Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh Talks Major Label Drama Before Going Solo in New London on Aug. 11

Kristin Hersh

w/ Daphne Lee Martin, Chuck E. Costa, Girls Guns and Glory, Milksop:Unsung, and Graverobbers. $10 suggested donation, 3 p.m., Aug. 11. Hygienic Art Park, 79 Bank St., New London,


Life with major labels has produced a substantial share of disgruntled musicians over the years. Prince changed his name to a symbol and wrote "slave" on his cheek after battling with Warner Bros., Lupe Fiasco's 2009 record Lasers lingered in limbo after Atlantic doubted its selling power, and Big Black's Steve Albini has written a well-circulated essay called "The Problem of Music" that begins, "Whenever I talk to a band who are about to sign with a major label, I always end up thinking of them in a particular context. I imagine a trench, about four feet wide and five feet deep, maybe 60 yards long, filled with runny, decaying shit."

Kristin Hersh was in a similar predicament years ago. After gaining fame as the frontwoman of vital 1980s /'90s alt-rock act Throwing Muses and then going solo in 1994 with Hips and Makers, Hersh found Warner Bros. to be selling "a cartoon version of me." Around Hips' release, she was asked to do a photo shoot for Spin magazine that ended up not working out for reasons quickly apparent. "It turns out that the outfit that they had chosen for me was underwear, and I was supposed to be selling my record. It was supposed to be raw and honest and real and smart and funny and everything that I value, and they value women in their underpants," the bubbly Hersh says. When she speaks about remembering the strife surrounding Muses' 1991 record The Real Ramona, she says, "I could no longer bear the contrast between the beauty of music and the ugliness of the industry. I just hated that they wanted us to become bimbos. Everything I was against was what Warner Bros. was for, and so I just said, 'I'm not gonna do this anymore,' but the music was still important to me so I finished the record and we did the tour. All the band members love each other," she says, also noting that she "had a baby and went into hiding."

Today, the 45-year-old, New Orleans-based guitarist/vocalist is in a considerably better place. Now occupied with the regrouped Muses (who should be releasing a new 33-song record and corresponding book in April), the band 50 Foot Wave and her own solo work, she's supported by a cluster of fans called "Strange Angels." "In exchange," a page hosting her latest record Crooked clarifies, "they receive all of her physical releases, exclusive downloadable content, and free spots on the guestlist for Kristin's shows." In various interviews, Hersh has used various forms of the word "extricate" to describe her self-removal from the mainstream music industry, and now she's getting an opportunity to focus on distributing her work through CASH Music, a nonprofit that creates and distributes open source tools for musicians and generally encourages a tighter sense of community and self-sustainability. "I just go into my little lab of a recording studio and I come out with pure results, untainted by the saleability of the outcome," she says. She doesn't particularly regard herself as an entertainer, so the small scale of this operation matches her style well.

Hersh's sum legacy supports this, with her starting on the guitar at age 9 and forming Muses at the untested age of 14. Over the course of a decade, the band amassed a discography that prized itself on eloquently delivered emotional revelations. Hersh's experiences in the music business since have made her cynical about the industry, but the way she lightheartedly talks about her most crucial tool — her enormous, perfectly pained voice — shows the optimism and light she retains for the medium of music itself. "I still think singing is a really stupid thing to do, and that makes me work to create an instrument out of it instead of singing with a capital S. That's just so lame. One of my earliest rules for vocals was to never sing, if that makes any sense. I can play anything on the guitar. It's an instrument that serves you all the time. You can always tune it and learn any melody on it, and you can create any effect you like, but with a voice, that's an instrument you can't tune that's affected by whether or not somebody hurt your feelings that day or it's raining. It's a crazy instrument, so I don't try to control it. I just try to sing in the way a little kid talks," she says. "I try to make it be honest."

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