Throwback Thursday: Interview with Kristin Hersh, 2006
“Throwing Muses is my old band,” Kristin Hersh tells me in the middle of our conversation, and I have to stifle a laugh. This is the college rock equivalent of Tom Cruise saying, “I’ve done a few movies,” and yet Hersh pulls it off because she’s completely sincere. You couldn’t convince her that she’s a rock star. To Hersh, she just does what she does.
What she does is make incredible music. Her “old band” Throwing Muses, second only to the Pixies as the darlings of ‘90s college radio, focused on Hersh’s raw voice and complicated lyrics, leaving little room for Hersh’s step-sister Tanya Donelly, who left the band in 1992 to her own successes. When the band dissolved in 1997, Hersh had already recorded a haunting solo album, Hips & Makers, and spent the new few years releasing solo albums even more quickly than she had with Throwing Muses. 2003 saw the release of a new Muses recording and solo album on the same day, but then Hersh turned her attention to a new band, 50 Foot Wave.
“Bernard [Georges, Muses bassist] was living in Boston and I was living in Providence. We saw each other only at parties and shows but missed playing together, so we originally hooked up with a drummer in NYC, hoping to form the band on the east coast. Then The Amazing Rob [Ahlers] happened, through a mutual friend and after much discussion with our Throwing Muses managers, publicists and agents, we decided we needed to make the career investment of a move to LA.”
50 Foot Wave is a conscious decision on Hersh’s part to be more involved with music and less involved with its business. “I am part of a band where the whole point of the band is to play live. We’re doing about a hundred dates a year so that we don’t have to play the game where you have to talk someone into buying you radio time and you have a stylist and you sell yourself and you let people boss you around. The only way to decide not to do that is to tell yourself you don’t have to sell CDs,” she told me. Unfortunately, there still had to be a give and take.
“We had planned on releasing an EP every nine months, and when we met with our licensees on our European tour, they kind of flipped out, for lack of a better term. ‘You won’t get radio, you won’t get tours, unless you have a full-length record.’ Actually, we did all of those things without having a full-length, but we didn’t want to hurt our foreign friends, so we decided it’s okay to take the next EP and make it a full-length.” The result was Golden Ocean. “There are three songs from the first one with new vocals and guitar, remixed to match the rest…it’s kind of a gyp, but we did the best we could.”
The record that she refers to as “kind of a gyp” may be even harder rock than anything she did with Muses. “The songs I were writing were loud and fast and would have sounded stupid played solo acoustic,” she explains about her switch back to being in a band. It’s a natural progression to her.
“Some people have told me you’re supposed to…settle down?” She sounds puzzled as, for Hersh, life grows more ever more interesting and chaotic. She’s mother to four sons, for which she is grateful. “I don’t know how I would have a girl. Girls are so confusing to me… I don’t do girl stuff, probably. My kids make fun of me cuz they say I’m more of a boy than they are. They do an impression of me watching TV: ‘Is this a chick flick? It’s gross!’” Hersh speaks of parenting the same way she speaks of the music business—something she’s involved herself in, but not something she needs to have complete control over. She refers to her sons as “fairly sensible roommates” in the most loving way possible, saying that they are “just very congruent. They’re not He-Man boys, you know? They’re just people. They’re very gentle and kind. I imagine that if we had girls, that they would be the same way. Well-balanced people. But I wouldn’t know. [laughs] They grew themselves up while we watched and kept them warm and fed. They grew themselves up right.”
On the other hand, she says that family life isn’t always warm and fuzzy. “I find marriage to be wild! It’s not comfortable. I mean, maybe we’re at peace, we’ve got inner peace going on, but you’ve got somebody with your heart in their hands—any minute, they could just mess up your whole life. The terror that goes along with love is crazy. Plus, you’ve got four kids. There’s a lot of terror and love going on there, too.” She goes on to say, “I don’t consider that to be comfortable or settled. The music does reflect my life.”
Recently, 50 Foot Wave released an EP called Free Music to their internet fans. As the title promises, the songs are in mp3 format for all to download. Hersh loves mp3s. “I just think the perfect job for me would be to mail songs out. If there were such a job as being a songwriter and you could just send songs into the ether, and have them heard, and still pay your rent—that would be great. Mp3s are the closest I’ve ever gotten. But you can’t divorce yourself from your product anymore. Even though as a musician, your work is basically sound, you still have to be behind it and walk it around the world. That’s okay; I wanted to deal with that, but my orientation is that mp3s are as close as I’ve ever come to my dream job.” She refers to the band as “pro-music sharing,” and states that “Any musician worth their salt should be able to work at Starbuck’s to support their habit.”
“It’s not my job to care [about fame and fortune], really. I play what I want to hear and if it’s good to my ears, I’m passionate about my work. Period. If somebody wants to take that out of my garage and sell it to listeners, well, then…it’s effective in the world, but I’m not attached to being heard.”
However, if you want to hear Hersh, you can find her touring. Before the 50 Foot Wave tour is a solo tour. “This is my day job. Playing solo is where my bread and butter’s at, and I’m getting ready to record another solo record, so I want to get my solo acoustic chops back before I go to the studio.” After that, even more touring, where Hersh will be doing a double-shift, with 50 Foot Wave opening for…Throwing Muses. Talk about a hard worker.
“I’m just on all the time,” Hersh tells me. I can believe it. “It’s my experience that if you’re really paying attention, then [life]’s not boring, that’s for sure…Everything matters to me. I’m not wasting any time.”
50 Foot Wave’s Free Music can be found at http://www.throwingmusic.com