At the onset of her latest tour, I was able to talk with Kristin Hersh, of Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave, about her newest release, the book and cd combination entitled, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. Surrounded by kids, dogs and planes flying over, a conversation with the American artist took place, where she eloquently discussed touring, death and the point of it all.
You’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the UK, haven’t you? How do they compare to you, the US and the UK?
KH: “My youngest calls London, his London. He doesn’t say London, he says, my London! I probably feel about as home in both places. Because, the UK I can grasp, there’s a history, there’s a character. But the US is 50 states, so it takes a while to traverse, even psychologically or even sociologically.”
What is it you are looking forward to most out of this tour?
KH: “I like being thrust into that slow hearing mode, and I like having everything taken away to conceive the line between what you want and what you need. I don’t enjoy it” she says laughingly, “but I like it. I think it’s important. It’s very hard for people to understand the lifestyle. It’s like, you try walking away, from everything you do everyday. Try living without, and let that go on for like six to eight months of the year, and then you realise, well, I’m just a body. I’m just floating, and so, if you can still love and work, you win. I haven’t won yet. It’s sort of a wait and see thing!”
You mentioned touring is something that should be mundane by now, and you’ve got a killer tour, so how do you keep it from being so?”
KH: “That’s just the beginning… then there’s America, then Australia, Europe, Asia, and then the whole thing starts over again. It’s scary… I hear slowly, and there’s a ton of space between every note. That’s why, in every place you go, that’s why you are the alone person. When everyone else has a life and a job, friends and family and homes to go to. You’re there because of those notes, and it’s like being able to see the atoms that make up everything around you. That slow hearing. It forms your sensibilities on the road to the point where you’re just floating in space. It’s like freaking scary.”
I wanted to ask you about the theme from Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. I find it so refreshing, your talking about death in so much of it. It’s a subject most people try their whole lives to avoid.
KH: “Yeah, that’s true. Wow. Death is refreshing? Well, it didn’t occur to me there was analogous prose to this record until I realised I was putting it out as a book, like the last few records. I just used a conversation I had with a friend, over sushi at the beach, where he pointed out that my bandmates and I, tell funny stories kind of constantly, and they all involve dying. I said, ‘No, that can’t be’, so he started to recount the last half dozen conversations we had, and it was all, me and my bandmates, talking about dying and how hilarious it was. So, I started writing, just transcribing the conversation which continued through New Orleans and New York and L.A. I realised that it’s not that we take death seriously, as humans, it’s that we take life seriously and we don’t take ourselves seriously, so if we don’t get any more life, who the fuck cares, but while we’re here, we’re gonna care.”
A lot of people consider music in the same as a conversation. Do you ever approach your songwriting like that?
KH: “I don’t approach my songwriting. I don’t know how to answer that. I just hear songs or I did my whole life. It stopped about two years ago. So, the record 50 Foot Wave just put out, and this, all of the material was written before I stopped hearing songs.”
Is that scary for you? That you stopped hearing them?
KH: “I probably should be, but no. It’s just quiet.”
That’s probably refreshing?
KH: “Yes! A refreshing death!
I noticed the conversational element of the book, because you don’t present traditional narratives, and that’s what I’ve like about your former writing. I like that conversational thread that goes through this one as well.
KH: “The only reason they are being published as books, because, I just like books, and I don’t like CDs. Maybe that’s more to the point? I don’t like handing someone a piece of plastic and saying ‘Here, adopt my religion‘, but I don’t mind handing someone a book and saying ‘Here adopt my religion!‘. I think that’s where the theme of death come from; that finite quality that is the nature of why we’re here. It’s so hard and sweet. It was good for me, to have my drummer say, ‘That is the work.’ You know, ‘Pencils down Kris!’ is hard for me to hear. When I finished the final edit on the book, I was finishing the final edit on the record with my engineer, and it’s impossible that happened after five years of work, that in the same moment I would finish both the book and the record! It’s impossible, but that’s how it happened and my engineer and I looked at each other, stricken. He said ‘Kris, you need a beer!’ and I was like ‘No, beer is not enough’, so he reached for the gin. It isn’t that much better, but it did help. It is the finite nature of why we are here, to put your pencil down and walk away. Otherwise, it’s not a gift, to, I don’t want to use the word attachment, that’s as bad as mindfulness, but, if you leave any of your fingers in that pie, you will be attached to it, you won’t be able to give it away as a gift and that’s the whole point. Obviously, it’s not about what we get here, it’s what we give here.”