She went to see them live again, and this time it connected. “There’s a lot of things I like about them. The thing that hit me first is Aaron’s voice. It’s very distinctive. That’s always a good selling point for a band, I think, when the singer has an original sound. And the songwriting’s really good and really smart — not clever in an annoying way. There’s really interesting imagery in the lyrics and a wide range of feelings and moods. I love the dread and the doubt. But then there’s also this hopefulness here and there. It keeps unfolding the more I listen.”
So when Goodman and Sinclair came to her with the idea of releasing Frank Smith’s Heavy Handed Peace and Love — their fourth album in as many years — on Ye Olde, which Hatfield had established in order to release her own music after her contract with Rounder was up, she was happy to do so. (This happened before Sittin’ in a Tree . . . was conceived.) “It seemed like a great opportunity to put something else out on my label, something that I cared about and liked a lot.”
There’s plenty of the dread and doubt that Hatfield likes so much on HHP&L, most of which Sinclair wrote after coming out of a long relationship. On the opener, over a languid beat, mournful pedal-steel swells, and eerie electric-guitar atmospherics, he describes himself as “a liar and a thief, a cheat and a sneak.” Later on, the band re-imagine Holly Golightly’s post-break-up garage-rocker “Virtually Happy” as a dirge-like old-time waltz.
“I think it’s pretty hopeless and dark,” Sinclair says over the phone from Austin. “I definitely found kind of a weird spot for myself there for a while. I find it’s a lot harder for me to write songs when I’m happy — I don’t feel that productive and I don’t feel very inspired.”
And Hatfield says Frank Smith helped to rekindle her inner music-lover flame. “They took me by surprise. I thought I would never be excited again by anything.” Like a lot of local music fans, she’s bummed that they left town. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I was just barely starting to get to know him [Sinclair]. I somehow didn’t realize he existed until a year ago. He’s a major talent, but the world doesn’t know it yet. If I had a million dollars to spend I’d make him a big star.”
FRANK SMITH | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | June 9 | 617.864.EAST
: Music Features
, Entertainment, Music, Pop and Rock Music, More