This discontent must be particularly hard for Hersh given that she’s spent her entire adult life amidst the machinations of the music industry.
“Yeah, it’s an old story though – the music industry is particularly dumb, but I think in most media that’s the experience of the artist who cares,” she broods. “It is what it is. I could stay broken-hearted or bitter if I wanted to, but there’s always another song to play and I feel blessed for that reason alone. I’m absolutely in love with music and I don’t like to see it treated like shit, so sometimes all you can do is be the one who’s not treating it like shit and that’s a win.” Fortunately Hersh has taken to the new industry models revolving around crowdfunding like a duck to water, and the fervent support of her fanbase gives her cause for unbridled optimism.
PEOPLE POWER After a lifetime spent fighting ‘the man’ Kristin Hersh has found peace by harnessing the abundant goodwill of her fans. She talks to Steve Bell about a career spent kicking against the pricks.
ristin Hersh’s entire adult life has been spent in the pursuit of musical happiness. She was only in her mid-teens when she started seminal art-punk outfit Throwing Muses back in the early ‘80s, and since then she’s been releasing music and touring – either with Muses or power-pop outfit 50 Foot Wave or in her solo incarnation – ever since. On the eve of her solo sojourn to Australia for the Words + Music tour – which finds her tackling songs from across the whole gamut of her career, interspersed with anecdotes and readings from her 2010 memoir Paradoxical Undressing – she reflects on how embracing crowdfunding has freed her from the record industry’s tyrannical yoke. “We just finished the first touring cycle for Throwing Muses’ new book-slash-record. It’s 30-something songs long, so when we did our rehearsal for that Death Cab For Cutie gave us their studio to rehearse in – it was like taking a trigonometry exam!” she laughs heartily. “It took us five years to make the record – so long I can’t even remember some of the recording – so then we had to literally sit on the floor and work out how on earth we were going to play a song which was 27 unrelated chords in a row, without any cuing and the three of us playing in different time signatures. You can’t even tell that’s what’s happening on the record, we very carefully tiptoed around our intricacies as you’re supposed to do, and not only do you not get any points for it but you somehow have to recreate it live. But that’s not to say it was anti-intuitive, in fact as soon as you get your blood pumping around a piece of music it just flows – we got to that point, it just took a while!” Purgatory/Paradise is the first Throwing Muses album for a decade – why return to that particular well after all the time spent on other projects? “I never left the Muses, but we felt morally bound to not participate in an industry that seems so ethically bankrupt,” Hersh ponders. “The fact that it’s all about
dumbing down music and marketed to an imaginary lowest common denominator, trying to sell music to people who don’t like music, going for style over substance – in fact rejecting substance entirely. It wasn’t just a public stance on our part, we just really didn’t want to see it anymore. When someone takes your religion and turns it into televangelism it’s disheartening to the point of wanting to give up. A lot of my dearest friends have given up in all kinds of ways, and we felt that we had better musical places to go than the industry would have allowed so we went there. We stopped touring and recording, and it wasn’t until we were listener-supported that we got to put down about 50 songs and edit those down to what’s on Purgatory/Paradise. We released it as a book because that’s a more valuable object than a little piece of plastic that nobody cares about.”
“Yeah absolutely, because these are the people that I would tell [former label] Warner Brothers that they needed to find,” she rails. “When I’d go into those offices and say, ‘Why do you sell crap?’ they’d say, ‘Because crap sells!’ My answer was always, ‘Because you sell crap!’ They really didn’t have to market that shit, they could have signed good bands and marketed that, but somehow they were just convinced that the dumb-asses were the ones with money and I really don’t buy that. I think maybe it’s a smaller audience but they’re return customers and will do anything for you. I’ve seen people buy ten CDs at my show of a record they already have, and I’ll be like, ‘What are you doing?’ and they’ll say, ‘It’s July so Christmas is coming!’ Eventually I realise that they wanted me to have gas money, so that I can get to the next show and hopefully make another record someday – these records are their soundtrack.
“WHEN SOMEONE TAKES YOUR RELIGION AND TURNS IT INTO TELEVANGELISM IT’S DISHEARTENING TO THE POINT OF WANTING TO GIVE UP.” “So it was really incumbent on me to find these people and make sure that they have their soundtrack – because I’m really not alive for any other reason; it’s for my children and those people’s soundtracks – and then find out how we can work together. Being listener-supported means that I don’t have to play the game and I don’t have to put lipstick on anything – not me, not the music, not my band, not the production. It is what is is, and I think the listeners would reject something that wasn’t from the heart, that was tarted-up and fashion-y. These are my people and I found them.”
WHEN & WHERE: 8 Jun, Black Bear Lodge THE MUSIC • 4TH JUNE 2014 • 17
Published on Jun 3, 2014
Published on Jun 3, 2014
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