CULTURE

One-off gig from indie-rock great

Kristin Hersh emerged in the mid-80s as a co-founder and band leader of Throwing Muses, an innovative rock act that quickly proved to be pivotal, internationally, in independent music. Throwing Muses became the first of a number of US acts to be signed by the emblematic British label 4AD, home over the years to a rich guild of artful acts, both atmospheric and abrasive, and usually dark-sounding. The label’s roster of past and present acts reads like an accumulation of standout cases in contemporary music. Some of the now-defunct acts were widely unknown during their time. But highlighting this label’s ability and instinct for spotting genuine talent, many of its acts went on to consolidate their reputations, to varying degrees, once they had called it a day. The label’s signings have included the Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Birthday Party, Breeders, Dead Can Dance and Bauhaus, as well as worthy lesser-knowns such as Lisa Germano and Kendra Smith. As for Throwing Muses, it is said that the act decided to split because of financial woes despite the good word that was being spread around about them in independent music circles. Hersh, a songwriter of eerie and intense work, both acoustic and harder-hitting, has continued as a solo performer. Her debut solo album, 1994’s «Hips and Makers,» a project loaded with troubling acoustic beauty, proved a commercial success. Several worthy solo albums have since followed. Currently in Europe for two shows featuring spoken word, music and projections in London and Glasgow, the California-based musician will also perform a solo concert date in Athens tomorrow night. Hersh responded to questions posed by Kathimerini English Edition ahead of her visit. Essentially, the upcoming Athens date is one of just a couple of concerts you’ve announced for the time being. The other is in California, your home state. And there are two dates in Glasgow and London, just ahead of your visit here, where you’ll be presenting «Paradoxical Undressing,» a live spoken word performance. Is there any reason why Athens is your solitary concert date away from home? Timing, really. My intention was to come over to try out «Paradoxical Undressing,» this new kind of performance I’m doing involving spoken word, music and projections for only these two dates in Glasgow and London. The offer of a solo show in Athens came through for the same period, so we accepted it. Your «Paradoxical Undressing» spoken performance, which features excerpts from an upcoming memoir with musical accompaniment, is described on your website as «the story of a teenage girl wrestling with issues of extreme creativity, mental illness, pregnancy and life in the music business as founder of seminal American indie-rock band Throwing Muses.» This is totally confessional, a lot like the lyrics in your music, it seems. Do you sometimes feel that your music and lyrics don’t fully satisfy your need for expression? I ask this because of the forthcoming memoir and these «Paradoxical Undressing» shows. My lyrics aren’t about my expression so much as they’re about the expression of something universal, through images and moments I may have experienced, but which are not me or mine. The book is very literally taken from my teenage diaries. I’ve never felt a strong desire to «express myself» for any reason but to illustrate how much we all share. Is the memoir ready and has a publication date been set? It’s almost finished… I have a final part to complete. As for publication, I have no idea if anyone will want to publish it. I hope so, but there are no offers at this point. You’re described as introverted and very shy. Do you feel that the inwardness affects you on stage, or can it actually help you build up an inner momentum that helps you perform, or pushes you into wanting to perform? I think it actually helps my performance in that I absolutely must vanish myself to be there on stage. I have to fall into the work, completely. I think that makes me a better, more interesting, less self-involved performer. While growing up, had you ever given serious thought to becoming something other than a musician? I wanted to be a scientist. Your band Throwing Muses was the first of a number of US acts to have work released by the highly regarded British label 4AD. How did your band end up at 4AD and do you think this influenced the arrival of other US artists. I guess Ivo [Watts-Russell, 4AD’s co-founder and head] heard us because our demo cassette was getting a lot of airplay on college radio in the US. He contacted us and we had no idea who he was. He told us he didn’t sign American bands but that he really liked us. Over time, he kept calling and ultimately signed us to the best deal a band could hope for – one record. I suppose we did set the precedent of his signing American bands. Then I brought him the Pixies. Is it true that you were forced to break up Throwing Muses because it was not economically feasible to continue? Yes. At some point you incur so much debt and so much expense over time that it’s almost impossible to survive it. That’s what happened to us. Anything we made went down a hole, to serve that debt. Every tour was a loss, every record too. How can you continue like that? You just feel like a loser. How would you compare the struggles of emerging bands in the 80s (your era) to the difficulties faced by young acts today? It tends to balance out, I think. We didn’t have the Internet, home recording or file sharing – two things I think make being a band today much more feasible. But today there’s virtually no college radio, no mass medium where large numbers of people can be consolidated into an audience. Your first solo album reportedly sold more than any of the Throwing Muses albums. Were you surprised by that, or was it something you suspected could happen (because of the vocal appearance on the hit single by REM’s Michael Stipe, at a time when his band’s popularity seemed to peak)? I was kind of surprised. I knew people were liking these bare-bones recordings but I couldn’t figure out why. I knew that having Michael on a song was going to help too. Do you continue to feel strongly attracted to songwriting after having put out a considerable number of albums, both with the band and as a solo act? I am a songwriter. I can’t help it. It’s a sort of compulsion and a language I speak. I don’t believe I could give it up. Kristin Hersh (solo set), tomorrow (Kyttaro Club, 48 Ipeirou, tel 210.822.4134). Doors open 9.30 p. m.