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Rock therapies

Blake Hazard and John Dragonetti work it out
By MATT ASHARE  |  July 22, 2008

FRANKLY, MY DEAR: “When you write a song,” says Hazard, “you can be honest in a way that can be difficult in conversation.”

A little over four years ago, the Boston music scene lost one of its cuter couples when singer-songwriter Blake Hazard and guitarist/producer John Dragonetti left town for LA. Hazard had been working to establish herself as a singer-songwriter in a pop world filled with girls with acoustic guitars, and Dragonetti had already been through the major-label wringer once with his band/alias Jack Drag, who released an album of quirky alterna-pop on A&M in ’98. It seemed like a perfect match: Hazard — a fresh-faced blonde with a backstory that includes a distant relative by the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald — had the songs and the pretty voice to go with them, and Dragonetti’s pop sensibility — his talent for texture and hooks — brought a whole new dimension to those songs. But within six months of their move, the two had parted ways — both musical and romantic. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to them.

“I started playing with a different band,” Hazard says over her cell from LA, “and John was doing all this composing on his own. But then it started to become clear that the break-up was failing.”

That’s right: the break-up didn’t work out. Hazard and Dragonetti reconciled and married and found themselves with a batch of songs they’d written while they’d been apart — songs that dealt candidly with the split. “The material had this cohesiveness about it,” says Hazard. “They were talking about the same things from two different perspectives. So we thought it would be cool to put them together even just for us and our friends, to document a particular time in our lives.”

“It was never about money or getting a big advance,” Dragonetti adds in a separate phone conversation. “We didn’t have any big expectations. We both kind of felt that we could do this the way we wanted to. It just felt natural. And I know it had been an awful long time since it had felt that way for me.”

Christened the Submarines, the duo scored a deal with Nettwerk before the label had even seen them live, and in 2006 their first album, Declare a New State!, came out. “It was incredibly cathartic when we got back together — it really did help us in our relationship,” Hazard admits. “When you write a song, you can be honest in a way that can be difficult in conversation. I know that when I was writing some of those songs, things came out that I hadn’t even really been in touch with before.”

If Declare a New State! was a Rumours-style tour of a relationship in crisis, then the duo’s new album, Honeysuckle Weeks, is a bit more like the X albums John Doe and Exene Cervenka wrote when they were still married. It’s not all flowers and sunshine, but it’s not nearly as tortured and dark as the first disc. Hazard: “The recording process and the writing process was really tough when we were broken up, and there were times when we were touring with that first record that felt pretty dark. Sometimes you’d realize what you were singing about when you were standing up there on stage next to one another . . . it was just hard to revisit that time over and over again. Coming out of that and working on the second record was really good for both of us.”

In the studio, the band are still a duo, with Dragonetti handling the production and sharing vocals with Hazard. They have, however, added a drummer to the live show. And though their relationship remains a salient topic, the new album is a little less like a rock therapy session. “We’ve learned that being in a relationship and being in a band are just so different,” says Hazard. “And it’s nice now to diffuse some of that energy with a third party, and to have songs that aren’t strictly about our relationship. I think our drummer [J. Stare] was a little nervous at first, but now he has fun with it. John and I usually drive, so he’ll joke around in the back seat and call us Mom and Dad.”

THE SUBMARINES + AIMEE MANN | Berklee Performance Center, 136 Mass Ave, Boston | July 26 at 8pm | $35-$40 | 617.931.2000 or

Related: Indie springs forward, All fired up, Gorillaz in the midst, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Berklee Performance Center, Blake Hazard, John Dragonetti,  More more >
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