Dreams So Real
Haden, Jesse Frohman; Michael, Andrew MacPherson; Hucknall, Lorenzo Agius; Gartside, Eddie Monsoon
Petra Haden wasnt like the other girls. While her peers in mid-80s L.A. worshipped at the altar of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, Hadens idolatry was channeled in a slightly more off-kilter direction. Ive always wanted to be the female Pat Metheny, she says, sipping from a can of Coca-Cola with a straw at a Santa Monica cafe. He sings with his guitar. I just admire that, and I want that, and Im going to do it.
Thats not as left-field as it seems: The jazz-guitar virtuoso has played frequently with her father, bassist Charlie Haden, and is also a family friend. Still, Petras always been a bit off, a cherubic, heavenly-voiced enigma lost in her own personal Imaginaryland. Since the dissolution of her band That Dog, however, shes begun showing signs, albeit tentative, of embracing adulthood and the reality of her musical career. Though still a thrift-store pixie in appearance -- she wears a vintage dress over blue jeans -- Hadens words are focused rather than frivolous. Now it seems that theres a there there.
Petra Hadens evolution began, strangely enough, on a stage with the Foo Fighters in 1995. Touring with the Foos as a member of That Dog, she regularly sat in during their sets, adding twisted violin shadings to the bands post-grunge rock. One night, Dave Grohls voice was more shredded than usual, and he asked Haden to sing the lead vocal on the bands encore. I was like, fucking-a, man, I am so there, she remembers. I sang Floaty, and I was in a dream. Because I felt like I could finally hear my voice. Thats when I knew that I was an individual. I saw myself doing this for a long time in front of a big, big audience. I felt really strong.
Soon after, she released the mostly a cappella Imaginaryland. The 1996 indie release was a wide-eyed wonder of wordless vocals in which Hadens multitracked voice soared like a one-woman Bulgarian female choir, the sound of a frustrated girl let loose inside a 16-track candy store.
She listened to Imaginaryland while on tour with That Dog as a means of comfort. It actually did help me a lot, she says. It gave me a little boost of confidence. I realized, God, Im doing something no one else is doing, and I gotta move forward with that.
Though Hadens sparkling harmony vocals (with sister Rachel) anchored That Dogs topsy-turvy adolescent pop, her limited role in the band became even smaller with the recording of 1997s Retreat From the Sun. It came to the point where Anna [Waronker] was doing almost all the singing, and I was playing the tambourine. I wasnt even playing the violin.
When the band combusted that same year, Haden was finally free to follow that inner voice -- the one that told her to become the female Pat Metheny. Instead, she became tentative, unsure about what to do next. She busied herself with session work, harmonizing with everyone from Victoria Williams to Bette Midler to Mike Watt. I was too afraid to do my own thing. I wasnt sure how I wanted to approach it, she says. I remember thinking, a Okay, this is the time where I want to be in a big band and be a singer. But I didnt write songs. I only could write with other people.
Slowly, she crawled out of her shell, collaborating with accordionist Alicia Miss Murgatroid Rose, resulting in last years precious, nuevo-classical Bella Neurox, followed by a short tour. But it wasnt a totally satisfying experience: The singer took a back seat to the violinist.
Her latest project, which shell unveil at McCabes on January 28, hits closer to home. A collaboration with guitarist Woody Jackson that she calls dreamy jazz desert music, the songs are moody and emotional, shaded with rootsy and jazzy textures that highlight Hadens elastic vocal skills. Working in fits and starts over the past two years, Haden and Jackson completed more than a dozen tracks, some of which even have lyrics, a first for her. I feel like a snail when it comes to lyrics, she says. I want to say words now. I want people to relate to me now. I dont want them to be confused by what Im thinking inside.
In the meantime, shes stressing the McCabes show. Although her dad was initially scheduled to join on bass for a few songs, recent shoulder surgery has kept him on the disabled list. But if she gets wigged out onstage, she could draw inspiration from that day she fronted the Foo Fighters. When I did that, I was thinking I want to be like Barbra Streisand. And if that doesnt work, she can always channel her personal Jesus, and ask: What would Pat Metheny do?
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