Kristin Hersh: Musing With A Heroine

Kristin Hersh has the unique distinction of being the last person I ever (and will ever) asked for an autograph… hopefully she finds that something of a small honor. ...

Kristin Hersh has the unique distinction of being the last person I ever (and will ever) asked for an autograph… hopefully she finds that something of a small honor.  Along with that, she has the honor of being my most-honored-to-interview individual for Philthy Blog all year.  I grew up with a young life largely soundtracked by her and stepsister Tanya Donelly’s alt. rock all-stars Throwing Muses and its various spawned sideprojects and solo outputs.  However, it’s been a while since I’ve caught up with what Hersh has been up to… which is actually quite a bit.  Throwing Muses are still writing and recording in a very ambitious manner (although she is the only original member)… and so are her power trio, 50FOOTWAVE… She also continues to maintain a solo career… And she relatively recently became an author.  But most importantly to our Philthy readers, she will be playing a solo show on Tuesday, July 31st, at World Café Live. In our recent chat Kristin unveiled to me a few clues as to what fans and interested parties can expect of all upcoming endeavors and just how she’s managing to balance her medium-crossing plethora of projects.

Izzy Cihak: We’re about half-way through the summer of 2012.  How have you spent it thus far?  What have been the highlights?

Kristin Hersh: Well, the first order of business was to get out of New Orleans, which, beautiful as it is, feels very much like Hell in the summertime. I was born in Georgia, but me and heat don’t get along very well. We argue… So I went home to RI and parked myself in my crappy beach house where I get up at 4 a.m. every morning to work on a few books I’m writing (I’ll let Penguin publish whichever one doesn’t suck). When the kids get up, I switch to Mom-ing for a few hours, then I go to the studio where we’re finishing a new Throwing Muses record.

IC: You’ve been working on quite a few projects recently.  Care to give our readers a quick re-cap of recent and forthcoming releases?

KH: I guess someday I’ll finish a book and put that out, but I’ve been working Rat Girl (Paradoxical Undressing in the UK) for a while now and I don’t see any need to stop. I have a stage show based on the book with high-end production and then a low-fi version, where I just read and play music, so I can work this book and my most recent record, Crooked, at the same time.

When the Muses record is mixed, sequenced, and mastered, we’ll talk about possible release dates and tours, etc.

In a few days, I start recording my next solo record, but that won’t be the out-of-control effort the Muses project was: we cut it down to 33 songs, but that’s still a lot. Tried calling it our “masterpiece” for a while, which is a good way to describe it (but so is “long-winded!”)

IC: Your music is proudly “listener-supported,” through CASH Music.  Would you care to share your thoughts on the organization?

KH: I started CASH with some friends because I believed there had to be a responsible alternative to the “suck to succeed” model thrust on musicians by the recording industry. I don’t believe in the lowest common denominator they like to market to; I think listeners are idiosyncratic in their response and can be educated to prefer real music over fashion sound.

Being listener-supported means I don’t have to sell music via press/radio/photo shoots, etc. which have so much to do with trends and so little to do with timeless substance. I also have the option of giving music away because my recording costs are covered.

IC: You’ve written a few books recently (well, in recent years).  Considering how long you’ve been a public figure, making and releasing music, it strikes me as a little surprising that you would wait for so long to delve into literature, which you seem to have quite a passion for. What was it that inspired this?  Do you feel like it allows you to express yourself in a manner that you hadn’t been able to with your music?

KH: I only wrote one real book, Rat Girl/Paradoxical Undressing. My last record, Crooked, was released as a book, but that was photographs, lyrics, and a collection of essays. I also wrote a children’s book for my son, Bo, to help him be brave about touring, but that was mostly drawing rabbits(!)

Rat Girl is actually a diary I kept for a year as a teenager, re-worked to read like a non-fiction novel. Most of it is a love letter to Betty Hutton and my band. It didn’t feel like self-expression, honestly, it felt like telling an embarrassing story. I just thought I should probably publish it if it could help someone going through something like the dark mania that’s described in the book. Given that that’s a weighty subject, I made the book as funny as I could.  Laughing was very important back then, as it is now.

IC: We’re honored that you’re opening your upcoming tour in Philadelphia. You’ve been through here quite a few times with quite a few musical projects.  Do you have any general thoughts on the city or particularly favorite memories?

KH: Love playing Philadelphia. The people are real listeners, not “fans” — there’s a big difference! They always turn out and they’re musically literate enough to appreciate songs and styles they’ve never heard before. I guess because you have a history of great radio and real musicians coming through town.

This is huge for me because I believe that music is something which happens between musician and audience, so I rely on resonance rather than performance. Nobody needs another show-off, but we all need music to walk into the room. It’s medicine.

IC: What can fans expect of the upcoming dates?

KH: I make it up as I go along (probably not the best method) but, lately I’ve been choosing songs from Crooked, Sunny Border Blue, and some Muses material, plus whatever informs the excerpts I’m reading from Rat Girl. I always try to keep those excerpts light, by the way. My songs make enough people cry! Always felt guilty about that.


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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.