A muse to millions, Kristin Hersh just keeps them coming...
Alt-rock goddess Kristin Hersh has been making music for over twenty years. The co-founder of the Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave and the woman behind five hypnotic and beautifully crafted solo albums, she has been cited as an influence by everyone from Thom Yorke to Michael Stipe.
Featuring Hersh's equally talented step-sibling Tanya Donelly in the original line up, the Muses' edgy, striking sound was, along with that of the Pixies, arguably responsible for the whispered verse/shouty chorus structure that has characterised so much recent rock music.
From 1986's punky, untitled debut Throwing Muses to 1996's cool, assured Limbo, the Muses produced albums of
strange, sharp, emotive rock. The Real Ramona (1991) featured the divinely
laidback Two Step, and on the admittedly patchy Hunkpapa (1989), Hersh
explored the extremes of her bipolar disorder with the raw onslaught of Mania;
"My eyes are spirals, I am on my knees and praying."
Though Donelly left in the early 90s to pursue other projects (she was the
force behind both Belly and The Breeders) the Muses remained
together as a trio until financial pressures finally forced them to split. At
this point Hersh turned her attention to her solo career. Having already
released the acclaimed acoustic Hips And Makers (1994) - possibly her finest
moment - she began recording increasingly personal tracks for a succession of
A mother of four, her songs touch on maternal themes in a way that
few other artists do. Her mental health problems and her marriage also crop up
in her stream-of-consciousness lyrics that frequently ascend into poetry.
There's a sense with Hersh's music that her songs need her to write them; that
they beg her to sing them; that she's not completely in control of the process. A feeling she articulated best in The Letter, the
complex and haunting stand out track on Hips And Makers. "PS: Keep them
coming", she asked of her muse, and so far it hasn't let her down.
On her later solo efforts, Sky Motel (1999) and Sunny Border Blue (2001), it
was evident that this was a woman torn between the raw simplicity of making
music with minimal acoustic accompaniment and the need to turn up the volume.
Last year saw her reform the band, producing a new self-titled album Throwing Muses (2003) and
touring as the Muses once more. Now new project Fifty Foot
Wave sees her return again to the full on sound of the Muses, reuniting
with bassist Bernard Gorges, and acquiring fresh blood in the form of drummer
Rob Ahlers. Released earlier this year, the Bug EP (2004) was a six song
statement of intent: Spiky guitars; crunching riffs; her distinctive voice
buried in a wailing wall of sound.
There's hardly a shortage of female singer-songwriters around these days, of
women willing to strum their troubles to whoever will listen, but Hersh's
honesty and maturity set her apart. Nearing forty and showing no signs of
flagging, her sound is constantly evolving, and from what we've heard of
Fifty Foot Wave so far, there are plenty of good things still to come.