Petra was born into a musical family, one of the triplet daughters of the late legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. At age seven, after seeing Captain Kangaroo playing the violin on T.V., Petra decided to take up the instrument herself. Although she quit the violin in 7th grade she started playing again when she was 20. She’s turned her fixation on Captain Kangaroo’s favorite instrument into a career of her own, playing with some of the big names of alternative jazz and rock for the last fifteen years.
Petra’s love of instruments enabled her to provide unique voices to the notes she sang, re-creating the sounds of the instruments with her own voice, in pop, classical, jazz, blues, or any other idiom or genre one cares to name. She developed complex arrangements in her head and could interpret a wide variety of ecclectic sounding music.
The first two releases 1994’s self-titled debut, and 1995’s Totally Crushed Out were lo-fi affairs filled with loud guitars and complex vocal harmonies. In 1997 they put out Retreat From the Sun, a Brad Wood-produced recording that had a catchier, poppier sound. The group disbanded soon but before their split, Petra recorded her first solo album, Imaginaryland, in 1996. The inspiration for the experimental record came from sister Tanya’s stuffed animal, Imaginary Bear. It was largely made up of Petra’s acappella voice collages, and featured both original songs and covers. The next recording was released in 1999 Bella Neurox, a collaborative instrumental album with accordionist/photographer, Alicia Rose a/k/a Miss Murgatroid.
During this time Petra’s vocal accompaniment, solo and harmonies became well known and In the ensuing decade, she accompanied artists such as Foo Fighters, Green Day, Bette Midler, Sean Lennon and Victoria Williams. She has also worked with her sisters, fellow triplets Rachel and Tanya as The Haden Sisters , appearing at clubs in LA and at the SXSW music conference. It was while playing at SXSW on the same bill as The Decemberists that Petra met the band that she would spend most of 2005 with touring with. She became an integral part of the Portland group’s live shows providing key vocal and instrumental support to leader Colin Meloy’s iconoclastic vocals and songs.
Petra’s most recent solo effort was released early 2005 on Hoboken’s Bar None Records. Petra Haden Sings: The Who Sell Out is the latest chapter in the always provocative, often unpredictable yet never less than fascinating musical career of Ms. Haden. Bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen/fIREHOSE) a good friend knew of Petra’s ability to “layer” voices. He offered up the challenge to Petra to re-imagine his favorite record “The Who Sell Out” using only her voice in the place of instruments. (This at least a year before any news of Bjork’s Medulla leaked to the press). He gave her an 8 track cassette tape with the original Who album recorded onto one track and the other seven empty – to be filled with harmonies reinventing not only all The Who’s singing and instrumental parts, including drums. Taking the great album to heart she also recorded all the mock radio commercials so integral to The Who Sell Out experience.
2005 also saw the release of a duet recording with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, plainly titled Petra Haden and Bill Frisell. Of “Petra Haden and Bill Frisell” PopMatters.com wrote “Sharing keen musicianship and infectious charm Petra and Bill tackle a wide array of pop standards — ranging from Gershwin and Mancini to Grohl and Martin (Chris). Although the song selection proves to be the most adventurous quality, the album is nevertheless a startling and refreshing set of pop, an understated collection that reflects the humble yet profound presence both bring to their work; they speak volumes by saying so little.”