It’s a very special thing when someone gives you their heart, when they are willing to give you a good look into their soul with all its beauties and flaws. It takes tremendous generosity of spirit and courage to step up to the plate—or in this case, the mic—and put it all on the line. When Stephanie Hatfield gets on stage, she hands us this gift. This is what she does, and she does it through a great talent for song.
Stephanie and I hang out in the control room of Frogville Studios, where her husband, Bill Palmer, has been the head sound engineer for eleven years. Listening to Stephanie speak is one thing. She has a lovely voice, and there are hints, but just hints, of the power within. However, listening to her sing, as I did a few nights ago at Duel Brewing? Well…
Everyone at Duel was having a good time, Trent and crew were dishing up a lot of beer, the house was packed and we were all merrily yammering away to one another about something, I can’t remember what. Stephanie was singing backup in her husband’s band, Bill Palmer’s TV Killers, and about mid-way through the performance she took the lead. She sang George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and I immediately thought of Janis Joplin’s interpretation. There it was with no holds barred—her presence, her gift—and the crowd instinctively knew it. Heads turned, and everyone got quiet as Stephanie put every ounce of her being into the performance.
“The thing about voice for me,” Stephanie says, “it’s a pure conduit between (my) soul and the rest of the world. It’s very unfiltered. For me, when I sing, it’s just about as raw and pure as it can get.” No kidding. This woman knows what she’s got and shows no restraint in putting it out there. When she finishes the song, the crowd erupts into applause. To be succinct, Janis Joplin has nothing on Stephanie Hatfield.
The relationship, the romance between the performer and the audience, has to have chemistry. When it’s good, says Stephanie, “that’s everything. That’s the reason I’ve always loved live music, why I’ve always loved to perform.” As with any love affair, when the connection grows, so does the intensity. “There is no greater feeling I’ve experienced in the world than pouring out my heart or whatever emotion I’m feeling to the audience… If I can help them feel something, that is the greatest.” About being on stage, Stephanie continues, “I adore my fans, I adore the people who come to my performances. Because if I can touch them, that’s what I live for.” Talk about a generous spirit.
Music is in Stephanie’s blood. Although neither of her parents were exactly musicians, her mom loved to sing for pleasure around the house and her dad could pick up any instrument and play it. When she went off to college, Stephanie chose to major in voice. Classical training (“a lot of theory,” she says) has served her well, but it didn’t quite fit. “I love opera and classical music for the passion I can pour into it, but it was my interpretation of someone else’s music,” she says. “I wanted to write and perform my own, and classical music has certain parameters. I wanted to use my voice in a different way.” The band Hot Mess was born—and use her voice in a different way Stephanie most definitely does. Her music is straight out rock-and-roll, and given her voice—at times sultry and sweet, at others raw and howling—well, somehow, I just can’t picture Stephanie in a formal gown, standing out there with Lang Lang accompanying her on piano. Although, she hints, “I do have a project in mind to record a classical piece.”
Stephanie talks candidly about the inspirations for her music. “Between Bill and I—we met through his band—there’s a lot that comes because of our relationship and history, so I end up writing a lot of songs about what I’ve been through with him.” Stephanie notes that most of her songs are about love, in all its pleasures and sorrows, and here she and Bill have bravely given each other full creative license. Stephanie shares a funny story. “Several months back I wrote a song about an ex-boyfriend of mine, a very passionate love song. The lyrical base of it had been written years ago.” She went on to share the song with Bill, who couldn’t help but razz her. “He was like, ‘Who? What? Well, fine! I’m going to write a song about my ex!’” Stephanie laughs. “And he did, and it’s beautiful! We perform the song in TV Killers.” About love, she concludes, “It’s the motivating force. Wherever inspiration comes from, we shouldn’t question it.”
Then there’s the band working together. In their collaboration, there’s a synergy that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. On this Stephanie says, “If you have the right kind of people that you work with, it can help you feel comfortable to perform, to make the kind of music that you want to create. It’s a very sensitive thing, and different for everybody.” While Stephanie is constantly developing her music and taking more ownership of it by getting more into the production end, she still relies on colleagues to help her realize her vision. “To bring in a song that I’ve written and ask these people to contribute to it, I really have to trust them—emotionally and as musicians and professionals. So I feel that that has been one of the great things about working with the people I’ve worked with.” It’s true: whether in love or work, it is so very important to find people that bring out the best in each other.
Some change is in the wings. The name Hot Mess has been retired and the band is now simply known as Stephanie Hatfield. “We just recorded three songs before Christmas and have to work on those. The goal is to make an EP with four or five songs on it so that we can apply for festivals around the country. And that would be the next step, and hopefully get enough funding to produce an album on a larger scale than we’ve been able to thus far.” Stephanie is shifting away from bar performances, as they are not venues where people can listen very well to the intricacies of the music. “I’m also changing to somewhat of a different genre,” she says, “and I don’t know exactly what we’ll call it, probably related to indie or alternative.” It seems the genre doesn’t matter, only that it works as a conduit for what Stephanie has to offer. “And a little bit more ups and downs and drama in the music itself. I want to do it in a different way, doing special performances, one and a half to two hours for festivals… I want to take the band to other parts of the country to perform our music.”
On living here and the local music scene, Stephanie says, “I love Santa Fe and New Mexico. It’s just, coming from the Detroit area, you never see sky like this, you can’t see beyond yourself. I got here and I could breathe, and see the sky and the mountain ranges, and that was very enamoring.” So many of us who have transplanted ourselves here have felt the expansiveness of this place, and for Stephanie, being able to breathe, figuratively and literally, has to be important. “It’s a great place to live and be rooted in and based from.” However, in terms of furthering her career as a musician, it’s not ideal. “You’re not going to make it,” she says. “The music scene doesn’t really launch anybody out of here, not like Austin or L.A. or Seattle. It’s an impossibility, just because of lack of population.”
This doesn’t mean she’s forgotten or discounted her local audience. Stephanie’s got a smattering of upcoming local appearances (see the listings below), and she assures me her band and TV Killers will participate in the Santa Fe Bandstand series this summer. She also adds, “We’ll play South by Southwest [in Austin] again this year and hopefully more after that.”
If you haven’t heard Stephanie Hatfield sing, no matter what your taste in music, put one (or all) of her performances on your calendar and go. You’ll come away with a very special gift.
The current lineup for Stephanie Hatfield: Stephanie (of course), vocals, guitar and producer; Bill Palmer, guitar, vocals and producer; Matt McClinton, bass; Shawn Peters, drums; and Kevin Zoernig, piano, keyboards and producer. Stephanie’s recordings are available through CD Baby, iTunes, and Reverbnation. And in her copious free time (kidding), she teaches voice lessons each week to twelve to 15 students. “It’s very rewarding,” she says. “I have students from ages six to 65. It’s fantastic.” Have a look at Stephanie’s web sites: facebook.com/therealstephaniehatfield and stephaniehatfieldmusic.com. She can be contacted via email: email@example.com.
Upcoming New Mexico Performances
– February 13: an acoustic duo with Bill Palmer at Duel Brewing, in Santa Fe
– February 16: a Valentine’s show at Two Rocks and a Hubcap, in Cerrillos
– February 21: an acoustic set at Low Spirits, in Albuquerque
– February 28: Bill Palmer’s TV Killers at the Lensic in Santa Fe
Story by Gordon Bunker; Photos by Kitty Leaken