Blake Babies Make A 'Blessed' Return

Blake Babies drummer Freda Love says it was "laughably comfortable" recording "God Bless the Blake Babies," the trio's first album in a decade. "It cracked us up a couple of times that it felt like

Blake Babies drummer Freda Love says it was "laughably comfortable" recording "God Bless the Blake Babies," the trio's first album in a decade. "It cracked us up a couple of times that it felt like no time had passed. It felt exactly the same."

Love says it was a surprise that the making of "God Bless" was so pleasant -- especially considering that friction within the trio played a major role in its early-'90s breakup.

"Playing with them is like riding a bike now," says singer/bassist Juliana Hatfield. "It feels so natural. It was like all the chemistry that we had before but without the tension."

In fact, the self-financed "God Bless" -- due March 6 -- proved easier to pull together than the band itself, which is rounded out by guitarist John Strohm. With each member living in different states -- and with Strohm and Love finishing college degrees they put off shortly after forming the group in 1986 in Boston -- the project was delayed for a year until all three could find time to record.

That time came in December 1999, during Strohm's and Love's Christmas vacations from classes. Having already exchanged song ideas on tape by mail, the band set aside 10 days to record in Bloomington, Ind., where Strohm lived for years and where Love still resides with her family.

At the controls for "God Bless" was Paul Mahern, engineer of the Blake Babies' last set, 1991's "Rosy Jack World" (Mammoth). Each band member contributed two songs apiece, and they co-wrote the remainder together, except for the Evan Dando/ Ben Lee-penned tune "Brain Damage," a Dando/Hatfield duet.

Although low on time and money, the Blake Babies finished the album with material to spare. But the trio waited several months for a label to accept the album under its three conditions: that the project be a one-off, that the group be reimbursed for the recording costs, and that the band retain rights to the album's future international release.

Zoë/Rounder issued Hatfield's past three solo discs, and Rounder Records Group GM Paul Foley says the label spent much of last year trying to secure "God Bless," which he hopes will further raise Rounder's profile beyond roots music to mainstream pop. Retail interest has been encouraging, especially from the 22-store, Boston-area chain Newbury Comics, where a buzz seems to be building, according to VP of music Beth Dube.

"People are excited and a little curious to see what the Blake Babies have turned into over the years," Dube says. "They still get a lot of airplay and are supported by all kinds of retail, clubs, college kids, and beyond."

The Blake Babies were spawned from the same early alt-rock scene that yielded the Pixies, the Lemonheads, Throwing Muses, and Buffalo Tom. Yet Love never felt like the band was that popular, until just before the end. "On our last couple of tours, I started seeing more people coming to shows and sensing a real interest in the band," she says. "It's sad that the band was falling apart just as things were starting to cook around us."

Strohm and Love eventually made plans to leave Boston and return home to Bloomington, where they would later form Antenna together and, separately, Velo-Deluxe and the Mysteries of Life, respectively. Hatfield acted on her desire to launch a solo career, which spawned the quirky pop hits "Spin the Bottle" and "My Sister."

Up until the moment Love phoned Hatfield and Strohm with the new Blake Babies idea, Hatfield had "thought about [a reunion] zero times," she says. "I was still involved in my own thing." But Love was excited by seeing a recent Hatfield solo show, and by then, both Hatfield and Strohm were ready for something new.

Despite their various ongoing solo ventures, the Blake Babies project is going so well on the second go-round that the trio is touring to promote "God Bless." Because of Love and Strohm's school schedules, the tour will be brief, keeping mostly to the East Coast. The jaunt wraps March 17 in Austin, Texas. West Coast shows may be added later this year.

In the meantime, Love and her husband, Jake Smith, are looking for a new label to issue their new Mysteries of Life record, since they've parted ways with RCA. Hatfield, meanwhile, is working on her next solo set, which she says is an extension of "Beautiful Creature," one of two Hatfield discs Zoë released last year. Strohm is also working on his latest solo project, which he hopes to have out by spring.

Beyond "God Bless," the clear-eyed Strohm says the tour will be a good indication of things to be -- or not to be -- for the Blake Babies. "We're traveling in a van," he says. "We don't want to be in debt to the label or anyone. Juliana is certainly cutting back from what she's used to. But we'll find out if this thing's gonna really fly.