Kristin Hersh - Through the Looking Glass

Kristin Hersh has made her name as a musician by baring her heart as a songwriter. Like other confessional lyricists, including P J Harvey and Ian Curtis, Hersh lays her life open to scrutiny in words and images and a voice that speaks volumes about the way she thinks and, often obliquely, what she thinks. Her songs for Throwing Muses and those showcased on her solo acoustic album, `Hips and Makers', deal with the substance of Hersh's often turbulent life. Illness, motherhood, psychosis, domesticity, sexuality, relationships, and other deeply personal subjects are the stuff many of her lyrics are made of. Those little anecdotal stories Hersh spun between songs during her recent New Zealand shows - stories and jokes about her two children, Dylan (7) and Ryder (2), her acid-head father, eating kiwi fruit, seeing death - spring up in her interview too, adding up to so much baggage which most other musicians would shy away from drawing upon lyrically let alone discussing openly in interviews and during shows. But Hersh has controlled her demons by confronting them, so `Pavement' chose to play a little word association, asking for her feelings and thoughts on some of life's more profound themes. Afterwards, she let our photographer snap away while she brushed, blow dried and made up in her hotel bathroom, showing her lack of pretension by letting her guard down in the most charming of ways.

(Interview by Bernard D McDonald, photography by Simon Young, makeup by Tracy Fieckert)

CHILDHOOD: I don't think at all about my childhood, I just think about my kid's childhood. I can't bear when musicians talk about their childhood, it drives me crazy, even though everybody asks about it and it's interesting to me too. I ask other people about their's but they get all whiney like they're the only ones who had a bad childhood. So I think the only reason we have childhood's is so that we know how to take care of our kids [laughs].

MOTHERHOOD: It's how to define myself, pretty much. I've always been a musician, so I've almost always been a mother. I don't have anything to compare it to in other words.

SIBLINGS: My little brother is six-foot-four-inches tall or something, and he's huge, giant muscles. He's a football player. My other little brother is [half-sister] Tanya's brother. He just met a girl and got married the next week. I haven't even met her. My other sister [Tanya], you already know her.

BELLY: (Tanya's Band) I don't have that many impressions 'cos I wasn't really paying attention to the music business when her record came out. As soon as we came back from here [New Zealand] I went home and did the housewife bit and wrote songs and stuff, so it's not like I read music papers when I don't have to. I don't know if they're on MTV or not. They probably were. I've heard their stuff and it sounds like Tanya to me; I can't judge it, it's too close.

UNIVERSITY: (Throwing Muses' next album) It's like `universeness', and it makes a good bumper sticker. I started university when I was really young and then quit when I got pregnant; when I had the baby actually, which was right when the first Throwing Muses record came out. I studied philosophy, psychology [laughs]. My father is a philosopher or whatever; he's a philosophy professor. He's an acid freak. I don't think he does it anymore but I don't think he has to [laughs]. Last time I talked to him he said he'd just seen a 12-foot frog in his pond. Really! Twelve-foot long, not high, but still! I said, "Maybe you just got smaller, dad."

DRUGS: Some kid in California (I was playing in L.A. a couple of weeks ago) came up after the songs and said, "I wanna ask you about drugs. Do you think that drugs are a way for us to get beyond our dreams and see more clearly?" And I paused and said, "I know what you mean," then paused for a really long time and went on this really long drug spiel that I will probably always go on. And he said, "You know it's weird, I asked Dennis Leary that and he paused and said, "I know what you mean" and stood there for a long time and went on a drug spiel. "[laughs] I was like, wow! [laughs again] That's too bad! [more laughter]. I don't know what I said at the time , but I'm a big believer in making your brain disappear. On the other hand, if you do that to numb yourself it only corroborates your human condition a little bit, which is not where I go to find answers. If it's gonna help you see more clearly because of what you feel or not to get your feelings hurt, then great. But if it numbs everything then it's just boring, I think. And death is the ultimate boredom. If you're on your way there, then bummer! [laughs]

ALCOHOL: I do a lot of alcohol, so I'm not gonna start condemning it. It's just another drug, you use it to do what almost any other drug I've ever seen does. Tequila would be my favourite drink, I lived on it.

FEARS: When I was real crazy I didn't have any at all. None. So the healthier I get, the wimpier I get, which is kind of too bad. Children make you wimpier. They make you strong too. But I can cry now, which is lame. When not being able to cry, [laughs] I was cool. But I'm not afraid of anything except stuff that effects my kids. So now I have to be afraid of my own death, which is a bummer too. It's great not being afraid of death, but I want my kids to have their mum. I actually look after myself. I adore motherhood and I adore them. They're a great drug too.

SEX: See, this is Freudian [laughs]. Sex is our most optimistic picture, I guess. Sexuality's a good way for us to be tricked into living in our skin for a while.

LOVE: Same thing, same answer [laughs]. I like hard love. I like love that takes you all over the place, whether it's for your babies or your lover or your puppies. I don't know. But I've got to go further than the easy, boring love that most people think they're waiting for, and thinking that it has to be calm.

MARRIAGE: How come you did sex before love? [laughs] I'm quite happy with marriage. I like being able to fall in love with a partner and putting all you love there, otherwise everything gets watered down. Obviously if you've got the wrong person then it's not gonna work. I don't know if love never ends or marriage lasts forever. Billy [her husband] and I could easily love each other at 60. We come and go, and we fuck each other and we fuck each other over, then you kiss and make up, and then you eat together and you scream together and you sleep together. It's a wild thing to do on this planet. I'm not always prepared for it because it's a lot. Maybe marriage to Billy is just ho-hum. He's real high and real low and real loud and real quiet. Everything's a big deal to Billy. As many weird disorders as I'm supposed to suffer from, I think I'm more even than he is. Maybe it's for that reason that I'm just kind of sensitive to the whole household going crazy all the time.

SUPERMODELS: I just despise the fashion industry [laughs]. My job when this record came out was to do thousands and thousands of photo shoots. It was like all I ever did. I would get up in the morning to do more photo shoots. I'm used to that, but it was the fashion shoots that I wasn't used to, where the stylist dresses you up like a teeny bopper in something you'd never wear in real life. That could be something that I could laugh off except that the industry as a whole has made a lot of women half-assed about their lives and their personalities. They end up disappearing so much of themselves to follow rules that do not make sense physiologically, you know? Their bodies do not make up those rules. It's so weird. It's not beautiful. It's a choice of values and roles in pictures that seem arbitrary to me [laughs].

YOUR BODY: That's okay. It's dorky, it looks like any lady's.

OLD AGE: I don't think about it much. I don't think about that sort of future very often. I figure I'll deal with it when it gets to it.

ILLNESS: I've had to look at a lot of illness lately, and it's wild to me that there's this stuff that your body is doing to you, even when you know it's happening, even if you're just turning psychotic all of a sudden, or if you're about to die in a train crash and don't know it. I watched a guy collapse, his heart gave out, a 22-year-old guy. It was like he was under water, all of a sudden he turned into waves of water and he was on the floor and died. I watched two guys die in the street in front of me, these guys I didn't know. They were on a motorcycle. We were just going to L.A., got our rental car, pulled up to the intersection, and two guys ploughed into the back of a truck and died right in front of me. It was like, "Billy, these guys are... dead. They're not... moving. That couldn't have just happened." We're missing the babies so much! How do you take care of your kids? Those were kids who are somebody's kids.

FEMINISM: I'm definitely a feminist as much as I an a Democrat. I don't think we have time to let those ladies say, "Well, I'm not a feminist" or anything because feminism should be the last movement we allow to disappear. I mean, you can't go against women, they're half the human race! And they need help. We still don't have the pictures to reflect the gains made by feminism in other areas. We still only have two-dimensional images of women. You can play a role, any role now, which is good I guess but it's still lie. No one is just a bimbo, no one is just a jock, no one is just a poet, or whatever the hell they do. We're all people. There are better pictures of feminism than the one's that are published which are confusing to me.

Interview by Bernhard D McDonald
Thanks to [email protected] (Andrew Wall) for sending me the article.

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