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Interview ‘Songs always boss you around’

Indie hero KRISTIN HERSH talks to Susan Darlington about her new album's musical demands

IT'S not the most propitious start to her short British tour, but Kristin Hersh appears sanguine. “These things happen,” she responds, when asked about the airline losing the Gretsch guitar of former Throwing Muses bassist and current support act Fred Abong. “Often!”

The US alt-rock and folk musician, who also performs in power trio 50FootWave, is in the country to perform at Robert Smith's Meltdown Festival. “A lovely man,” she enthuses. “All love, no stress. What a great way to be a person!”

She’s no stranger to the musician-curated festival, having played at Patti Smith’s in 2005. Despite the show’s prestige, to her it’s just like playing any other. “I do the same thing every time I play, whether it’s in a garage, a rock club, a hotel bathroom, a theatre or a festival. Music is focus. If anyone listens, it’s communication, but that can’t happen without focus.”

Her live dates will be the first chance to hear material from forthcoming ninth solo album Possible Dust Clouds. Rough cuts have been released of two tracks — Breathe In and LAX  — which eschew the melancholy tone of 2016’s Wyatt at the Coyote Palace and veer towards grungy swagger and what she’s elsewhere described as being “fun.”

“The f-word!” she laughs. “Who knew it could be so necessary? As a producer, the sonic elements I outline on my way into the studio —  from mixing and miking techniques to effects and the nuances of performance — are always completely off-base. This record was a lovely surprise. Songs always boss you around, so what they want and what they need is always a surprise.”

This time round, the songs demanded collaborations and she worked with a slew of musician friends including Pond’s Chris Brady and 50FootWave’s Rob Ahlers. One of the tracks even features her son Wyatt True on drums. “Breathe In needed a baby genius to carry it unpretentiously out of its psychedelic hypno gutter. I had a baby genius, so I made him work for me,” she jokes.

The album is due for release early in October on Fire Records, with whom she recently signed. It marks a move away from her last three releases, issued through her Throwing Music imprint which she created after growing disillusionment with the music industry.

“The traditional recording industry is what caused all the trouble and all the rock stars,” she explains. “I’ve always sided with the sub-music industry and its indie heroes — labels, managers, record shops and videographers. At this juncture, it serves my records to be worked by some of these heroes.

“I no longer have to outsource things like distribution and promotion, art work and radio, so more of my listeners’ support can go toward funding the recordings themselves.”

She hopes to be able to continue releasing in multiple formats, with her self-released albums being in book form. These have featured a series of song essays, written in a distinctive Southern tone that “tend toward prose poetry, a blend of conversation, ideas and images.”

That impressionistic style is there in her autobiography Paradoxical Undressing and Don’t Suck, Don’t Die, her memoir of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt.

It's an impressive, cross-disciplinary work rate that shows no sign of slowing. In addition to working on her solo record she’s also been recording new Throwing Muses material, which is “hypnotic, almost new-surf with drastic dynamic shifts. Gentle and low-fi cut with crashy intensity.”

That could be the perfect summary of her output over the last three decades.

Kristin Hersh plays the Meltdown Festival in London on June 21 and is touring Britain until July 1, details: kristinhersh.com

 

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