Kristin Hersh Says Music Saved Her Life.


Scott Kara

Kristin Hersh battles with her songs and sometimes they almost kill her. But despite a prolific career, during which she has released eight Throwing Muses albums, seven solo albums, and one as 50 Foot Wave, a power trio she started so she could vent, the songs haven't got her just yet.

Hersh, who suffered from a form of bipolar disorder that caused her to hallucinate, is a happy and cheery talker despite the dark and troubled subjects she delves into. She also has a unique way of explaining her music.

"I never know, when I go off to write a song, if I'm going to come back because it's like going to a place that would make you psychotic, make you a junkie, or would make you dead. All I can do is approach it without my brain, I have to see it as a spiritual response and that's when I can live with it. And that's not comfortable.

"I don't think it [music] is going to kill me anymore, and I'm still honoured to hang out with music, but it has a huge impact and it's frightening."

Hersh plays at the Kings Arms on Sunday night as part of a world tour in support of her latest solo album, Learn To Sing Like A Star.

She admits she is "excruciatingly shy" and playing live is also a hard thing to do.

"Before I play, I'm thinking, 'How do I get out of here? You've got the wrong girl. This is not good'. But when I'm playing I'm not there anyway so it really doesn't matter. I can't be shy on stage because only the songs are on stage as far as I'm concerned."

Back when she first started a band as a teenager in 1981 in Newport, Rhode Island, with her stepsister Tanya Donnelly (who went on to form Belly), she was into Los Angeles punks X, the Violent Femmes and the Meat Puppets.

"Songwriting, initially anyway, was a psychotic episode in my life and to hear other people making sounds that were just as moving to me as the songs I was writing probably kept me here," she says. "I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that those bands saved my life."

In the mid-80s Throwing Muses signed to pioneering independent label 4AD, whose roster included top indie bands of the times like the Pixies and Cocteau Twins.

She describes the late 80s, early 90s as her "lost years" but they would prove to be formative years for Hersh's growing fan base. Although Throwing Muses didn't quite reach the heights of contemporaries the Pixies (a band Hersh lived with at one stage in a Los Angeles apartment building), thanks to albums like Hunkpapa (1989), The Real Ramona (1991), and University (1995) the band's angular, spirited and hallucinatory rock sound gained them a large following. She released her first solo album, Hips and Makers, in 1994.

As for her latest album, Hersh is confused by it.

"I'm often confused by my records," she laughs. "The one before it was called The Grotto and it's so small it's almost silent. It's this fragile little atmospheric thing. I couldn't even put a guitar on it, and I play guitar. It wouldn't take backing vocals. It's this funny little midnight session of a piece."

So, with Sing Like A Star she has made the "biggest record I've ever made". Although, she confesses, "I don't even like big records."

Hersh has lived a nomadic life, touring a lot and moving her family from town to town in the US, but in the last few years she has been looking at moving to New Zealand.

"It's my favourite place on planet earth and I don't say that to every country that calls," she laughs. "In fact when Bush was re-elected I tried to move there and you lot were very sweet about it. I've just taken a while doing it but sometimes they call and say, 'How's it going? Are you comin' over?' I'm like, 'Any day now'."

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