Kristin Hersh knows about discomfort. It was almost a year ago when we met, and it feels now like it a different era completely. It was pre-Trump.
A rare and pounding rain had just hit Los Angeles. We spoke in a car as beads of water gobbled each other up on the windshield. I’d only ever seen her on a stage until this intimate encounter. Her quick laughter at our present discomfort put me at ease. I wanted to know about her creative process, so that’s where I started.
For those who don’t know, Kristin was the guiding force behind seminal 90's rock group Throwing Muses, a band who got their start on 4AD Records and touring with The Pixies. She also fronts power trio 50FOOTWAVE and has released 10 solo albums and published a series of widely acclaimed books.
Female rockers like Hersh were huge role-models to many indie rock fans coming of age in the 90's. While the riot grrl movement was finding its renaissance, Hersh held her own unique place. And though she shared stages with the biggest acts of the era, her work always seemed like it bent to no whims but her own psyche. She had a rare cosmology that stood out.
Part of the great enigma of Hersh, is the muse itself. Like a mystical ghost razor cutting out shapes in black paper to make a silhouette, her songs have the quality of making something appear out of total empty space. This conversation about Kristin’s creative process felt like a failed attempt to attach words onto a creative rebellion that actively resisted language. The endeavor to make a universe out of nothing is at the center of her music.
Kristin’s well-known songwriting story is that all of her songs have been written by an interior muse named rat girl. By acknowledging what many might keep a private clandestine secret – she allowed a window into a process that many others can relate to, but which few admit. Her allowance to accept the gift of a double spirit guide to create the work, is something I always found so beautiful. In most of our Western world, multiple personalities are a source shame, something to fight, destroy, or worse, medicate. And in giving license to this alter spirit, this other person, and allowing it a voice, Hersh is one of the few people who has offered a window into the creative potential of the many worlds within the psyche.
In the midst of all the more transcendent ideas revealed in our conversation, what most jumped out is that my romanticized view of her life was completely wrong. Hers has been, and still is, a life of joyful grit, raising four sons on tour buses, hiring and firing childcare until she realized she had to do it all herself, homeschooling and writing her own childrens book to give her sons context for their unique upbringing. She revealed to me that in addition to chasing the muse, her reality is just doing “a lot of stuff for other people.” After our interview she picked up her youngest son from the airport, a 14-year-old surfer. I was struck that she called him a surfer, it seemed to acknowledge his autonomy in a way that I have rarely seen by a parent to a child.
As I think back on it now, the horror of American political divisiveness hadn’t yet hit its stride, and in the course of our dialogue about what might come from a Trump administration, she spoke of the looming presence of racism, sexism, and classism in America by simply stating at one point, “how dare we, as humans still be doing this.” Still. That word jumped out at me, because it acknowledged a culture that is trapped in something deeply backward.
The most profound message I got from this meeting was what it looks like when someone fully embodies her purpose. Her job is to just do the work she needs to do, and to be able to do it takes commitment to a process. In her case, a daily process of being in a studio and laboring, "its like my painting studio." This kind of steadfast, monk-like devotion is what a true creative life looks like. I cherish this so much in our world , as this moment feels so hyper self-conscious. Kristin owns her approach, and stays true to it, looking inward rather than outward. Joyfully plundering the mysteries of the inner dimensions, I believe is what great artists do, and I think contained within this effort is the power to heal our world.
Kristin Hersh’s latest release is ‘Wyatt at The Coyote Palace’, released on vinyl via Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records, which is available at http://hhbtm.com/item.php?item_id=638, and as a double CD/book combo via Omnibus Press via https://www.kristinhersh.com/books/wyatt-at-the-coyote-palace and digitally on Bandcamp at https://kristinhersh.bandcamp.com
Find her 50FOOTWAVE offerings at https://50footwave.bandcamp.com