INTERVIEW: Kristin Hersh | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Peter Mellekas

When I speak to Kristin Hersh she’s in the studio. She’s in the process of mixing her forthcoming album Possible Dust Clouds, labouring over kick drum sounds, worrying whether what she’s been doing today sounds “charmingly pretentious” or “pretentious in an ordinary way”. She talks about how sonically chaotic the record is and that she wants it to have the feel of “the opposite of an awkward party”. 

Throwing Muses’ cathartic college rock was a defining influence on the underground U.S rock scene in the 80s and 90s, and Hersh has maintained this fire in her belly via 50FOOTWAVE and her solo work. “The new record is fun! I mean, I think that Throwing Muses and 50FOOTWAVE are fun bands, though maybe some people wouldn’t agree with that.”

Right now, she’s in the throes of creating the new album, but she feels like her head is too much in it at the moment to understand what it is about, and sometimes that process of finding thematic threads can take time to unravel. “I’ve only just really got my head around the last Muses record, which I think was about the contrast between being home and being away somewhere.” She says. “I have to live in this hurricane, it is only partial ownership, it’s sort of like having children – you have to facilitate and support it like a child but it does sort of have a life of its own, you have limited control over it.”

Kristin meditates on how this “lonely and lovely” process omits the “chaotic” element of being in a band, and how to get around that; “It’s not always that you want to emulate a live experience, but what you do want to capture is the inspiration of playing live.”

I don’t play at these rock festivals for women, or go on these guitar camps to teach girls how to play guitar, because I’m against gender segregation

Kristin will be gracing The Cluny with her presence on Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th June as part of a UK jaunt which coincides with being asked to play Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival, a situation that she seems endearingly unfazed by; “Robert has been absolutely, absolutely lovely, but it won’t change my approach to how I play. I don’t even really think of myself as that much of a performer, I have to focus on disappearing, it doesn’t matter how many people are there. Whether I’m playing a song to thousands of people or playing in the back seat of someone’s car, I take the same approach.”

Kristin reasserts that she isn’t interested in selling herself, it’s about selling the music. She doesn’t particularly like the attention that she is supposed to engender in the process; for someone who has been writing songs since she was 14 and would “put ten records out a year” if she could, being a conduit to the songs seems to be the most important aspect of Hersh’s process.

We touch on Strange Angels, a crowdfunding scheme that has allowed Hersh to be self-sufficient. “I didn’t want a record company but I did want stability. It was humbling as I didn’t want to ask anyone for anything, so it was difficult, you had to trust me not to suck. There’s enough commitment in active listening, but the response was overwhelming, a cycle of gratitude that is so perfect – the people need it more than it costs.”

As much as Kristin has embraced a chaos sonically on her new record, the turbulent political and sociological times we live in has permeated through in a more subversive way: “Politics can just be a set of misguided choices and those that submerge themselves in it completely have their lives ruined by it. If all artists are approaching things from a position of political correctness then politics should be invisible.” She bemoans the lack of nuance in the current political discussion: “There are even so many democrats who just love to hate!”

She laments Trump’s rise to power as being an “emotional response of the disenfranchised aligning and maligning with the superficial” and a preoccupation with identity politics contributing to this sense of disconnect. “I’m not sexist. So I don’t play at these rock festivals for women, or go on these guitar camps to teach girls how to play guitar, because I’m against gender segregation. There is turbulence in the disconnect – we collectively need to identify our cancer so that we can heal it – it wouldn’t have got worse if we didn’t just stare at it. We have to do something about it.”

Kristin Hersh performs at The Cluny, Newcastle on Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th June.


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