It`s a strange feeling to be writing a blog about Throwing Muses` front woman on a night when VMAs are on. It almost feels like the 90s. Back in the day MTV was a rock channel and Throwing Muses were in heavy rotation, leading guitar revolution across charts and Z Rock network. Times may have changed but many things stayed the same. Kristin Hersh is still touring, recording exciting albums (last years`s “Possible Dust Clouds” is nothing short of a masterpiece) and still being independent. Perhaps even more now than when she was on 4AD.
Being life long fans of Kristin`s music, we have been thrilled to speak to her about her new record, extensive tour of UK and creative process behind her songs. Lets leave the Moon Men to some emo kids and mumble rappers. There is so much life outside the Top 40.
Ladies and Gentlemen – the one and only Kristin Hersh!
Hello Kristin! In March this year you have played an extensive UK tour with over 30 gigs across the county. How was it? We hope you received a warm welcome!
Kristin Hersh: Best tour of my life in every way. Not making this up. Van life plus my favourite musicians in the world and musically literate crowds. Rob from 50 Foot Wave and Fred from Throwing Muses made this power trio a super group, of sorts.
The first time they called us that, we laughed, and then immediately adopted the term ‘cause it made us feel like super heroes!
You have released nine studio albums with Throwing Muses, the latest in 2013. “Purgatory/Paradise” came out in an unique form: 32 tracks accompanied by a book full of lyrics, images and additional material. The scale of the release prompted fears among fans that it would be the last album for the band. Do you think there is still some music left in The Muses or are you definitively putting the project to rest?
Kristin Hersh: (laughs) Throwing Muses is in the studio right now. If Muses songs show up, so do we.
Besides music you are also a published author. You have written and illustrated children book “Toby Snax” and penned two memoirs (“Rat Girl” and “Don’t Suck Don’t Die”). Was writing a natural step forward from making music and crafting songs?
Kristin Hersh: I love prose. After a lifetime of speaking music—a language not everyone is fluent in—I get to communicate clearly. Though my writing style verges on prose – poetry, so I guess the communicative effect is watery. It`s more like music than conversation.
In an interview with Guitar World you once said “We’re morally bound to not participate in the traditional recording industry because we disagree with it.” And yet, your newest studio album “Possible Dust Clouds” was released on a label, the old fashioned way. What convinced you to sign to Fire Records?
Kristin Hersh: The old fashioned way is corporate and anti-music. I traded Warner Brothers my first solo album in exchange for my band’s freedom. The new paradigm—like Fire Records—is staffed by people who’ve been too moved by real songs to play the insult-to-music-and-women fashion game that took over the recording industry.
For the purpose of this interview we really tried to find one review of “Possible Dust Clouds” that was not positive and we failed! Pitchfork called it a “glorious return” while Guardian described you both as “uncompromising” and a “true innovator”. Every online review is full five stars. Do you regard this record as the best of your career, cause your fans and music journalists seems to agree on that.
Kristin Hersh: I probably think every record I make is the best of my career! But I’m also baffled by songs. They tell me what to do and I have to listen, so production technique is necessarily reinvented in every session. Until I hear back from smart journalists, I really don’t know what I’ve done.
It took about five years to record “Possible Dust Clouds” and unlike your previous album you did not play all the instruments. This album welcomes many guests and even uses field recordings. How do you remember working on this particular record?
Kristin Hersh: I wanted a chaotic sound, one that mimicked the feel of live shows. Live recordings are usually just recordings that suck, so you have to parse the elements of a show: group high and loud noise plus movement, in order to bring that about. I invited a few friends whose playing is very muscular so that I could warp timing and tuning in the high and low overdubs around our performances. Weak playing would sound ineffective with this treatment but here it sounds noisy and fluid.
The album has been promoted by several singles, including LAX and now Breathe In. It is one of our favourite tracks on the album. We would love to learn more about this song.
Kristin Hersh: “Soloing throughout” is a term we use to make fun of guitar players who won’t shut up, but that’s exactly what I did I in this song. Played my leads with a screwdriver and I don’t shut up until the song ends. My son Wyatt played drums and my fiancé, Fred Abong, is on bass. It’s a little trio of a family, really. So there’s a sweetness in all that noise.
If you are not touring solo or with Kristin Hersh Electric Trio, you are working with 50FOOTWAVE. Can you tell us something about this project as British audience may not be familiar with it.
Kristin Hersh: 50FOOTWAVE is my noise rock trio out of LA. We’re run as a cooperative, with everyone donating their time, from engineers and musicians to videographers, to allow us to give music away.
You have always been very open about your struggles with mental health. And music industry is having this big conversation right now about supporting artists. Looking at things from perspective of somebody who spent four decades in the industry – do you see any changes? And if so are they positive or negative?
Kristin Hersh: I haven’t been all that open, really, since I have no mental health issues. I was misdiagnosed schizophrenic and bipolar and only recently cured of PTSD and concurrent dissociation, which isn’t technically a mental illness. I answer questions when I’m asked, but I shy away from linking any illness to art.
And I think supporting the arts is a very individual decision since they’re all industries now and subject to marketing techniques like bandwagon appeal, etc. I’d love to see people playing their own music, for example. That’s a way to support the arts.
Last (infamous) question – if you were able to change music industry to your liking what would you do? What would change and what would remain?
Kristin Hersh: I would take fashion, money and fame out of the equation. That would leave us with actual musicians. I’m not sure that there are any musicians or songwriters in the recording industry. Rock stars and people who want to be them should never have happened. Music? Will always happen.
You can follow Kristin Hersh on socials:
Big thank you goes to Kristin Hersh for speaking to us and to Shauna McLarnon of Shameless Promotion PR for making arrangements.