October 27, 2020

2005-03-20 – The Baltimore Sun

2005 03 20 The_Baltimore_Sun_Sun__Mar_20__2005_

Pop Music

A oappella project: Extended mileage for the Who?

Petra Haden braces

for reaction to her
take on 1967 album


t’s not exactly that Petra
Haden isn’t taking this
thing seriously. It’s just that
it was really a private proj-
ect taken on as an exercise, and
she had no intention of playing
it for anyone except friends, pri-
marily Mike Watt, the Los Ange-
les 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 multi-
tracked 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 pres-
ence on L.A.’s pop and experi-
mental 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 said. “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 re-
corded 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 month 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
Los Angeles home. “Like, they’re
going to want to kill me.”

Not the Who fan who matters

‘She listened first’

“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.

An electric

new play
about truth,

Th nmas M. Hammond
ans TerryAIexander

“In many cases, Petra has re-
leased 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 musi-
cian to give another — to really

The Who Sell Out is
Townshend’s favorite Who a1-
bum, an opinion shared by
many fans of the English band.
Simultaneously a celebration
and a spoof of the era’s pop ra-
dio experience and the youth
culture it embodied, it stitched
together a set of varied songs
with original jingles for Radio
London and comical commer-
cials 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 Quadrophem‘a in
the project, and though the al-
bum wasn’t a commercial hit,
the taut, explosive “I Can See
for Miles” became the Who’s
only US. Top 10 single.

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 ac-
tion is equally nuts,” says
Townshend, responding by e-
mail to questions on the project.
“I really feel she has done some-
thing entirely new here. I love
this CD and Petra puts me in an
Odorono sweat.”

“Feeling the love”

Haden, 33, who had never lis-
tened to the album before she
started her remodeling, says that
“when I first heard it, it sounded


Petra Haden has made an a cappella version of “The Who Sell Out.”

kind of like Gilbert & Sullivan.
The commercials, that wasn’t
rock. That was just like playtime.”

Teaching herself to use Watt’s
eight-track recorder as she went
along, Haden echoed the proc-
ess she’d used on her 1996 al-
bum Imaginaryland, an a cap-
pella work that originated with
stacking of vocals.

Over the years, she has
ranged freely from such experi-
mentation 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 accordi-
onist Alicia Rose, and she plans
to record with her sisters as the
Haden Triplets. She recently re-
leased 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 said. “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 show included Beck, Tena-
cious D and the Go-Go’s.

But for all those credits, The
Who Sell Out looks like the proj-
ect 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, 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 said. “Ev-
ery 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.”

The Los Angeles Times is a
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