Sunday, May 19, 2013
Kristin Hersh kristinhersh.com is no ordinary singer-songwriter. Not by a long shot. When she was a teenager she formed Throwing Muses, one of the coolest bands to come out of the Providence/Boston alternative scene. The band released 8 studio albums and much to the bliss of their cult of fans, recently went back into the studio and recorded a jaw-dropping 38 songs. Look for that album to see the light of day in 2013. Meanwhile, Hersh’s other band 50FootWave has a new EP out called “With Love From The Men’s Room.”
Hersh’s solo career, which began with the 2004 release of “Hips and Makers” has been moving along at breakneck speed with 7 albums following that one, most recently 2010’s “Crooked.” She’s an intense and imaginative songwriter with a haunting, mesmerizing voice.
In 2007 Hersh co-founded the non-profit CASH (Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders). CASH has funded Hersh’s work along with helping dozens of other artists and label projects with technical tools that help commerce, communication and sustainability for artists all in the open source and free of charge. I know, how great is that?
But that’s not all. Hersh also penned a much-loved autobiography “Rat Girl: A Memoir,” which was published in 2010.
Point being, she’s a busy lady who splits her time between California, New Orleans and her home state of Rhode Island. She hasn’t played in Portland and some time and will be paying us an overdue visit Friday night at Empire. Hoorah!
It was a privilege to chat with Hersh the other day via telephone. As you’ll see in a moment, Hersh is funny (we both cracked up several times) sincere and smart.
I posted on my Facebook page a few days before this conversation that I was going to be chatting with you to see if anyone had anything they wanted me to pass on to you and I had two people say The Throwing Muses first album changed their lives. Then I read that the forthcoming Throwing Muses album is going to have 38 songs on it. Wow! Really?
They just pile up. It’s mostly because there’s no record company to tell us not to make a record that long so we just did. They’re not all long songs. We got it down to 32 I think. Now that we’re old, we wouldn’t listen to anybody if they told us to shut up so we just kind or removed the people from our lives that would tell us to shut up and now we’re free to play for as long as we want even when everyone leaves the room. Now that we’re listener supported it’s just like making your own movie, you just raise the funds to get the basics done and then you raise the funds to get the overdubs done and you raise the funds to mix, to master and eventually you have a really long record because it takes so long to make.
I love the whole listener supported music thing and what you’re doing with CASH.
When I was 14 and starting Throwing Muses I knew we wouldn’t last beyond our crappy equipment because we didn’t want to suck in order to succeed and that’s the equation the industry lived by so it was a surprise to me that we were allowed to continue at all but I always knew that we would run out of not playing the game money and we did. We stopped at the top of our game I think. “Limbo” was our best record and that was bittersweet but at least we didn’t suck. We waited until there was a better answer and that better answer was becoming listener supported because listeners would reject any saleable products we offered them, they want good music and that’s what we were more interested in; going into our little laboratory and being the dorks that we are.
I know you’re not in New England full time but I know I was devastated that WFNX recently went off the air. Do you have anything you want to say about that?
There were a lot of us that were so dreadfully frustrated and heartbroken by the industry that when it began to collapse we saw it as a revolution which it ultimately will be but the first soldiers to fall are always the best ones. We lost so many great record stores, radio stations, publicists, managers, and engineers. Everyone great living on the edge, they were the first to fall. We lost Vic Chestnutt. So far there’s been more heartbreak from the collapse even though I think we’re going to good places because we’re making it easier for the public to educate themselves musically. But in the meantime the people who were about to starve are actually starving. The people who care will always work, it’s just that we need to go looking for them because they’re never gonna be shoved down our throats.
What’s scary is the lack of support for people who want to be moved by music. Unless they’re really going to plow through history and find music that moves them – which they often do- they’re still at the mercy of the big, fat, ugly marketers and that’s terrifying.
It’s unfortunate that they call Top 40 music music because it isn’t.
It’s product for mass consumption.
Exactly. And I suppose there are calories in it just like there are sound waves emitted when you play Top 40 music.
That’s a good analogy. What are you going to put in your body to sustain it? Something that’s gonna get you by or something that’s actually gonna help you?
A lot of people don’t know that they even want to be moved. The constructs being used to feed us are all dissolving.
We grew up knowing if it were popular we would hate it. It kept me form watching “The Simpsons” for years. We all just knew that was a given. People who believed they were the lowest common denominator were not our friends.
It feels bad to have lost a community that was so tightly knit that you could find all over the world. But at the same time it’s sort of nice that we can engage, even on Twitter and speak short sentences to each other, just sort of reaching out, touching base. You find people all over the planet that don’t align by gender or race or geography or politics even, just through basic human intelligence and that usually has a pretty good soundtrack.
Wow well said. That’s a Hershism if ever there was one.
So I’m a huge fan of the 1987 Throwing Muses EP “The Fat Skier.” I used to play
“A Feeling’ on my college radio show about every other week.
We made that record at night. We couldn’t afford the studio during daytime so we had to make it at night and we would hang out of the windows of the building in Boston and watch the rats running around from dumpster to dumpster in the alley. The rats looked to be about a foot long and then we realized as we were leaving, we’d been recording on the 7th floor so the rats must have been about three feet long.
They were like The Rodents of Unusual Size from “The Princess Bride”
Exactly! It was the studio were Apollonia was recording during the day and what they were doing was recording one syllable at a time and tuning it and then recording the next syllable and tuning it. We could see on the notes that were on the music stands divided by syllables.
So what will the show at Empire be like?
I’ll do readings from my book “Rat Girl: A Memoir” because they sort of inform the songs and the songs inform the text. I’m kind of making it up as I go along to tell you the truth. It’s been a nice combination. It’s new to me but I was intrigued because I usually speak music to people and not everyone is fluent in that language. It’s nice to kind of warm them up that way.
Are you someone who puts a lot of thought into your set list or do you just keep it loose and open?
I’m really bad at that. I have 50 million songs so I just write down a bunch and then I look at the list and play whatever I feel like playing or whatever I can remember.
Those are the best kinds of shows. Set lists are so passé.
OK good. I call it a set-list but really it’s a brain mal-function.
That’s kind of awesome.
IF U GO:
WHEN: Friday, August 17 at 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Empire Dine & Dance, 575 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $12 in advance, $15 at the door; 21-plus show
Aimsel Ponti has been obsessed with - and inspired by- music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She's a huge fan of the local music scene and interviews an act every week for "Making Noise" which runs in the Press Herald GO section. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets.