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Kristen Hersh / Throwing Muses

Kristen Hersh / Throwing Muses

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Wednesday 26th October, 2011 2:02PM

Throwing Muses released a double disc Anthology album last month collating the seminal moments from their 25+ year career. We caught up with Muse and solo artist Kristen Hersh about the anthology, their often-fraught career, and where the band, and Hersh herself, are headed to from here.

You’ve got an anthology of the Throwing Muses back catalogue being released, are you excited?

I put this in my drummer’s lap because he’s better at talking about the catalogue than I am; I get embarrassed easily. But no, seriously it’s cool, it’s going to be great.

Is it weird looking back on stuff that’s 25 years old? How did it feel when you were putting it together and how did the compilation process go down?

I was included in the song selections sort of against my will but also because otherwise they would put really embarrassing stuff on it. I did make sure that every song that went on there was a truthful one. There are times when we were convinced by the recording industry that we needed to dumb down our product in order to continue working so we did that; we released some stupid songs just to please the record company. I wanted to make sure we never were heard playing those songs again so I did my best to make sure the anthology is our most honest work.

So this is a representative collection of the Throwing Muses career?

Yeah, because we have various movements in our career and different sonic treatments and different production styles. I think they are all equally represented - he album’s aren’t all necessarily represented but the styles are.

Is there any kind of album or era of Throwing Muses history that strikes you as the most significant in your career?

Actually the last record Limbo, probably. I think we were always moving forward and we didn’t meant to stop - we only had to end because we had no funding to do a tour or make another record. We were still evolving and we were still making better and better music so I assumed that we were going to continue getting better and better. The most recent record was sort of a fake one that was called Throwing Muses - the first one and the last one were called that –we only make it because I had some money left over from a solo thing so I could get the music into the studio for a weekend. We made a sort of trashy record which is cute but we didn’t have the opportunity to make a realized effort. I know if we had it would have been better than the last album. In fact, we’re in the studio right now because we’re supported through which is a non-profit I started a few years ago with some friends. That has allowed the Muses to be back in the studio and I promise it’s the best record we’ve ever made; it’s 38 songs long and a work of absolute obsession so it gets better.

Obviously Throwing Muses stopped because of funding issues. Do you think that was symptomatic of the way the industry has changed in the last few years?

Um, I think we started at a time when radio was pretty awful and none of us had any ideas about being successful in the eyes of the business, because we wanted to be good and we knew that in order to succeed you had to suck and all the bands we played with knew that.

There was a time where they called us alternative rock and college rock and indie music and we were allowed to play venues and sell records because we were marketed along with other bands who played in a similar vein and then it happened again and that style began to be watered down and what is celebrated is the crap. That hasn’t really changed a whole lot ; they love to celebrate crap because it’s easy to sell it’s easy to understand it’s easy to grasp and goes away quickly so they can sell more crap.

If we didn’t run out of money because of the change in attitude it’s just that we were on Warner Bros. and eventually you owe them so much money that you can no longer continue. All they have to do is doctor your numbers and say “we spent this much money trying to sell your record and it didn’t sell so you’re out of money”. That isn’t so much shifting tastes in the listeners it’s just the Throwing Muses ran out of Warner Brothers money. We always knew we would and we were surprised that we were ever marketed by anybody because we thought we were good and that doesn’t happen.

We are finally allowed to make music outside of the mainstream business – our sound was always outside of the mainstream and now we can be outside of the industry too. Which is nice, I don’t think we’re going to make a living at it but that’s not what music is for. It’s not about turning people into rock stars.

You mention Warner Bros but in the beginning you had a really strong relationship with 4AD right? Tell me a little bit about that and the shift to Warner Bros.

We were always on 4AD outside of the US and we were on Warner Bros. only in the US so most of our work experience was with Warner Bros, unfortunately. 4AD initially was amazing, the head of 4AD used to come to my house and sing backing vocals on the demos - that’s how involved he was with the process.

Warner Bros. was a beehive where people got their paychecks regardless of much work they did and we were considered a prestige signing meaning that they weren’t going to try and sell our records but they could talk other bands into signing to them because they had Throwing Muses on their roster. 4AD eventually rolled over all the people we had ever worked with there so they were no longer the same company.

It must feel liberating to now be able to do it outside of those constructs?

Absolutely and it’s embarrassing to admit that I allowed my sponsors interest in the marketability of my outcome to affect my work, I always thought that I wasn’t the type but now I know that I was. You have to work only for listeners. If I gave them something marketable they would reject it. All they want is the truth; they want the music never to lie and it’s taken me a while to get back to that and to realize that they don’t want palatable, they don’t want syrup to help this go down, they want real. It took me a while and it was hard to get back to where I was in the beginning and where I should have been all along.

You’ve talked a lot about honesty and legitimacy with the music and that’s one of the reasons you’re so well respected. Did you know when you started Throwing Muses that it was going to have the impact on future bands and genres like it has?

I was never able to see beyond what I was doing. Even when we were on the road and playing to lots of people it was someone else’s job to bring the people in. It was so obvious to me that other people were doing that work and they could fall down on the job but it shouldn’t affect my product and my efforts. It was hard what I was doing so I didn’t really have time to focus on anything else. When I was in magazines and on the radio I just thought that other people were just doing their jobs and often they don’t, and it had nothing to do with me or the product. I would just kind of put my head down and do my work because if I didn’t it would all fall apart.

You’ve released a lot of albums as a solo artist. How do you differentiate between your work in the two different projects?

I write all Fifty Foot Waves material on Gibson S.G’s and all Throwing Muses on my Telecaster and my Strat, and solo stuff I write on my college guitar and my drummer tell me that’s not a good system, but it’s worked for me so far. In the end when I reach for the guitar it’s when I make the decision because I know where it’s going, I know where it’s headed and if I don’t help it head in the right direction it’s going to come out screwy. It was a steep learning curve becoming a solo performer. I’m very very very shy and I have to instantly throw myself into the music - I almost die before I step out onstage looking at God going “you got the wrong girl” but then when the music starts it’s OK. I also had to learn to wear contacts when I play because you can’t walk out on a stage and find your spot and not bump into your mic and pick up the guitar - they can hear it when you bump into the mic! I used to love being in a fuzzy world with my vision impaired so it was a double whammy to see the audience and be alone up there but now I appreciate the freedom from it and I can play the songs any way I want in a time signature I want - even emotional timing - without screwing anybody else up.

You mentioned earlier the 38 track Throwing Muses album. When can we expect that?

Second quarter of next year it still has to be mixed we’re raising money for the mix.

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