THE SONG IS THE THING Neurosurgery with Kristin Hersh and Kelley Deal
Previews THROWING MUSES with Clove, Watercan Friday, Sept. 6. The Horseshoe, 370 Queen St. W. $8.50.
THE KELLEY DEAL 6000 with Low, Versus, Local Rabbits Monday, Sept. 9. Lee's Palace, 529 Bloor St. W. $12 at door, $10 from Rotate This.
by CINDY MCGLYNN
Interestingly, the question "So, how do you write those fabulous songs anyway?" elicits a nice variety of responses from the rock star community. And MuchMusic devotees everywhere are no doubt thankful for that. Turns out songs are just like snowflakes, and every artist takes a slightly different approach. Tori Amos once told me she gets visited by ghosts. AC/DC write a snappy title first and then power chords to match. Girls Against Boys slick on thick blue pomade to get feeling sexy before starting.
Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh's technique is my favorite. Insisting she's the least new age person you'll ever meet, Hersh tells the Amityville Horror-like story of being woken up by phantom songs nobody else can hear. "I wrote Limbo while touring University," says Hersh referring to writing the band's current record while touring their last, "and one song was written in New Zealand, one in Kansas, etc., and it's always 4 a.m. And I always think, 'Oh, I can't sleep. What's wrong? And what's that noise?' Like in Motel Sixes, people are always blasting radios so I always figure that's what it is. And then I look at a clock and it's 4 o'clock on the dot. Oh shit. Another song."
Hersh says it's not because of her creative genes. "I mean I have no impulses to paint pictures or do dances. I don't even like art. I think it's stupid. I'm not a groovy person at all. And yet I'll get to a house and get really sick if there are any bad vibes. I actually went to Madonna's house this year for Easter and I had nightmares all night long."
Madonna recently sold the house, apparently once owned by mobsters who had committed murders there, saying it was haunted. "I was talking to some friends of mine who actually are groovy, and saying, 'How do I get rid of this? I didn't ask for this to happen.' And she's," Kristin referring to a groovy friend, not Evita, "like, 'Well, you could eat Cheetos and watch TV all day.' And it was like 'That will make me less sensitive? I'll do it!' "
If Kristin slept better at night, the pop world would be lesser for it. Seven albums into the Muses' career (plus Hersh's lovely solo album), the band manages to grow artistically and experiment. Limbo, their first disc on their own label (distributed by Rykodisc/ Denon), is spare, at times melancholy, heady and sexy. The defining feature may be the crisp production and clean guitars, which Hersh says is just what the songs demanded. "The chords needed to be what shone through. Sometimes, if you lean on personality, you end up with style. And that overshadows substance as a priority.
"People are always bitching at me for not producing records more. Why? Why do you need makeup and earrings? Look at the face. It's there. It's a face. But people don't even see it really. People just fall into the songs easier if you have a bunch of backing vocals and pings and pongs and reverbs. We're just too old to do them any favors any more."
Kelley Deal's approach to producing her band's first CD, Go To The Sugar Altar (Nice/PolyGram) is similarly minimalist, though slightly less studied than Hersh's. "If you have good musicians in there and good mics and stuff, you're pretty much OK," Deal says, on the phone from her home in Minneapolis. "And another thing too, of course, is, you know, songs."
With the help of the Grifters' Dave Shouse, Deal has produced a surprisingly swinging batch of tunes, even though she picked up her first instrument four years ago when joining sister Kim's band, the Breeders. Kelley was always the voice of the sisters when they played truck stops as teenagers. Kim was the one learned "Stairway To Heaven" on the guitar. "No, not really," Deal says, laughing. "She did know 'Blackbird' from the Eagles. I mean, not the Eagles. The Beatles. Yeah. Same thing."
But Kelley says she's getting better and has recently taken the all-important step of bonding with her guitar. "Yesterday, before checking my baggage, I patted my guitar and said, 'It's OK, you're going to be back.' It's kind of like a teddy bear or something. It's my companion."
The job has had its ups and downs for Deal, who was a computer programmer before joining the Breeders. She was recently busted for heroin possession and spent time in rehab but still says music is the easiest job around --and anybody who says it's not is lying. And if it all just gets too dull, Deal figures she'll just check out profession No. 3.
"Yeah, I'm planning on being a neurosurgeon."
>From the Sept. 5th issue of the weekly Toronto rag "Eye" http:///www.eye.net
Jeff Keibel Toronto, ON CANADA [email protected]