The rather brilliant, and long-term KV favourite, Kristin Hersh granted me some of her time for an email interview. I could play it cool, but I’m not so I’ll just go ahead and state that it was a big deal for me, even though we didn’t actually meet. As I had hoped, she was engaging and candid, someone who is incredibly prolific, and principled with a close-knit group of friends in her musical family. But enough of the fannish introductions, here is my wee interview.
KV: First of all, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us via the internet. How was the UK tour this Autumn? (I can attest to the London show being great)
KH: The UK tour was absolutely perfect. And nutty. Which is perfect.
KV: You have a very open online presence, (I’m thinking of your essays and Twitter, in particular) that is as much about your daily life as your musical projects. Do you have a lot of dialogue with fans?
KH: The open dialogue I strive for with listeners is due in part to my philosophy that the cult of the rock star should never have been. As a shy person, I loved letting record companies stand between me and well, everybody; but as a musician, I know that we have to engage with each other. Because music is something that happens *between* us. Letting listeners into my life +is really just saying thank you for letting me into theirs.
KV: You have taken progressively more autonomy over your own music over the years, but if you could impart some pieces of advice or share some things that you have learned with artists who may be daunted by all the different ways to distribute their music, what would they be?
KH: First, don’t suck. Then, don’t suck Really. I’m not being snotty. It may be that no one ever hears what you do. If that’s the case, then why bother to kiss up to style when you could have substance serving you? And then if anybody does catch wind of what you’re playing, it will serve them, too.
KV: Purgatory Paradise still has the familiar Throwing Muses storytelling and quiet/loud dynamic that will spark something in long time fans (I’m thinking of Morning Birds 2 and Sunray Venus in particular). It’s a record I want to lock myself away with, the same way I did with University in my teens. I know it was listener-supported, what kind of reactions did you get from fans when you first released it, compared with say, press reviews?
People, both journalists and listeners, tend to be very nice to us. Pity maybe because we never “made it” or a kind of “aw, look at ‘em plowin’ away for 20-odd years” but as important as we believe listeners are, we are truly lost on our little island. We think we work in a vacuum and that suits us. If we thought anyone was actually gonna hear what we played, I think we’d get self-conscious.
KV: This time around, you have produced something that goes beyond the boundaries of a traditional album in the sense it’s that it incorporates a 64 page book of essays, lyrics and pictures. I know you had taken a similar approach on Crooked too. What made you want to approach things this way and Is this the kind of thing you wanted to do before you put music out independently of labels?
Publishing records as books was our manager, Billy O’Connell’s, idea. CD’s are not inherently valuable, but books are beautiful objects that don’t hurt, people’s feelings when you push them on them
Music is like religion or politics: nobody wants to adopt your belief system, but they still like getting presents.
KV: When you tour with band mates you have been around for a long time, does it feel like a bit like travelling with family, at times? And if so, what are the best and worst aspects of that kind of dynamic?
KH: My bandmates are definitely my family. They’ve helped me raise my children. Same goes for our management team and engineers…everyone we work with, really. And honestly? There is nothing bad about this dynamic, I swear to God. Every morning I wake up honoured to spend another day with my best friends.
KV: I am interested in your free, creative commons license model for selected works-in-progress, demos etc. Do you get a lot of indie filmmakers and students approaching you for this? What have been the most unusual projects you have had music requests for?
KH: Creative Commons is an important step forward for us, as it implies an openness that serves music. Historically, songs have been a spontaneous, shared impulse; the recording industry is a fairly new invention that was created to make money. Seeing people do their work and being able to play a part is moving and necessary. I get all ‘Power to the People’ just talking about it but it’s true.
I don’t own all my recordings, of course, but I’ve used Creative Commons licenses since becoming listener-supported. These two changes were also implemented by Billy, who had his work cut out for him as a manager working with principled people who play idiosyncratic music. Most managers don’t
have to problem solve in exactly this way, but our issues are now shared by many
people in this industry.
KV: I know you’re obviously touring off the back of a new Throwing Muses record, but does going on the road after a long time away give the older stuff a renewed energy?
KH: Throwing Muses never really stopped working during that “hiatus,” we just didn’t release any of our new material until we knew we could do it the right way. We released an anthology and did a world tour, I wrote and recorded music
for the band and we played live whenever we got the chance (sometimes with 50FootWave opening). But you’re right, it *is* interesting to watch the - good , older material develop over time. Like watching your kids go out into the world and have an impact, changing, and coming home with more depth of experience, greater dimension. The lousy songs don’t do this, of course, but we avoid playing those anyway ;
KV: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
KH: 50Footwave’s new record is currently being mixed by our producer, Mudrock, in LA. I have 2 solo records (by accident…I recorded too many songs for justone record) that I’ll wrap up in December. And I just finished a book about Vic Chesnutt which was commissioned as part of a musicians on musicians series. Rob Ahlers, 50FootWave’s drummer, and I also started a new band called Outros with Portland’s Chris Brady from Pond. We’ll record our first stuff this January. I’ll let you know how it goes. Unless we blow. Then I won’t bring it up again.
Purgatory/Paradise by The Throwing Muses (The Friday Project, £11.99) out now (consider it a Christmas purchase recommendation)