Hatfield performing with her custom P-90-equipped First Act Delia LS. “They made it for me a few years ago and it has become my favorite guitar,” she says. Photo by Joshua Pickering
The song “Sunny Somewhere” sounds like you wrote it on the bass, which is prominent in the mix.
It was miraculous to me how that bass line came together. I had guitar chords and a melody, but then when I picked up the bass, the part just happened. And I recorded it so fast. It was like, “Boom—done!”
Aside from the riffs themselves, the guitar tones stand out—sort of a mix of Sabbath-style grind with more modern textures. What electrics did you use?
I was using a lot of my First Act Delia LS guitar, which has two P-90 pickups. They made it for me a few years ago and it’s become my favorite guitar. I got rid of most of my guitars a few years ago and now all I have is this First Act and a Custom SG from 1968 or ’69, which I’ve had for like seven years. Those are my only two electric guitars, and I think they were the only ones in the studio. Unlike when I’m writing, I retuned each one as needed for different songs.
I sold my other guitars because I’m not a collector at all. I don’t keep stuff just to keep it. I get tired of things and have no problem letting go. I described it to a friend as a relationship: For years and years my main guitar was an SG Firebrand—it was like an extension of me. But then one day I woke up and looked at the guitar and thought, “I don’t love you anymore,” and I sold it. Just like that. It was over. I was over it. For years, I was experimenting and trying to decide what I liked best. I’ve finally figured out what sounds I like.
I wouldn’t call the sound “retro,” but there’s a vintage vibe to the guitar tones. What amps did you use?
An old Ampeg Reverberocket that belongs to the studio. I always use it when I record there because I love it so much. There were also three little amps set up next to one another, and I also used a Gibson Skylark. But, aside from the Reverberocket, if it’s not my own gear, I don’t pay attention to equipment. Instead, I’m more focused on whether I like what I hear. There’s only so much space in the brain for tech things.
How did you get that heavy “broken-speaker” fuzz sound on “Wonder Why?”
That’s a bit of gear I do know: the ZVEX Fuzz Factory pedal. They have a couple at Q Division studio and I finally bought one for myself. I just love it. I used it a lot on the album—it’s really good for soloing. It’s got a gate, which lets you get a heavy sound but with no sustain. It just cuts off at the end, like [makes a short tire-screeching sound]. I just love that effect. It makes it sound like the amp is breaking apart.
“Touch You Again” and “When You’re a Star” have very distinctive riffs. Were they part of the song from the beginning?
Riffs usually come later. On “When You’re a Star,” we had the guitar and bass recorded. Then with that riff, it was like a light bulb going on over my head—I ran into the tracking room and recorded it. That happens a lot. The song will be recorded and I’ll hear a riff, melodically, in my head. I just have to transfer it from my brain onto the guitar.
Do the vocal melodies come first?
Not always. Sometimes songs start with just chord progressions. But usually, once I have any kind of chord progression, the melody comes also. I often have melodies written ahead of the lyrics, which makes lyric writing more difficult because I have to fit them into these melodies.
I’ll get attached to sounds and then it takes a while for me to wrench my brain away from that and realize it’s okay to get unstuck. There were a couple of songs on the album where I was really stuck. “Everything Is Forgiven” moves around a lot. It was hard to fit words into that melody.
Sometimes I have a title and a melody, and I’m like “I’ve gotta get this goddam title in there!” “When You’re a Star” had to use those words: “When you’re a star, they let you.” It was like a puzzle. I figured out the only way to make it work was to change the order of the words around.
“Sex Machine” and “Kellyanne” have longish instrumental outros. It’s almost as if there’s more to say, like you’re mulling over the conversation in your mind.
I don’t know why I did that, but maybe it’s what you’re suggesting, as if I need to ruminate on this a little more, or groove on it, and get it out of my system. It’s also a kind of celebration—trying to make something good out of complicated issues—like you want to play music and make it all better and it’s hard to stop.
In this live-in-studio performance, Hatfield shifts between jangle and grit on her beloved late-’60s Gibson SG Custom.