
(or desperate or stoned) moment that spawned them.
Usually, happily, the idea is forgotten by sunrise.
Sometimes it's not, with outcomes that range from
amusing to depressing. One exception is ''Petra Haden
Sings: The Who Sell Out." The title is mind-bogglingly
accurate; this is a homemade one-woman a capella
re-creation of the Who's 1967 album. Haden, the
daughter of jazz bassist Charlie Haden, sings every
word, every drum roll, every guitar solo, and every
mock commercial, note for note, front to back.

To the suggestion that her new album, released last
month on Bar None Records, defies every unwritten rule
governing the selection and treatment of cover songs,
Haden replies: ''I would never have thought of doing
this. It was Mike Watt's idea." Haden isn't passing
the buck. She's giving credit where it's due.
Punk-rock bassist Watt, a founder of the Minutemen,
was a big fan of Haden's first a cappella project,
1996's ''Imaginaryland." Convinced that a singer
eclectic and proficient enough to include renderings
of music by Bach and Miranda Sex Garden on the same
album would be up for the challenge, Watt brought
Haden the concept and an eight-track cassette recorder
with the ''The Who Sell Out" loaded onto track eight.
She spent three years pressing rewind.

''I tried to re-create notes and parts as closely as
possible," says Haden, on the phone from her home in
Los Angeles. ''I listened over and over and over
again. But I didn't want to sing like the Who the
whole time. On the song 'Odorono,' I pretended I was
Snow White. At the end of 'I Can See For Miles,' I
added a weird dissonance, like I was from the
Bulgarian Female Vocal Choir. I was sure no one but
Mike Watt would hear it. I was not thinking about what
Pete Townshend would think."

As it turns out, Townshend, the Who's legendary
guitarist, has thought a lot about Haden's version of
his band's third album, which broke the fledgling band
in the United States. He describes his response in
terms bordering on reverence.

''I was a little embarrassed to realize I was enjoying
my own music so much, for in a way it was like hearing
it for the first time," Townshend said in a lengthy
e-mail interview. ''What Petra does with her voice,
which is not so easy to do, is challenge the entire
rock framework: the traditions, the processes, the
decor, the accessories, the entirety of the
established dynamics of traditional pop-rock. 'I Can
See For Miles' is powerful not for the restrained
electric guitars and suppressed and distant thundering
drums of Keith Moon but for the torturously sustained
vocal harmonies that John Entwistle added over my
fairly conventional four-part. Petra is the first
analyst who heard the vocal harmonies as they were
written and reproduced them properly. When she does
depart from the original music she does it purely to
bring a little piece of herself -- and when she
appears she is so very welcome. I felt like I'd
received something better than a Grammy."

Haden, 33, was born four years after the ''The Who
Sell Out" was released. A triplet, she grew up in a
home that valued experimentalism over mainstream
sounds. The Hadens owned no Who albums. When she was
8, Petra saw a young girl playing violin on the
''Captain Kangaroo" show and fell in love with the
instrument. By the time she reached her teens Haden
was an accomplished violinist -- she's contributed to
albums by Beck, Green Day, and Luscious Jackson, and
to many film soundtracks -- and had mastered trumpet,
mandolin, and keyboards.

But it was her voice, with its extraordinary range,
that stood out. Haden began articulating the sounds of
instruments and creating intricate vocal arrangements
of the Cocteau Twins, Pat Metheny, and Steve Reich. In
1992 she formed the band that dog with her sister
Rachel, high school buddy Anna Waronker (daughter of
the record producer and label executive Lenny
Waronker), and drummer Tony Maxwell. That dog was
together for seven years and three albums, during
which time Haden became a busy support player on the
LA indie scene and began a collaboration with the jazz
guitarist and composer Bill Frisell; the duo's second
album was released in January.

Mike Watt met Haden when she was hired to play violin
and sing background vocals on his 1995 album
''Ball-Hog or Tugboat?" The two became close friends
as well as frequent collaborators. Watt describes
Haden as a virtuoso, and his overture to her -- to
sing his favorite Who album -- as a dare.

''The first thing most people would say is 'Why should
I?' She never did. Petra is that open," says Watt.
''She's also an amazing talent and sometimes it takes
crude thugs like myself to point out a direction. She
knew nothing of the Who and that's why I thought she
could make it new for me."

To hear clips from ''Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell
Out," please go to

Haden said yes for two reasons: She likes reinventing
things and she likes Mike Watt. Recorded piecemeal in
the bedroom, the kitchen, and at a friend's house in
the desert, these tracks will never be described as
state of the art. Before Haden's cousin had at it with
Pro Tools, the home-computer software that simulates a
recording studio, you could hear the crinkling of
lyric sheets Haden held while she sang. It was meant
as a gift for a friend, and that's what it sounds
like: a homemade treasure -- lovingly crafted, utterly
unpretentious, and thoroughly original. Just the sort
of thing to make a rock god rethink his legacy.

''A lot of our most subtle work was buried under
gimmicks, tricks, noise, and ego," says Townshend.
''That's perfectly OK. But Petra's lack of
preconceptions have made it possible for her to avoid
the notion that she ever, ever had to raise her voice
on this project. Any subtlety lost in the Who's
pop-art approach has been restored."

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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