Thirty years on from the release of the first Throwing Muses EP Chains Changed Kristin Hersh is showing no signs of slowing down.
Just six months after the release of the Bath White mini-album with power trio 50FOOTWAVE, she’s back with a new solo 24-truck double CD on which she plays all the instruments.
Inspired by her autistic son’s fascination with the coyotes that hung around an old abandoned building, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace is accompanied by a hard-cover book of essays and lyrics.
Five years in the writing, it’s the latest development in an extraordinary career in which she has often felt assailed and possessed by songs which arrived unbidden in her consciousness – the strange by-product of an accident in which she was knocked off her bike by a car at the age of 16.
Since reviving Throwing Muses in 2003, she has also flourished as a prose writer, building on the critical success of her memoir, released as Rat Girl in the US and Paradoxical Undressing in the UK.
In a rare interview ahead of her upcoming UK and Ireland tour, Matt Catchpole finds her in warm and genuine mood, deftly avoiding overt political statements, but funny and open about her music and prose writing.
You seem to be more prolific than ever – releasing both a double solo CD and a 50FOOTWAVE mini-album this year – are the songs coming easily to you at the moment?
I’ve never written a song on purpose. I know this sounds lame, but it’s as if they walk into the room. So I don’t make them up any more than I make up a person walking into the room…songs just are. My biggest problem is what to do with them all.
Tell us about your new album Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. It’s the third in your series of book/ CD combinations. What attracts you to this approach?
CD’s have no inherent value. Vinyl is lovely, but forcing your soundtrack on someone else is a little presumptuous, like suggesting they adopt your religion. So even a record isn’t much of a gift. Hand someone a book, though, and they’re grateful. So. I sleazily sneak CD’s into books, hoping people adopt my religion.
The record is inspired by your son Wyatt – has he told you what he thinks of it?
Wyatt says this record is like big budget home movies.
You’re garnering quite a reputation for your prose writing – how does it compare to writing lyrics – is one easier than the other? Or are they totally separate disciplines?
Lyrics are phonetic melody to me, whereas prose is like a conversation. If I spoke in lyrics, no one would want to hang out with me, but my books are more gentle.
It sounded like you were having a fantastic time making the Bath White EP – I wrote in my review that you’d never sounded happier – how does it differ playing with 50FOOTWAVE to Throwing Muses or your solo work?
50FOOTWAVE is happy…thank you for knowing that! Imagine if somebody pushed you down a flight of stairs and it felt good.
Solo, TM and Fippy are all visceral endeavours, but almost separate disciplines when it comes to sonic vocabulary. Success in the Muses means thin and tangled, solo is thick and woody, but Fippy is like an ocean: white noise plus tumult.
Any plans for another full 50FOOTWAVE album and tour?
The music business is a free-for-all now and so is my career. I don’t mind making it up as I go along, but poor 50′ can get swept under the rug. We’re such a bratty little outfit.
You performed as part of The Concert Across America to end gun violence in September. Obama’s said his failure to deal with gun control has been the biggest frustration of his presidency. Do you see any hope of wresting political control from the National Rifle Association on this issue?
No idea. I figure playing music and asking people to be kind is an ok thing to do.
The US election campaign has been one of the most brutal in living memory – will you be hot- footing it to Canada if Trump wins?
My engineer says that it’s in the Dark Ages that your people need you the most.
What do you make of Hillary Clinton?
Political discussion is so attractive to pseudo-intellectuals that I try not to be too noisy in that sphere. If we keep our personal politics in line, the bigger picture should fall into place. And if not, we’ll keep doing the right thing. It’s really all we can do.
4AD was one of the iconic labels of the 1980s and 90s – how did you get on with founder Ivo Watts-Russell and the other bands on the roster?
I adored Ivo, still do. I just spent a week with him in New Mexico. But we never felt like we belonged with those gauzy, esoteric 4AD bands. We were SO freakin’ American and we were goofy little teenagers. So we dragged the Pixies in with us. That made it less lonely.
Do you feel less pressure now you’re free from the constraints of working with a label.
It’s amazing to know that people will facilitate the production of music in return for a life soundtrack that doesn’t lie. The major label ethos of marketing to the lowest common denominator is like selling sugar as toothpaste.
You’ve collaborated with the likes of REM’s Michael Stipe and Willard Grant Conspiracy in the past – is there anyone you’d really love to work with?
When I hear a sound I need that only one person can make, I lose all my shyness and just grab them. If Bob Mould hadn’t sung on TM’s Dio it would never have made it onto Red Heaven. Right now, though, I’m playing all the instruments…the sound of having no friends.
Your half-sister and ex-Muses guitarist Tanya Donelly has been out on tour with Belly recently – any plans for you two to work together again?
Tea opened for the Muses on the last tour. That was hilarious.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a musician? Was there a song or performance that made you think: Yeah that’s what I want to do?
I actually got hit by a car and started hearing songs. MUCH less fun than a concert.
You’re making an all too rare visit to these shores in November – are you looking forward to being back in the UK again?
Always. Your tea is hot cocaine.
How do you think your song-writing and guitar-playing has evolved over the years. Are you more aware of the process now?
I am, but I wish I wasn’t. I like to close one eye and plug one ear, to disappear and let the songs talk.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the music business?
Crawl into the basement and learn not to suck. Nothing else matters.
- Wyatt at the Coyote Palace is released in the UK on October 28 and in the US on November 11. Pre-order available here.
- Kristin tours The UK and Ireland in November, before returning to the US for more shows. More information from her website.