STEELE INTERVIEWS: KRISTIN HERSH

throwing muses

So many amazing things about Throwing Muses. The band formed in 1983 in Newport, RI, became trailblazers in the 90s indie rock scene and were the first American band signed to British label 4AD. Purgatory/ Paradise is the band’s first release in 10 years.

Throwing Muses has maintained its distinctive edgy sound. Churning, muddled guitar with alternating loud and soft melodies complements singer/songwriter/guitarist Kristin Hersh’s throaty vocals. “That’s no way to bring a body down” Hersh laments on the dark, hypnotic “opiates” as the melody vacillates dark to light, dark to light. So effective. So fitting. Sometimes psychedelic rhythms–“morning birds 1” races, rages and burns, other times more melodic – opening track “smoky hands” sounds nearly acoustic, subdued and honey voiced– but always intense. “terra nova” slows down with dramatic flair, a complicated orchestration. Beautifully provocative. Worth the decade wait.

Although we’ve yet to meet in real life, I consider Kristin a friend. One day she and her astute son Bo will show me around NOLA. A few days ago she answered questions about Throwing Muses and the new album.

Amy Steele: You’ve said that being near water is very important to you. What is your connection to water? How does it affect you?

Kristin Hersh: Water is the only thing I can bury myself in, and shake off chemicals that aren’t serving my psychology or my songs. The ocean will brutalize you, soothe you, etc., teach you a goddamn lesson, in other words 😉

Just looking at it reduces you to your own speck-ness. Such a relief to be a speck…

Amy Steele: You wrote a memoir [RAT GIRL] about your mental illness. What is a good day for you and what is a bad day? How does being bipolar influence your writing and music?

Kristin Hersh: I found out this year in treatment for PTSD that I’m not actually bipolar, but dissociative. I had a hidden personality that wrote all my music and kept trauma from interfering with my life. I have no memory of having written any of my songs, and no memory of performing them, either, because that glassy-eyed stage presence I was known for was a part of me I knew nothing about.

It kept me from bad days, though I struggled with the effects of poison emotions and memories. I had a hangover for most of my adult life. You can’t escape trauma, as it turns out; all you can do is try to hide it.

Amy Steele: Can you believe that you’ve been in a band for 30 years? Who is Throwing Muses in 2013 vs. when the band formed in 1983? How has the band evolved?

Kristin Hersh: Throwing Muses is home to me, always has been. Just as comforting and exciting as “home” which is an intense peace, if that makes any sense. I adore my band-mates. Every minute in the studio and even on the freakin’ tour bus with them has been an honor. They’re funny, kind and their standards are beyond high; plus, they work harder than anyone I’ve ever known.

We’ve lived road-dirty, hungry, sleep-deprived, homesick, hungover and broke for years and I’ve never seen their attention waver. Obsession is a beautiful thing when music is the object of one’s affections.

Amy Steele: I recently compiled a list of what I deem essential female-fronted alternative rock bands of the 90s. Of course Throwing Muses make that list. It’s still so hard to be a women in the music business. Do you feel particular pressures as a women in the music biz and what’s different today than when you started out? What have you learned along the way?

Kristin Hersh: I’ve never considered myself a woman in the music business, because where music is concerned, I feel genderless. I certainly wouldn’t want to define my demographic as white females just because that’s what *I* am; that would make me a lousy songwriter.

I really can’t imagine *anyone* seeing me that way, as I’ve never portrayed myself as anything but the *person* behind a sound.

Amy Steele: Kristin, you have 30 songs on Purgatory/ Paradise! Are you constantly scribbling down song ideas and writing songs or do you put aside time to write songs?

Kristin Hersh: I have no memory of writing songs other than an industrial noise I hear at 4 a.m. when a song is coming. After that, all I ever know is that another song *is*.

We had 10 years between the Muses’ last release (other than an anthology) and Purgatory/Paradise, so I had about 75 songs I knew to be Throwing Muses songs. I knew this because they were written on either my Strat or my Telecaster. 50FootWave songs are written on my SG’s or my Les Paul and solo songs are written on my Collings. I only recorded 50 of those 75, then we edited the record down to the 32 that served this piece the way sentences serve a paragraph.

Amy Steele: What are some things that make you truly happy?

Kristin Hersh: My sons are bewitching angels and not because I know how to make bewitching angels. I just lucked out. The problem with loving children, however, is the terror that comes with the caregiver role. Their pain is something I can’t bear and something they can’t avoid. That delicate balance of love and terror is in my relationship to the songs as well, and as close as I get to truly happy.

Thank you for doing this, Amy. I hope you get truly happy soon.

muses cover

Purgatory/ Paradise is the band’s first release in a decade. It’s available via traditional digital services directly from the Throwing Muses website, and will be released as an art book with CD insert on December 3 by Harper Collins’ It Books imprint in the US. The Purgatory/Paradise book, designed by drummer Dave Narcizo, features lyrics, photographs and writing by singer/guitarist Kristin Hersh. There’s downloadable content featuring commentary, instrumentals, and the album plus art in multiple digital formats.

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This is my favorite song on Purgatory/Paradise:

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