Kristin Hersh

Examining Kristin Hersh's glowing cheeks and toothpasty grin is a study in deception. Was any Throwing Muses song ever this cute? Her speaking voice better reveals what lurks between her ears. Like a waitress in some 24-hour southern truckstop, she tells stories in hoarse, friendly fashion. These tales of "loons, dipshits" and tawdry, small-towns show up on Hersh's first solo effort, Hips and Makers.

Accompanied only by her Collings acoustic guitar and an occasional cello or piano, Hersh's music is stark and oddly melodic, sculptured in colors of black and blue. Brilliant lyric imagery sometimes lost in Muses' loud mix surfaces here stretched and stripped like a skinned duck in a Chinatown window. Imagine a cross between Toni Mitchel's Blue and John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band sung by a woman who appreciates the simple life.

"I'm pretty small town," says Hersh, taking a break from recording the next Throwing Muses record in New Orleans. "I like being female and living on a small planet, and I like having a real life. That makes me a better person, I think. That way you can't lie, your skin doesn't lie, your songs don't lie and your brain won't lie to you." Repelled at first by the idea of performing without a band as a safety net, Hersh eventually came to grips with her stage fright and generally bad attitude towards working solo. She learned to enjoy "being able to command the attention of a big hall of people where you can hear a pin drop." The song withstood a rigorous tour of the northeast (which helped to pay for this newlywed's marriage to Irishman Billy O'Connell), including the legendary Boston-Cambridge folk Circuit.

"As soon as I developed a respect for the medium itself, all these songs kinda came," she muses. "I don't think these could have been band songs; they'd be overwhelmed by that treatment. But delicacy needs power too. But instead of the power of pickups, pedals and amps, this is the power of muscle. People know there's someone in front of them using her muscles. A lot of energy is inherent in that. It's very freeing to be that delicate."

"But it's still hard for me. I'm shy. Just sitting down is weird. I get so nervous, I'm always drunk before each show. I have to take my contacts out so I don't see the audience. And I'm so little, they build these big platforms for me, then they put a rickety bar stool on top of that. So I'm blind, and blind drunk, carrying my guitar, trying to climb up on the stool with all these people staring at me. It makes you feel totally naked."

While Hips and Makers is alternately sunny ("Velvet Days", "Sparky") and dark ("Teeth"), it still has the feel of an emotional purging, just like her best work with Throwing Muses. With the help of producer Lenny Kaye her husband Billy and Michael Stipe through the phone lines (he sings harmony on "Your Ghost"), Hersh was able to bare her soul. But she's always been a brave sort, fighting demons at an early age when she was diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder that left her hallucinating and having seizures. "The Letter", a torturous call to a lover, survives from that bleak period. The song reveals a palpable fear in Hersh's voice. "That song makes me puke and cry," she laughs. "I can't stand it. I didn't ever want to do it again. I wrote it while I was living in these apartments called Doghouse, totally out of my fucking mind. It just tears my guts out to do it. I thought it was too dark for this record, which seems so bright and kind and happy. I don't like being that kind of singer. That was a horrible time for me. I'd been told I was schizophrenic and was going to become a danger to myself and others. A crazy life. Dave Narcizo [ Drummer for the Muses] and Billy convinced me this was the time for that song."

>From this trauma, Hersh offers a remarkable explanation for why she is a musician. Some sing because they like to, others because they have to. "I think it's what songs are. Songs have heat and electricity, and they're real. If you get a song stuck inside you, hallucinate the pictures of that song and that heat and electricity is in your body. If you can't get a song out, then you get sick. Just the way there are sadness chemicals in tears, there a song chemicals in songs. If you don't know how to let it out, it makes you seem like a crazy person. Now that the songs are very pure, I don't hallucinate and I don't have a fever."

Kristin Hersh's demon days are behind her, replaced by two happy children named Dylan and Ryder. And 15 other children on Hips and Makers.

-Original article written by Ken Micallef for Ray Gun, March 1994

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