❉ We catch up with the alt-rock legend ahead of her UK tour, sharing a new track from her forthcoming album.
“I was going for chaos, beautiful chaos, for this album. From the production side of things, I wanted that live sound.”
Best known as frontperson of Throwing Muses (the first American band to sign to 4AD), Kristin Hersh is busier than ever this year. New single ‘LAX’ is the first glimpse of new material from Hersh since 2016, in advance of her forthcoming album Possible Dust Clouds, which is slated for release later this year via Fire Records.
As Hersh prepares for her sold-out show at Robert Smith’s Meltdown Festival next month, she has rounded out her upcoming United Kingdom tour with new dates in support of this single and latest album Wyatt at the Coyote Palace (2016), on which Kristin played all of the instruments, bringing the listener into what the BBC calls Hersh’s “dark and dizzy world”, and made time to chat with We Are Cult’s Eoghan Lyng….
“Michael Stipe came across a cassette on my business manager’s table” Kristin Hersh begins, discussing the indelible and desirable nature of 1994’s Your Ghost. “He kind of grabbed it and gave it to Warners. It was a bit like someone reading your diary, I thought, in the acoustic demo forms. So, when I went to record the album again, I was putting Your Ghost down with a cello, which wasn’t doing what I wanted. The D tune wasn’t coming out the way I wanted it to. I was talking to Michael on the phone, he probably thought I was going to fuck it up, and he was giving me advice and listening to his tone, it fixed the song. I convinced him to sing on it, telling him it definitely wouldn’t be a single, there wouldn’t be a video or anything, ha ha. Luckily, he’s a good sport about it all”.
How wrong that turned out to be and fruitful for the radios, as Ghost, a sparse lyrical libretto of empty hallways and old forgotten phone numbers had feeling to it that verged beyond that of the normal acoustic ballad. Stipe’s harmony is an embellishment to a restrained voice of impact and resonance, complete with Lenny Kaye’s tasteful and restrained production quality.
Hersh first made a name for herself fronting indie rockers Throwing Muses, first gaining traction in the early ‘80s, playing with similarly singular artists The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. Her solo debut Hips and Makers (1994) (which Your Ghost was a part of) showed a softer, sparser side to Hersh on a solo career that sees her currently promoting her tenth solo album. She’s calling to unveil LAX, her latest single, a drum pummelled slice of garage energy that will surely make the playlist of her many Throwing Muses fans. “I was going for chaos, beautiful chaos, for this album. From the production side of things, I wanted that live sound.”
The song starts with a John Bonham style funk step, before an assemblage of sparky guitars strikingly shock in that most psychedelic and seismic of fashions. It’s a strong song, complete with a seemingly ambigious name. “LAX is the name of an airport in L.A.” Hersh laughs. “It’s a place where I’ve spent a lot of time throughout the years. Going back to Your Ghost, you become like a ghost, being an observer, watching people, life, not always good things, but definitely life. To have your humanity.”
The newly composed Possible Dust Clouds (2018) is a planet away from her most recent Wyatt at the Coyote Palace (2016). “That was recorded down the street from my farm house, my son would explore the coyote palace, to wander around with coyotes.” Hersh says. “I was doing that album by myself, I mostly play the instruments myself. It took a long time that album, very dark sounding, about five years. One day my son had decided he’d had enough of the coyote palace, which struck me. I told Dave, my drummer, about this and he said that’s the template. As in, that’s enough Kris, pencils down. We’re all finite creatures. So,I finally finished that album. So, for Possible Dust Clouds, I wanted this as a party, sunshiney party. I normally play the instruments myself, but this time I invited everyone who came to the studio on it”.
Hersh is easy-going, effortlessly charming and down to earth. We ask if she’s looking forward to performing at Meltdown Festival this year. “Yes, basically I play to a quarter of a million people the same way that I play in my bedroom, it’s all about focus. I like how this is artist centred, it’s Robert Smith organising. I also did the Patti Smith one, I only do the Smith’s[laughs]”. Sultry, husky, sensual. Was Patti an influence on a young Kristin? “My dad listened to her, so I listened to her through him. I didn’t actively listen to her myself. I’m being too honest, yeah? I shouldn’t be so honest?” as she roars with laughter.
It’s not ideal for a writer looking for soundbites, but there’s something refreshing about her candour and demeanour. There’s no pretence to her, she means business, ensuring that every word she gives is every word meant. It’s reflected in her songcraft. “I can’t analyse my own work, I’d be making shit up” she confesses. “They come from personal experiences. I don’t think about my songs, it’s my idiosyncratic view of universal appeals. I’ve heard music since I had an accident, a car crash, in my teens, I’ve been able to hear tracks. I’ve become a better editor, I used to imagine the material should play itself out. But now I edit, none of my personal baggage should get in there, it should be impactful for other people to listen to, a soundtrack for them”.
One popular soundtrack, Love Actually (2003) features a Both Sides, Now remake sung by the song’s author. Described by Joni Mitchell as the moment she understood the meaning and potency of the words she had written thirty years previously, it proved to the world that power can be attained by an artist’s past material to empower in the present. How does Hersh feel about playing older songs? “The good ones are timeless, they’re not attached to linear time. They come off like your kids do, you let them off and they come back, a bit changed. I wouldn’t want to keep them in, I wouldn’t want to do that with any of my kids, they wouldn’t come out right. The lousy times only last a certain amount of time. I wouldn’t play anything I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing”.
And with an upcoming U.K. tour, what will she be playing? “I don’t have a setlist, I play what I feel like playing and decide on the night. You get a read off the room, which helps to decide what way I’m going to play on the night. I don’t know what surprises people expect, but I’m looking forward to the shows”.
❉ Kristin Hersh has a new single ‘LAX’ out now and has announced new tour dates for the UK. Hersh’s UK tour kicks off on June 17 in Bristol at the Redgrave Theatre and wraps up in Britain’s south-east on July 1 at the Ramsgate Music Hall. Tour and ticket info for all shows can be found at www.kristinhersh.com/appearances.
❉ Kristin Hersh ‘LAX’ (Rough Version) https://soundcloud.com/kristinhersh-official/lax
❉ Kristin Hersh show at Meltdown 2018 https://goo.gl/42BgMH