Kristin Hersh
Welcome back to AV Deck - it's very nice to have you back, it's been a long time since you were last here
-Has it? feels like I was just here in the beautiful basement!
Such a lovely basement too, isn't it?
-yep! Actually, it is - it's pretty nice for a basement
We've got a nice cover on the chair there for you
-s'like I got the velvet throne going on here!
Since you were last here, which was just as it was going to be announced that Throwing Muses were to reform - then they did, recorded an album played some shows, you released a solo album, formed 50 Foot Wave, played more shows... you've been bloody busy!
- I guess! It doesn't feel like work - I don't actually have a job, so I have a lot of free time on my hands really and the kids have to be.... you know, cared for, for example you have to feed them - it just happens my hands just do it and I have music going on in my head while I'm doing it so those become the next 50 Foot Wave songs, so I've gotta drive to practice to practice them, and it all kind of happens organically, in other words. It doesn't feel like there's an effort involved. It's what I would do if I were a millionaire, for example
That would be cool!
-it would be cool! If I could do this AND be a millionaire (laughs)
You could have houses everywhere!
- THAT would be perfect! That's why I don't know where to live right now! It's because I want to live everywhere... at least half a dozen houses would be perfect
Ooh you could have your London house, near a good curry place..
- there you go! New Zealand... 'd be good.. Seattle, maybe.. LA, Chicago is pretty cool...
I've never been there
- It has a lake - it's on a lake, that is toothpaste blue, it's like aquamarine, it looks like gel, it's beautiful. So there's a beach right in the city. It's like Miami or something.. it's just much colder!
It's in the middle of the country, right?
- well, it's at the top.
ah but no coastline proper?
- right! well you can't say that to them - they think it is a coastline proper! It's just got Canada on the other side!
ooh we wont talk about Canada, after your story last night (Kristin told a story which involved being stopped at the Canadian border, at her gig the previous night)
- well, Canada's good you know.. Bush doesn't rule it and all that, it's just that they have a problem with Americans and I don't blame them particularly American musicians, because we're not... Canadian musicians - they don't like us to come in.
Do you wanna say any more about that... I thought that story was
- about being in my (scabbies?) and stuff? I don't think sooo! nooo!
You don't have to say that really! That was one thing though - last night and the night before you played the two gigs at the barfly in London. I noticed last night you were talking a lot more than the previous night. Telling more stories, and you seemed.. a lot more relaxed with the whole thing..
- I was just a lot stupider,
noo! it was really good - it was really funny - I just love the way that when you do your shows, you can play a song and tell a story, and everybody's really into it..
- well they're very lovely people! I wouldn't talk to people who weren't intelligent and kind.. and I just shut up and play. But the first night I was... I wasn't necessarily nervous, I was just unsure as to how it would work.
I was gonna say - did you have a chance to practise the songs with the McCarricks beforehand or...
- we practised in the McCarricks apartment - Martin McCarrick, the cellist did my first ever tour back in.. 1908 and his wife Kim plays the violin, and they were "ooh we'll do the show with you!" - that was just an email and I kinda said "alright!" and then I thought about it on the plane and thought "what?! how?!" so they said "come on over and we'll practise!" It seemed to be nice, you know. I love what they play, but I have to play right in order for them to play along! Normally at a solo acoustic show, I can make stuff up, I can play very fluid time, I can skip a verse if I feel like it, just make up a chorus if I want to... play an instrumental, and I couldn't do that this time. I'm a little bit 50 Foot Wave-centric and a little bit out of practise for solo acoustic stuff, so I had to ask them things like "how many measures?" "seven and a half, okay!" you know, counting, and I haven't done that in a while!
When you played 'Listerine' did you slow it down? It sounded amazing
- did it?
Yeah! It's a sad song, and with the accompaniment, it sounded even sadder!
- it's a realllly sad song, perhaps a little too sad.
yeah! a proper lump in the throat song!
- well that's nice of you! I feel like a song that's too sad is whiny
oh no! it wasn't in ANY way whiny! I just hope.. did they record it last night?
- I don't think so... we should have, because that would have been a nice thing to release
(it was recorded, no idea when it will be broadcast on Mojo Radio though)
- I will play with them again and try to record it when we do it, in fact I'd like them to play on all the songs, and that would be a nice piece to release. Especially to the board, ( - that would be nice.
do you think you'll do more stuff with them?
- yeah, absolutely! They're supposed to do the next acoustic record
ohh fantastic!
- yeah - it is - cause I don't know HOW any more!
How different is it then, from doing the whole going from 50 Foot Wave and then doing the acoustic stuff?
-it's probably more different than I know, in that I have the benefit of auto pilot, it does kind of fly out of my hands to my surprise... lyrics.. sometimes they just fly off into the ether and I never get them back. I'm not particularly lyric oriented as a person, I know that they have to be right, or I'll feel like I'm lying, when I try to sing them. But they are almost like.. almost like a polyrhythm, that goes on, according to what the guitar is doing. That's all I think about - I don't think that I'm expressing myself, it's just the piece.. the piece has to fly out - that means it's kind of circumventing brain function, which isn't always a good idea. I think there should be like a backup brain function, so that just in case the lyrics don't fly, I can think about it, and get them back! We actually played with Throwing Muses here at Reading or something, and I'd been hanging with my sister all day, not really thinking about playing, and for some reason, maybe that was why, I don't know, but I walked on stage and the lyrics were no longer a part of the song!
oh no!
- they just didn't come! So, I walked to the back of the stage, where Dave Narcizo was drumming, furiously, and his lips were moving just as furiously, cause he knows all the lyrics, but I couldn't understand what he was saying... so we played a set of instrumentals that day!
Really?! I've never heard that story before!
- Yeah! Imagine that! It's like I'm psychotic or something! Well, I was kinda embarrassed, but we got better reviews than we've ever had.
- Yeah! So it occurred to me I should never have sung in the first place!
Going back to the stories, there's always been talk, people asking if you'd make them available, maybe not as an album, but as a "Works in Progress, The Stories" or something
- People do say that... I don't know what I talk about on stage - I only talk if something goes wrong. Like, if I have to tune, or if I break a string...
You know it's your fault now, whenever I think of 'Cottonmouth' it comes into my head as "Cocktail knife"!
- hahaha! and you're not even scottish! cock-tail-knife!
I like that story, I think I heard that one at one of the Gut Pageants!
- that was our fault, because we're so stupid, we thought we were cool enough to be the kind of band that might play a midnight impromptu show, and just take requests. But doesn't it sound like something a cool band would do? so we thought by the very nature of us doing it, we would be cool! And we're not - we're idiots. Because this was in Scotland, where they don't actually speak American English, them being all scottish and whatnot, we couldn't understand a single request that we got that night! So we would listen for a minute, and we'd pretend that we heard them, but the one that kept getting us was "cock-tail-knife!" - that one - I just HAD to know what that was!
Moving onto 50 Foot Wave, what kind of plans have you got this year? I know you're back over here in a couple of weeks, and going to be doing the European tour, what comes after that?
- .... uhh... I suppose we do another American tour, on the back of this release, American tours are going to take a very long time, then the festivals begin,
Do you know which ones you're doing? like Reading?
- no.. sorry! I'm not that smart!
I'm keeping my fingers crossed you end up playing Reading on the same day as the Pixies!
- I really have no idea. My area of expertise is being in the band, getting on the plane when they tell me to, THEN I find out where we're playing! But then, I need to make an acoustic record, in the coming months, and 50 Foot Wave is back in the studio, after the next round of touring, we're trying to be down in Australia and New Zealand in the fall, which is actually the spring
ooh could you make it for december please? I'll be there then, and I can go!
- I'll work on that! Isn't it hot there then?
Yeah, hot and humid...
- bleurgh.
I think it's worse in January...
- I had friends tell me they still make traditional Christmas dinner, in the heat!
yeah! I had that - we were sat in a pool, eating pavlova!
- pavlova?
they have cold chicken too
- I've had LA Christmases, they put the fake snow in shop windows and stuff,
and all the houses compete against each other
- oh my GOD! The lights are sick!
Do you join in?
- no!
- it's just so sad! I don't know, they wear their J Crew coats in Los Angeles, as it's not as hot as it usually is (laughs) you just feel sorry for them!
So, in the US, you've got your own Throwing Music label, whereas for the rest of the world you're licensed to 4AD. What was the whole idea behind doing it yourself? How did it come about?
- by necessity. I learnt my lesson with Throwing Muses about digging yourself into financial debt, and what happens.. obviously I've been on 4AD so long, it's not happening here, but in America, we were on Warner Brothers, and what happens is they give you an advance, which you use to make the record, and that's what you owe them. So if they don't try to sell your records, the record can't make up that money. So you dig yourself into a deeper and deeper debt with the record company. Which didn't really bother me, I just wanted to play, and that's what we did. But touring was a promotional activity, and actually cost money, in the hopes that it would sell cd's, it only sold enough to make up a little bit of the debt, and you just can't live that way. So we couldn't be a band. Which I never could really face - I didn't understand how that could possibly be a reality, I wanted to keep playing in the garage, I didn't care who heard, but, we were grown ups, or at least Dave Narcizo the drummer was a grown up, Bernard and I have found that we're still - Bernard the bass player - we're still willing to float through life, sleeping on floors, doing without sleeping, eating, bathing,...
so you're still having to do that now?!
- it may sound a little bit more dramatic, we all sleep on the floor (laughs) we sleep around! and we'll get hotel rooms or stay.. we have a bus of sorts for the family, my husband drives it, the dogs come and it's always fun! I have to say, there's no better way for me to live than running away, every day, I just love running away! And being able to let go of my caring for the human condition for a while - you know sometimes you start thinking "it matters how I feel! I need to be warm" or "I need to be loved" or "I need to not be hungry" or "I need to be drunk" - when you're on the road you find you don't need anything! All I need is to play every single night. And that's what you're there for.
Do you ever find that you get somewhere, think... "mm, this place is nice, I wouldn't mind staying here a while longer" but know you have to leave the following day...
-sometimes you can become attached to the last place you were clothed and fed and housed warmly, you know, if you are staying in a home that's full of people you love, that's full of comfort and rest and fun for a while, you start thinking "oh yeah, life could be about this too!" and it starts to feel like work, to go somewhere else. And it is essentially work, it's just a really lucky job to have, but it can be bittersweet,
Could you have seen yourself 20 years ago, doing what you do now?
- I wasn't in good enough shape! I would lose like 20lbs on the road back then, when I was a teenager, I just didn't know how to deal and I would get really.. just... odd. Sick and sad and and it's hard to.... always be in a place you don't belong, it can be hard.. to really get used to not caring for yourself physically, can be hard, but now I'm in my 30's I can do anything! I'm swimming a mile a day, to be in shape for 50 Foot Wave, because it is a SERIOUSLY athletic experience to play with this band.
Doesn't it wreck your voice, when you're singing too? Having to shout quite so much?
- no it doesn't - it comes from my hips or my ribcage, and my lungs, it bypasses my throat somehow, and we're too young and poor to have days off, so we play every single night no matter where we are, and nothing happens to my voice, I swear to god! I played two solo acoustic shows, here, and by the end of the show last night my voice was really weak, I couldn't hit notes any more
I didn't notice that at all!
- it was just that it was lacking, what I'm used to.. ohh that's when it starts to go!
See, I could see it a bit on the Tuesday, but last night, not at all
- that's good! It may be subtle, and I know how to cover it up, and I know weakness in my own voice. 50 Foot Wave does not bring it about. I don't know if it's the sweating, or the strength of throwing yourself into noise, my pals there or what, but, it is just not an exercise that happens in my throat. It's somewhere else, and it has a lot of muscle, backing you up.
Having seen you live just the once, and it being so loud, it almost feels like you're battling for the noise
- it's part of the noise, and I don't necessarily need anyone to hear it, I think some singers want to be heard, but I feel like the singing is to get me in the right place to play the song well. 50 Foot Wave lyrics are just the... like a song will work as a syringe, a feeling, it's like a chemical, sorta an electric charge, something that initiates this emotion, courses through my bloodstream, it's because it resonates with a certain live experience, that the songs covering, and in order to be there for it, I have to re-experience that emotion. And part of that is taking the ride of the lyrics, so it's definitely a rollercoaster... but its my emotions, and I don't feel like I'm ready for anybody else to hear that.. I don't mind when it's a part of a cacophony, it's just that it's almost like being a dervish, you need to do that spinning part, I can't achieve the higher mindstate
50 Foot Wave-wise, you've got all your songs that feature on your 'Golden Ocean' album, but you also did a cover of 'Your Ghost'... well I call it a cover, but it isn't really!
- I actually had to borrow money from Kristin Hersh to buy an amp! It was like, "Do I have to pay her back?" "like, damn straight you gotta pay her back!" "why? I know her really well I think she'd give me the amp!"
Would you ever think about doing a 50 Foot Wave song acoustically? Could any work that way?
- oh wow, no I didn't think about that - I think the whole reason 50 Foot Wave exists is because those songs sounded so dumb on an acoustic guitar
so when you start working on a song, do they start as acoustic, and work up from there?
- now no, it was just initially, which made me realise I needed a new band. For those songs.. or maybe it was Billy that realised that, because I was whining about it or something
I remember like with say, Solar Dip, when that song started out as a Work In Progress, and that eventually became a Muses song,
- and these ones were uber-muses songs, in the extreme, but now I don't really have the time to work the songs ahead of time. I have ideas in my head, and I bring them to the band, but because all four of my children talk, it's difficult to pull myself away from them and really go practice. We've been living in a two bedroom one bathroom house in LA, so there's no place to go, and there's no way to hear through the... it's not chatter, it's intelligent conversation, but to have four people talking to you, it's kinda hard to follow!
Do any of your kids want to get into music?
- the oldest one has a band, he has a noise-rock band, that puts 50 Foot Wave to shame
you should bring them out and have them support you over here!
- that's a good idea! He doesn't take anything seriously, it's ironic! They're funny - they're called 'Happy Birthday LA' it's cool!
That's a good name!
- It is, isn't it? and then Ryder, the 13 year old, does 50 Foot Wave covers, he can soundcheck for me. The 8 year old is just Jackson Pollock.
He did the t-shirts for the second Gut Pageant?
- yeah! yeah he did! I didn't believe in the artistic temperament until I met Wyatt, he's got the popping eyes, the sad face, the kind of twisted expression, the obsession with his art, he falls asleep drawing, wakes up finishes the drawing, draws all day long, he's the real deal.
Over the last few years, you've released bootlegs of gigs, like you did the Live In Providence, and the Noe Valley Ministry show, do you think you'll do any more like that? You've done downloads too.. are there plans to release any more of the older shows? I know I do well with them, and you do too... they're popular and successful
- there is a show that he just released - a Muses show in Brussels at the Ancienne Belgique from a million years ago - maybe he hasn't released it yet, but he was about to but other than that, the rarities are getting fewer and far between, because the Muses haven't done much lately! And 50 Foot Wave is essentially a live entity anyway, so a live record would kind of defeat the purpose of our records at all!
I was gonna ask - we're all now at the point with 50 Foot Wave, that we know all the songs, have you got new songs you're bringing into the set yet?
- yeah!
Will we get to hear them on this next tour?
- ooh. That's a good question... if they can talk me into it! I'm a sissy that way!
aww! just one?
- well you saw how I was last night I was a mess trying to play the new songs
no!! it wasn't!
- no?
- it wasn't, but I was! It's like bringing a newborn out into the snow or something!
They sounded really good!
- yeah... and they're great! They can make anything happen, the rhythm section's just beyond the beyond, so we'll see... it's me.. I'm a chicken butt that way!
Well I think you should definitely do one song that's new!
-That's a good idea, because now that I've left Los Angeles, we no longer have a practice space, so we'll have to play new songs in soundcheck, and then add them to the set in order to get the next record ready.
That sounds a good idea!
- yeah, you'd think, but it doesn't always work out though!
I was gonna say as well, there's the Works In Progress series, now you say you're getting to the point where you're running out of rarities, like, before you've had Muses demos and live tracks.. and solo songs..
- people like it so much! I kept thinking it should run its course and then lets have that be over with, the original idea was b-sides and rarities, I just LOVE that stuff, because Throwing Muses was at its best on b-sides, when we didn't have to care so much, we were experimental.. we just had a weekend in the studio, it's just a really nice way to be a band and that captured a lot of nice moments live, creative production, and just genuine not being pushed around by anybody, it's just very genuine sounds, fun covers, I just thought that's really attractive stuff to hear but what people wanted were my bedroom demos - me playing songs I don't know, Singing out of tune.. popping all my p's...
but that's good! you get to see the whole process of a song!
- yeah, but why finish the process then?
I think I've got four versions of 'Solar Dip' cause there was the Works in Progress ones, the finished version, and the one that was recorded at the same time as 'Sunny Border Blue'? I found it really interesting to see the song start as an acoustic one, to then finish like it did as a Muses song, it was a very powerful song
- but is it interesting, like they seem to come to prefer the other versions, than the ones we released, invariably! (laughs)
I remember hearing the finished version of Solar Dip, and it was just.. woomph...!
-really? ohhh now, I remember it! It was a very difficult song to pull off. Some of them are like that.
But a damn good one though!
- oh that's very nice of you to say! I'm glad you're here to fill me in on my own history! The history of what, like, two years ago? (laughs)
I know what you mean! I can't remember anything any more
- I need to sleep more! What was it about jetlag and glue sniffing? It kills the same number of brain cells!
ohh I'll be great when I get back from Australia in the New Year then!
- that's not necessarily as far a flight for you is it?
18 hours.. ouch
- we flew from here before, but we went through LA, that was just dumb. We were on the plane for days!
Ah but if you get on a good plane with games, it's okay...
- this was back in the day, all they had was one big movie screen, for everybody, and you know what they played on it, for all the old people, like going to Australia on vacation? Throwing Muses video with the chimp, and my husband in drag....
Ohhhhh - 'Bright Yellow Gun'!
- yeah! Me going to bed with a monkey! And trashing a hotel room... and drinking and smoking... we did EVERYTHING that would keep it from being played on MTV.. we didn't know, but then they showed us all the rules that we were and weren't allowed to do, and we'd broken absolutely every rule! And they were showing it on the plane!!! All these old people eating their breakfast!!
did they know it was you?
- oh no! we looked completely different! I did wake up Bernard, he had the walkman sunglasses, so that nobody talks to you, and he was sleeping behind us, so I lifted his shades, and pulled off his headphones, and it was like "AAARRGGHHH!!!!"
oh my god! that must have been so weird!!!
- yeah! imagine doing that! I don't know what they were thinking!
maybe someone spotted you and had a handy copy of the video?
- no! they didn't know we were there! It was an advertisement for what kind of entertainment there is in Australia - like you can see "oh these bands are coming to town!" and so they showed that really, super-offensive video! (cackles)
Do you think you'll do any more Gut Pageants in the future? And will Throwing Muses ever play again?
- ohh....
I'm sorry, that's probably depressed you now, hasn't it?
- well, it should.. I was so obsessed with that band... but I've been really 50 Foot Wave centric, and the Wave seems to just knock all the noise out of my lungs, 50 Foot Wave is like an ex boyfriend, that dumped me! That I was obsessed with forever, and now he wants to get back together! We were asked to play the 4AD Anniversary...
Are you gonna do it?
- well all the other Muses jumped at it, and I thought "whoahhhh... I dunno"
- I just don't know that I can....
- I'll try...
Well.. (jokily) we could just have a Kristin Hersh night, have you play solo, then 50 Foot Wave, and end with Throwing Muses...
- and then I can just pass out! I just... just... I gave up that boyfriend. He was dead to me. I don't know how to go back now...
but the Gut Pageants worked! the one-off's...
- they were lovely! That was a great thing to do, but of course, they erupted from an obsession... that I no longer need..
do you think the obsession will come back?
- possibly. I've never actually listened to a Throwing Muses record. Maybe if I did that, I would like it. But then I have a feeling I might not too...
You've never listened?
- well I heard them a few times to learn the songs, but that's not the same - I need to listen, I just figured out the chords, but no, I've never really listened to hear whether or not I've liked them... my fear is that I wouldn't.
aww... but then if you did?
- yeah... then it might be easier... it still gives me a stomach ache though (laughs)
- well you can have it, you know. It's yours now. I don't need it any more.
awww... that sounds really sad!
- it does, doesn't it? It only sounds sad, because I'm not sad about it! It's not hurting my feelings, she's not cryin on my stuff!
Throwing Muses had a tribute album out, just in the last year - so if you don't listen to Throwing Muses songs, did you listen to anyone elses interpretations?
- I did! I heard that on tour! They were great! That was awesome, it was so much fun!
I've not heard it - was there any radical reworkings of any of the songs?
- There was one song which was WAY better than our version, and I can't remember which one it is! Some of them are very... dancey.. 80's kinda Yazoo dancey, real gay and much cooler than we were! They left all the country-punk aesthetic out of it and were left with the song, which was just fascinating to hear! It's like.. godspeed! If you can do it, do it!
Did you hear the Pixies tribute?
- no..
There were really radical reworkings of songs on that too.. and really poppy ones.. I can kind of imagine what it could be like... it is funny how people can get your song, see something else totally different in there
- its funny, because what they took from it, is the style that we were in contrast to, the Pixies and the Muses, we had this kind of bluesy folky texture with what we did - with all the screaming and yelling of course - so it's like a hardcore folk or something, you know, Charles and I often played very rhythmic acoustic guitar along with what was essentially a rock band sound and there were country and blues progressions in what we did.. and what the covers did was took what everyone else sounded like, and cover that production, and lay it over the songs we were playing! It was really interesting! It's a funny thing to do.. I heard it once though, so maybe I shouldn't talk about it, but that was my impression!
You're allowed to think that though, they're your songs!
- they just didn't sound like em! (laughs)
really I wanted to finish, thank you for coming in here, we've got your next solo acoustic album due this year, another 50 Foot Wave...
- well really, it's up to 4AD, becuse.. 50 Foot Wave is the story right now, and the acoustic stuff is my day job, and I really don't see that as anything but an ongoing concern. There are no peaks and valleys to the acoustic career. So it's up to them, and I'll do whatever they think is best, 50 Foot Wave definitely has to make a splash and definitely has to stay out on the road.
ohh, there's one thing I have to ask. On your records, it says "share this music". What do you mean by that exactly, like, if I see someone who wants your music on a bittorrent site, are you saying, I should share it?
- it's debatable to where you should stand as a listener, but personally, as an american musician, and and these are the only two things which make this my soapbox, is that music is a right and not a commodity, it is no longer possible to rely on CD sales, and therefore whatever can be burned and shared, downloaded and shared, given away, it's our responsibility to do that. In America - where we are our own record label. Because of what I told you about our experiences with Warner Brothers, it's obviously not what should be happening here on 4AD - it's a great record company... we want to be able to make an honest living, out on the road, and so our hope is that once they're familiar with what we do, they wont hate it, and they'll come to the show. Often we find that when they come to the show, they bring people, and buy a fistful of cd's, and they give them away! We say "no, you don't have to pay for it if you can't, or if you don't want to, or if you are encouraging others to listen, be our guest and have it!" and they say "we wanna support live music, we wanna support underground music, we wanna support bands, and we don't want to see what happened to Throwing Muses, happen to you"
That's really good!
- it's unbelievable! and it's touching - it means they're playing a role that serves everyone really, we really are doing our part, and I feel selfish, because I love it so much, and yet, they want to play that role
that's it though, people wouldn't do it if they didn't want to!
- yeah, and yet it's not a Robin Hood thing - it's the playing a role thing that matters to them - the website has been invaluable to this as well, it's like a project, it's like a co-operative, and it couldn't exist otherwise, not at this unusual time in the music business.
I think everything you've done with 50 Foot Wave has been so brave, but it's working how it should do - and it's taking a real stand...
- I've never been a part of a project which has been this effective! People actually - like it! And they like it immediately! And it doesn't turn anybody off.. you could be so dumb and like this band and yet it's not dumb - it's a release, and there's a response to that release.. it can hold up to analysis, and stand up to being toured, for years, and yet, it doesn't turn anybody off! It doesn't even turn me off! I haven't gotten bored by a single measure in this band, and yet, some really boring people like it too! Which is exactly what I was looking for - I always knew the perfect song would be simple enough for anybody to grasp.
So what is the perfect 50 Foot Wave song then?
- I haven't gotten there yet, otherwise I'd just quit! It's still a little complex, and the complexity is buried beneath the simplicity of a power trio, but it's there.