20 Questions: Petra Haden

PopMatters Staff
Photo: Jed Johnson

When not collaborating with David Byrne, playing violin for Weezer, or covering Who albums with just her voice, If By Yes' Petra Haden is perfecting her Moonwalk and learning how to make ProTools work . . .

Petra Haden is one of the few artists working today who can truly be called "a luminary", yet here we are.

Haden, after all, has released full-length albums using nothing but her powerful, emotive voice (including a celebrated 2005 disc where she covered the classic album The Who Sell Out in its entirety) while also being in the noted '90s indie-quirk band That Dog, all while still contributing her considerable violin skills to artists as diverse as Beck, the Foo Fighters, the Twilight Singers, and several more.

Yet even when recording on major label budgets, Haden has still found time to indulge in her love of collaboration, and her latest effort is a band called If By Yes, where she got to meet up with another luminary--Cibo Matto's Yuka Honda--and make something that can be best described as "experimental pop": unpredictable yet familiar, alien yet beautiful, all at the same time. To celebrate the release of the band's debut effort Salt on Sea Glass (which, it should be noted, is filled with guest turns from the likes of David Byrne, Nels Cline, and Cornelius), Haden sat down to answer PopMatters' famed 20 Questions, here revealing a particular connection to the film Kramer vs. Kramer, a talent for Moonwalking, and how she recently bought ProTools but has no idea how to use it . . .

* * *

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I can't remember the latest movie I saw that made me cry, but one that always makes me cry is Kramer vs. Kramer. It is sad to watch Dustin Hoffman explain to his son why he can't live with him anymore.

2. The fictional character most like you?

Grumpy from Snow White.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Orchestration by Pat Metheny.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek . . . because of William Shatner. He is so great.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Food. Uni sushi. I used to not like it very much, but lately I've become a fan! It tastes like it would be very nourishing to the brain. Maybe because it kind of reminds me of a brain.

6. You're proud of this accomplishment, but why?

I'm proud of recording Imaginaryland, but it was something I've always wanted to do. And I've kept the spirit alive ever since. But Imaginarybear is out there . . . somewhere. He was the inspiration to that record.

7. You want to be remembered for . . . ?

I'm not interested in being remembered.

8. Of those who've come before, the most inspirational are?

Mel Blanc, Jim Henson, Rachmaninoff, Pat Metheny, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Steve Reich.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Tehillim by Steve Reich. Listen to it and you'll see why.

10. Your hidden talents . . . ?

I guess they would be Moonwalking and playing my hands and making a clown honk horn sound while squeezing my nose.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

When you're feeling down, try picking up your violin and just play. It'll make you feel better . . . I promise!

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

The best thing I'll ever buy . . . will be a juicer. The best thing I bought but haven't learned to use yet is Pro-Tools.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . . ?

Sweat pants. Anything else is uncomfortable.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

My sisters Tanya and Rachel. We would have a blast I think!

15. Time travel: where, when, and why?

Only time is future since everything in the past women were treated as second-class citizens.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?

Hit man? How 'bout acupuncture?

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . . ?

Health, music, laughing, and sleep.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

Los Angeles.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I hope you're getting enough sleep!

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

My next a cappella record . . . and playing great shows with If By Yes!

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