Date: Wed, 11 May 1994 13:20:43 EST-2EDT
Kristin Hersh - Living every moment.
For Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh, music has been her salvation and her burden. And with her latest album Hips and Makers, she's doing it all by herself for the first time.
Kristin Hersh may be first known as a musician, but she is foremost a mother. And as a mother, you can forgive her just about everything, say, her abenteeism at the Newport, Rhode Island Seamen's Institute this blustery fall afternoon. She is late, naturally, because she is a mother. Before she could leave home, her 7-year old son Dylan had to be packed off to attend a neighbour's funeral ("It's a good learning experience," she says), and she had to make other arrangements for her younger son Ryder, who had just returned from the wilds of New Jersey. True anarchy, it would seem, has nothing to do with punk rock - it reigns with a toddler racing through the house, hollering, preventing his mother from leaving on time.
"I guess I should be more grown up by now," sighs Kristin after arriving at the Institute, a plaace originally chosen for its coffee but also a desirable haven of quiet. She is discouraged over her lateness, over her irreparably ebony- dyed hair, over being so - untogether. "I'm just dorky, I'm a slo. I can't get simple things together, and it drives me crazy. I am trying so hard to be grown up..."
And that can be a struggle-trying to be an adult in the music industry is a Sisyphean task. Kristin, who has been playing with Throwing Muses since she was 14, has been forced to mature in that atmosphere. But never totally alone- her music has always been tied in with her family, from when her father taught her how to play guitar, from when she began Throwing Muses with her half sister Tanya, up until today, when the state of Rhode Island determined that to be a musician was also to be an unfit mother, and gave custody of Dylan to his father. With Hips and Makers, however, she's on her own.
Actually, the new album wasn't her idea to begin with. "I was kind of bullied into doing it," she says, speaking softly, often in oblique terms, in the reading room of the Institute. Every so often, the wind outside gusts so hard the windowpanes quiver and she pauses in wonder. The idea, she goes on to say, was her manager/husband Billy O'connell's. "We'd been talking about it for years and I would always say, `I'm too shy'. To me acoustic songs are just a pencil sketch of a finished song. Then you pile on all the big load colors. And he said, `For other people they just obscure the picture.' So this is something that says 'Oh, she can draw, this is a picture of something.' But I didn't realize the real potential in the raw energy and gentle prettiness, just a perfect combination."
Kristin wrote the new songs while on tour with Throwing Muses, beginning with the eerie, stark "Your Ghost" inb Glasgow, Scotland, and ending with the sharply sly little track in Hawaii. Back at home she demoed in a horse stable in Portsmouth, recording at night when the kids were in bed. Later, she brought in sounds and voices from all directions, experimenting with instruments the Muses had never bothered with ("I'd play these percussion instruments I'd never seen before, just make stuff up"). She also added Michael Stipe's off-balance croon to "Your Ghost"; kept the stable's inhabitants audible in the background ("Horses have these huge barrel chests-they sound like Elvis!"); and surprised herself with a cellist. "I thought [the cello] would be warm and mellow and this gentle sound underneath. And it was very clear and clean in the highs and growling in the lows, so it sounded like my own voice."
What she and producer Lenny Kaye created was a deeply personal album of emotional depth made equally accessible by its private honesty and distant by a melancholic otherness. Kristin says she has been struck by the effect the songs have had on others. "People have said, `How can you do these songs in public? They're so personal!'" she recalls. "But I'm always personal. Maybe it's more invitingly personal, because I'm not screaming and stuff. On the other hand, some of the stuff on this record scares the shit out of me."
But Hips and Makers could not have been a Muses album, contends Kristin. "A lot of people have asked me why I didn't ask [the other Muses] to do it. And it never really occured to me. People are calling it a solo record, and that wasn't the intention. I meant for it to be acoustic. Throwing Muses is a name for Music. There is no name for my music, they're naming my head: `Buy Kristin.' It's just me. I could have probably taken Black Francis [as a name], he's not using that anymore."
Still the Muses are far from over. "I want to have two simultaneous careers," she says. The Throwing Muses recently completed their sixth album, tentatively called University, scheduled for release later this year. For now though, she is more proud of Hips. "It's working better than anything I've ever done. All those fucking Muses albums I bled, sweated, and cried over, and this little thing I can hardly remember making, is working everywhere," she says, amazed. " I'm doing fucking fashion shoots all over the place. And that's not my ultimate goal, but it does mean that people can hear it. I never wanted to exclude anyone, but I wanted the music to sound perfect. So it's hard to achieve some kind of balance without leaving someone out or getting goofy or lying. And I'm getting too old for that, I can't lie anymore."