Kristin Hersh: The Culture Brats Interview

PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Gullick
Kristin Hersh certainly is doing her part to keep it interesting. The Throwing Muses founder, musician, author, spoken-word artist and all around renaissance woman is arguably the hardest working person in the industry and she's had the kind of year most only dream of.

2013 promises more of the same.

I don't deny having a certain affection for Hersh and nearly everything she's ever done: 50FootWave, Paradoxical Undressing, Throwing Muses, Rat Girl. I've been fairly blown away by it all.

Even with the hectic nature of her schedule, she sat down to answer our questions about life, music, and the weight of the world.

I follow your artistic endeavors with a fair amount of regularity and even with constant output over the years, it seems as if the creative explosion is rapidly progressing at a furious pace in the last year or so with the music, books, readings, etc. Has it always been so bountiful for you or is it all just a coincidence that it's being put out into the world at this particular time? Has there ever been a lull for you?
Lulls have been arbitrarily imposed by record companies who don't like to release more than one record every two years. I stepped it up to one a year (or two if I could convince them to release a solo and Muses record at the same time), but got a lot of shit for it. Warner Brothers would either get really whiny about all the work they had to do to promote it or else (and this was more common) just not promote it at all, calling the resultant lack of response proof that listeners don't care.

Now that my audience IS my record company, I get to write books and record solo and with my 3 bands - Throwing Muses, 50FootWave, and Outros - along with any other projects I feel like taking on and my audience actually appreciates it.

The new Throwing Muses album is something longtime fans have been waiting for like hungry lions watching for a herd of collapsing antelopes. They will be pouncing on it with quite a bit of vigor. Do you feel the pressure of that or do you wall yourself off from the hopes and expectations of fans while you do the work?
That's a very good question. The 32 songs on this record are accompanied by 32 essays as Purgatory/Paradise is being published as a book rather than being released as a record, and I found myself addressing that question regularly over the course of all that writing.

Ultimately, we view music as a gift: with non-attachment, as groovy as that sounds. The listening experience is very social as is the giving-music-away experience, but if you let your ego get tied up in that quagmire of sociability, you'll get your heart broken. Because the work itself requires musicians to hide in a cave and merely "respond" to what the songs tell us to do. If we let the impression of anyone else ever hearing this stuff interfere with that process, we begin to feel self-conscious and the music suffers.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dina Douglass
The state of the music industry is something very strange to behold, like watching an ancient building rot and crumble from the inside out. Strange Angels and Cash Music have been hugely instrumental in keeping the music coming and you are delivering product directly to the fans with no middle man. Do you ever long for the old model record company days of old, or is this the wave of future music?
It's a necessary shift in how we view something that used to be a spontaneous impulse, that still IS a spontaneous impulse in the right hands. Corporate marketing and demographics played a huge role in alienating actual music listeners from the recording industry and preventing generations of people from educating themselves to what music can do. Religion and televangelism are directly opposed, in other words.

In the meantime, there is pain as there is in any revolution and we've already lost some of our best soldiers. The ugly has gotten more ugly as both sides differentiate and yet, WE are in the trenches, the corporations and their crap are not. It's hard and we're hungry, but really? Musicians need to live hard, hungry lives. All we should ask for is the ability and facility to work.

You've spoken many times in writing and in passing interviews about how it would be impossible to walk away from music even if you wanted to. It won't leave you alone. You'd mentioned at one point how as a kid you thought of becoming an academic or a scientist. The thought of you in a lab coat instead of holding a guitar is odd to me. In a parallel universe where the music lets you be, if you were living that alternate reality life choice, what do you think things would look like, and would there be a spooky feeling you were missing something?
The lab analogy may appear to dismiss some of the more visceral elements of what music can dig holes to, but mad scientists are just as passionate as mad musicians. Flailing doesn't have to show itself in racing around smashing stuff; it can be made more violent and yet more beautiful in perfect work.

The question of perfect work vs. showing off is another element of the revolution in the recording industry, actually: "Who here HAS to do this? The rest of you can all go home."

In Rat Girl, you gave people a guided tour through some of the darker caverns in your grey matter. It was harrowing but also very touching in parts. After peeling away the layers of the book as the story comes tumbling out, you find it hard to believe the age of the author. So many of us were such morons back then. How were you such a lucid and aware youth?
I was quirkier than you would wanna hang out with. Those things often go together, but look better in print than they do in a room.

Speaking of Rat Girl, I've heard rumblings of some sort of movie based on it. Can you speak of it or is there a shroud of Hollywood secrecy that can't be penetrated on this one?
Nothing is in stone yet, and my film agent warns me that it can take a decade or two for the project to be realized. I am interested in the process, but it's not my medium and I have a lot of other projects I can be paying attention to while that one moves along slowly.

Paradoxical Undressing morphed into a solo spoken word which combined film, music, and a narrative with excerpts from the book. Being on stage playing music is one thing because you have a small buffer and a Marshall amp stack if you don't want to converse too much, but the spoken word is more intimate. Was there a sense of being completely vulnerable up there or were you comfortable with it?
I got used to it because... you know, I can READ but I found it draining because I had to re-live things I don't like to even think about. And I had to do this every single night. A show that is only music will make you stronger, teach you something new, but re-living an old story can get you down.

My solution was to read other passages and even unrelated essays in a less formal environment, which can carry nice overarching messages that still relate to the musical material and yet aren't stuck in time.

With so many young girls coming of age and picking up a guitar they naturally look to other women for guidance and advice and while I find you an interesting choice, I've always seen you as a non-gender-specific person as opposed to a "woman in rock." Do you ever feel like you've been handed a responsibility for representing your gender as opposed to just working without being dropped into that compartment?
Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying that. I see no reason for ANY form of gender segregation and I'm so awfully proud that my music doesn't speak only to Straight White Females. What a failure I would be if that were the case.

With so much coming up, it's going to be a freight train of a year for you. Do you see live tour dates, more spoken word, or another book on the horizon? What's it going to look like in your rear view mirror a year from now?
My day starts at 3 AM with writing (2 books, hoping one doesn't suck), then feeding and homeschooling the kids, then I move on to the rehearsal or recording studio in the afternoons depending on where each project is in its schedule. Right now, the Muses are mastering a record, 50FootWave is mixing, I'm recording solo, and Outros is in the demo/pre-production phase. If I can write again at night, I feel a little better about myself, but mostly I just practice because I'm addicted to the guitar. Tours happen when my booking agents tell me they should and press is done when it comes up. Other than that, it's pretty quiet here.

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