Written by Jeff Keibel
on Tue, 29 Jun 1999 16:37:06 -0400.
Kristin Hersh releases her new solo album "Sky Motel" the follow-up to
last year's acclaimed "Strange Angels" album and Kristin's collection of
Appalachian folk songs, entitled "Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight"
available exclusively through 4ad.com and other select online stores.
"Sky Motel" features 13 new Hersh-penned songs, including the new single
"Echo". The album was produced by Kristin Hersh and Trina Shoemaker
(who recently won two Grammys for her work on the Sheryl Crow album) and
recorded at Kingsway Studios in New Orleans. Despite the return to a
'band sound', Kristin Hersh played all instruments on "Sky Motel", with
the exception of drums on four tracks
Although it's better now - "much better, thank you", it's been up and
down, really. Having borne three children and hoped for a whole heap
more, Hersh was recently told that she must not risk another. She was
also forced to accept that her band, the critically and publicly lauded
Throwing Muses, was no longer a viable proposition.
Relocating from the leafy peacefulness of New England to the plastic
sunshine of Los Angeles, on to the high desert nothingness of Joshua
Tree and then back to ghost-ridden Rhode Island, she was furthermore
deserted by her muse. Before, her songs preyed upon her, sullenly
bided their time then pounced, demanding to be written whatever her
wishes or circumstances. They were like a crazy disease, otherworldly
and unexplainable. This was different. She busied herself with
"Murder, Misery And Then Goodnight", a masterful collection of
Appalachian lullabies and psycho-ballads but, for a purveyor of the most
original of original material, it wasn't quite challenging or revealing
enough. Incredibly, fourteen years into her career, probably the most
influential female singer-songwriter of her generation had for the first
time to dig deep and really write. And it worked!
With her mind freed from those remorseless melodic demons, Hersh
discovered there was plenty to be said - in fact, she says, it felt like
her first album. Locking herself in the studio with Trina Shoemaker (a
double Grammy winner for her work with Sheryl Crow), the pair aimed for
a classic surround-sound, treating the album as a sonic collage of
dreamy yearning, soft-focus violence and high-strung hilarity. Hersh
found herself dealing in a different, more personal form of honesty.
Lyrically, she did not spare herself. Parental guilt, masochism, sadism
and deliberate irresponsibility, being lucky, being cursed, better
drugs, better people, pop, poetry, freedom and dreams of oblivion - all
are covered here, along with hatred, treachery and love of country and
With the songs needing and deserving to be played by a band, Hersh will
be touring this summer with Throwing Muses' drummer David Narcizo,
Robert Rust, the keyboardist from their last tour, and Tom Gorman,
former guitarist with Belly, on bass. It should be a blast.
But first there's "Sky Motel". As said, it could be seen as Kristin
Hersh's new 'first' and perhaps most revealing LP. Listen closely -
there's no one like her.
Tracklisting: ECHO; WHITE TRASH MOON; FOG; A CLEANER LIGHT; SAN
FRANCISCO; CATHEDRAL HEAT; HUSK; CAFFEINE; SPRING CLAY FEET; FAITH;
"Sky Motel" - an album sampler in her own words...
"You know how I usually hear songs rather than making them up? Well,
that didn't really happen for a year or two, apart from one song right
in the middle of the record called "Cathedral Heat". Most of the others
I guess I wrote on purpose. It was fun, I really enjoyed it because for
me, there always used to be a negative aspect to songwriting. I never
seemed to have any control, it was happening to me, rather than it being
my choice to make and enjoy music. I always felt like the songs were
using me, chewing me up and spitting me out. Sometimes they gave me the
impression that I was crazy. Now I feel like the future isn't just
happening to me and I feel lucky and happy - obnoxiously so, at times.
I guess what I'm saying is I know more about the songs now. There've
been other changes too. I cut my teeth on electric guitar and I kind of
missed it. You know, I'm fascinated by the acoustic guitar but I'm
never going to be a folkie. I did my best. When I write what I think
is a folk song - I'll be thinking "This is timeless, yeah, I play a
piece of wood. Rock with that. And yet no one would ever hear it and
say "Hey, that's for the people, man". It was still just like a page out
of my fuckin' diary. I read somewhere about Socrates asking all the
poets of Athens what their poems were "about" and finding that they
didn't know, and they all seemed crazy. When I read that I thought,
"Yeah! right!...It's instinct!."
"One of the things I love about records is the little pieces they're
built from, the stuff that kind of turns the whole into a collage. It's
hard to get away from the artificiality of the CD presentation, and for
me, one way of doing it is to mess with it a little, giving it a little
more depth and dimension."
"Tomorrow we wake up in LA... what a lovely dream... what a lovely
place. This is not 'Hotel California', I really love Los Angeles. We
lived there for a couple of years, on and off. It's so beautiful and
everyone seems so happy there. People say that the smiles are fake but
they fool me, they look happy because they're all smiling. And it's
funny too, they all dress like movie stars and wear aerobics outfits. I
think I just embrace the idea of a funny, happy place where everybody
thinks they're a movie star. It's really sweet. Live and let live. I
don't think "You shallow Idiot", I just smile and say "You have nice
teeth - they're pretty. Maybe if you live there long enough, you start
to feel that it's built on desperation, with everything based on looks
and almost everyone trying and failing to fulfil their wildest dreams.
And that's sad, but I don't really get all that. Where I come from that
kind of success is tacky."
A Cleaner Light
"Keep away from the freaks on the fringe, they only talk to you 'cause
you give them a good excuse to cry. I've done interviews where I was
offended by how the interviewer was talking to me, implying that I was
really crazy and sick. But then I realised they were really referring
to themselves. In the past, I've been disappointed that so many people
have not given the music the benefit of the doubt because they haven't
given me the benefit of the doubt. I think some writers simply use
mental illness as an angle. A lot of people have taken the songs and
run with them, made them an expression of their own spidery sense of
reality. I have to divorce myself from all that because, for me, it's a
battle I fight every day to make sure I see clearly. It's like any
disease - it's been hell."
"I guess that I'm perceived as some kind of 'arty' 'intellectual', so
any time I write a lovesong it's seen as a dig. I think almost
everything I write is a sweet lovesong. I just say what I say in weird
ways. On the last Muses album one of the choruses goes, "Kissing you is
like kissing gravel". A writer interviewing me about that record said,
"How can you say something so mean?". I was stunned, I tried to
explain, "No, no, that's a good thing. It's like saying "Kissing you is
like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat". I just meant it
would be sudden and shocking and different and unforgettable. He just
looked at me like, "Ugh, I'm glad you're not my girlfriend". I think
when I get ebullient, when I'm trying to say "This is the most’ it just
comes out as a violent image instead of something sweet. But I guess
that's my kind of sweetness - my heart is a violent one, but I mean
"Someone told me this sounds something like 'The Model'’ by Kraftwerk
and that that's very cool. But to be honest, I've never really heard
Kraftwerk, and I've never been cool. Then again, the same person asked
if the crickets at the beginning of 'Echo'’ were a sample taken from a
Heart record! Yeah, Heart and Kraftwerk, my heroes."
"I guess 'Faith' could be seen as melancholy way to end an album. I
know, it has that hopelessness. But I still see something very moving
and uplifting in it. For me, hope is a big deal. I think some people
lend too much to the after-life, they almost forget about this one. But
I prefer the idea that this is our big moment and then we go to sleep.
I mean, jeez, wouldn't it be a bitch to wake up on the other side?
Like, "What? There's more?"
White Trash Moon
"That's how we used to refer to the area around our home in California.
We were living on 40 acres of high desert land, up in the mountains near
Joshua Tree (National Park- though I guess for some people it's just a
U2 album). It looked like the moon with trees and mobile homes. Our
neighbours thought they should protect us because we weren't armed.
Some of them think they saw a UFO land in our backyard while we were
away. They saw the whole yard glowing. But it was just a movie being
shot on our land. Being up there was great. It enabled me to see the
children in a different light, and the music too. I realised that they
were both like magic and science put together, saw how lucky I was to be
able to hang with them all day. And make them both! - -Truly I am god
(laughs). I remember being pregnant the first time and thinking uh-oh,
that's it, now I have to be grown-up. Then, when I had Dylan I realised
he didn't want me to be grown-up, he wanted me to see everything through
his eyes with him. It's a different sort of 'reality' where every
moment is of maximum importance, but it's also very adaptable, always
open to every next 'It'. It can be exhausting too - the limitless
potential of everything they look at. I'm not sure if how I've done it
is right, but I have lived my life based on that assumption. Other ways
of thinking are very difficult for me - I'm challenged in that way."
"This is a tiny piano thing I did with my son Dylan sitting on the
piano-bench with me. He's 13 now, and I lost custody of him years ago.
He was staying with us for a month at the studio in New Orleans. At
this time he was about to leave, and we were sitting there, -
emotionally raw. Every time he looked at his baby brothers he'd start
crying, and every time I looked at him I'd start crying. We sat there
with headphones on, just messing around, with me trying to do an overdub
for another song."
UK: CAD9008CD June 28th
US: CAD9012CD July 20th
Canada: CAD9012CD July 6th
(There will be no UK release using the 9012 number)
Also available now:
UK: 7" vinyl - AD9007
Compact disc single - BAD9007CD