Kristin Hersh

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Kristin Hersh
Hersh in 2007
Hersh in 2007
Background information
Birth nameMartha Kristin Hersh
Born (1966-08-07) August 7, 1966 (age 57)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
  • Singer
  • musician
  • songwriter
  • Guitar
  • vocals
Years active1981–present

Martha Kristin Hersh (born August 7, 1966) is an American singer, guitarist and songwriter known for her solo work and with her rock bands Throwing Muses and 50FootWave.[1] She has released eleven solo albums. Her guitar work and composition style ranges from jaggedly dissonant to traditional folk. Hersh's lyrics have a stream-of-consciousness style, reflecting her personal experiences.[2]

Early life[edit]

Hersh was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to Newport, Rhode Island, when she was six years old. Her father was a professor at Salve Regina University in Newport and her mother a special educational needs teacher. She was interested in music at an early age and wanted to learn guitar chords; her father gave her a guitar when she was nine. Her parents separated when Hersh was 11, and her mother married the father of her best friend Tanya Donelly. Hersh talked Donelly into starting a band, then called The Muses, when they were 14.[3]

Musical career[edit]

Throwing Muses and early solo work[edit]

Throwing Muses: Tanya Donelly, Fred Abong, Hersh; Glasgow, 1991

Throwing Muses was formed in 1981 when Hersh and Donelly were freshmen in high school. Friends from school, including Elaine Adamedes, Becca Blumen, Leslie Langston and David Narcizo, were part of the group with Narcizo (and, initially, Langston) becoming a long-term member.[4] Hersh initially wrote and sang most of Throwing Muses' songs, often in changing tempos. Donelly also contributed songs and lead vocals.

Hersh attended Salve Regina University, majoring in archetypal psychology and philosophy, but dropped out shortly before graduating to establish the band in Boston, Massachusetts, where they had been playing on weekends.[3] While at Salve, Hersh befriended film actress Betty Hutton, who was attending the school in her 60s; Hutton also attended several early Throwing Muses shows in Newport.[5][6]

The Throwing Muses were signed to 4AD, the first American group to be signed on the British label, and released the EP Chains Changed in 1987. Two releases followed, the mini-LP The Fat Skier and the album House Tornado. The 4AD Throwing Muses biography describes its sound at the time as "... joining the dots between elliptical post-punk, harmonious folk jangle and rockabilly thunder without ever settling into standard genre patterns."[7] For the Throwing Muses 1986 UK tour, the Boston-based Pixies, embarking on their first European tour, was the opening band.[8]

The band signed a U.S. deal with Sire/Reprise Records in 1987 and began touring the U.S. and Europe while recording albums, with Hersh writing most of the songs. The band became a trio when Donelly left the group after 1991's The Real Ramona.

In 1994, Hersh began a solo career on Sire/Reprise and 4AD as an acoustic performer, beginning with Hips and Makers, an album sparsely arranged around her vocals, guitar, and a cellist, in contrast to the volatile, electric sound of her band work. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. made an appearance on this first solo album.[9] After receiving some airplay and major media coverage for the Throwing Muses album University in 1995, Hersh moved to Rykodisc for the band's 1996 album, Limbo, and released her solo album, Strange Angels, in 1998.

To better control her career and the distribution of her recorded material, she created the ThrowingMusic label with then-husband and manager Billy O'Connell in 1996. This enabled her to co-release some of her projects, including an ongoing download-subscription service called Works in Progress (WIP) for releases available through the label's website.[4] Hersh continued to offer her solo releases online, releasing Sky Motel in 1999.[10]

Throwing Muses functions as a noncommercial musical enterprise, focusing on touring over record sales and airplay. In a 2014 interview, Hersh stated: "As far as I'm concerned, music is not a commodity. It's something that people have earned by being human. They have a right to hear it, and a right to share it, as they always have in churches and parties. That's how music happens."[4]

2000 to present[edit]

Hersh at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, 2007

In 2001, Hersh released the Sunny Border Blue solo album, on which she again played nearly all instruments. She described the album as having even more intensity than her previous works, as she continued her pursuit of songwriting as being in part a way to transform "ugly feelings" into art. She also collaborated further with like-minded alternative artists like Vic Chesnutt, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Grant Lee Phillips and John Doe.

In 2003, she released The Grotto, an acoustic solo album of song sketches with personal lyrics set in Providence, Rhode Island, with Andrew Bird on violin and Howe Gelb on piano. On the same date a self-titled album by Throwing Muses was also released, the first since Limbo. Both were recorded at Steve Rizzo's studio in Rhode Island. When Narcizo was unable to tour on a full-time basis due to other commitments, Hersh formed her power rock trio 50FootWave. Her touring appearances and recording efforts in 2004 and 2005 centered around both 50 Foot Wave and her solo career.

Independent output[edit]

In 2007, Hersh released her first solo album in four years, entitled Learn to Sing Like a Star.[11] NPR described Hersh's "emotional and raw" pop songs as both "accessible and off-kilter."[12] Concurrently she launched CASH Music, a subscription-based, direct-to-consumer website, that was formed along with fellow musician Donita Sparks.[13] Fans can become "Strange Angels"[14] and subscribe to her output to receive albums and print releases, downloadable content, and guest spots for live shows – packages ranging from $30 per quarter to $5,000 (executive producer credit on her next album)[14] 50FootWave's EP Power+Light was released on CASH in 2009[15] and Hersh was involved in several projects—a second collection of Appalachian folk songs, The Shady Circle and a series of new free tracks. The album Crooked was released as a downloadable album and hardback book containing essays about each track.

Throwing Muses reformed in 2013 and released Purgatory/Paradise, a 32-track album accompanied by a book designed by Narcizo, who works as a graphic designer. The book features photos, artwork and lyrics by Hersh. It was the band's first release in ten years.[16]

At this point in her career, Hersh's output was independently released online. She expressed that she wanted a complete break with the music industry, stating, "Because we differ from the recording industry ethically, we had been asked to dumb down our product so many times. I have been asked to act and look like a bimbo so many times and I just decided, 'I'm not going to turn my back on my music. I'm not going to turn my back on women.' We're morally bound to not participate in the traditional recording industry because we disagree with it. So we continue to play music, which has nothing to do with the music business."[17]

In October 2016, she released the double album Wyatt at the Coyote Place and an accompanying book.[18][19] Hersh embarked on a tour in support of the album.[20]

On June 12, 2018, Hersh announced on her website that she has signed with Fire Records. Her new record, Possible Dust Clouds, was released on October 5, 2018. She finished recording the album in May of the same year.[21][22]

In February 2020, it was announced that Throwing Muses would release a new album, Sun Racket, on May 22;[23] the release was delayed to September 4.[24]

Themes and style[edit]

Throwing Muses, reformed in 2014: David Narcizo, Hersh, Bernard Georges

Hersh's vocal style ranges from softly melodic to impassioned screaming. She has an occasional vibrato that punctuates some of her more dramatic phrasing. Candid about her episodes of mental illness and despair, her songs cover a vast spectrum of topics, including childbirth ("Hysterical Bending"), love ("Tar Kissers", "Lavender"), surreal vignettes ("Delicate Cutters", "Fish"), death ("Limbo"), emotional anguish ("The Letter"), loss of custody of her first son ("Candyland"), and the shedding of a relationship's anxiety ("Snake Oil").

Simon Reynolds in The New York Times pointed to Hersh's "mesmerizing" explorations of "rage, aggression and mental chaos" as evidence of female rock artists of the early 1990s pushing against gender role boundaries to express "more than simply vulnerability or defiance" in their work.[25]

Ann Powers, also in the Times, wrote of Hersh's musical style: "Her plastic, sometimes obsessively circular song structures emphasize staggered rhythms and extreme dynamic shifts, and her voice, a carnal cry that pushes through her body gathering up air, lends her often oblique lyrics an oracular veneer."[26]


Hersh has said her parents' album collections, featuring Patti Smith, the Carter Family, Stevie Wonder, Robert Johnson, Talking Heads, The Clash, Steve Miller, The Beatles, Philip Glass, and traditional music all influenced her when she was growing up. Among her early contemporary musical influences are The Raincoats, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets, Dead Kennedys, Hüsker Dü, Velvet Underground, R.E.M., and X.


Hersh's illustrated children's book Toby Snax was published in 2007 and further developed in 2011 as an interactive app for children. The app allows children to hear her read the story out loud and features her recordings of lullabies that she learned as a girl in Tennessee.[27]

Her 2010 memoir Rat Girl (published in the UK as Paradoxical Undressing) is based on a diary she wrote when she was 18, touring with Throwing Muses, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and pregnant with her first child.[28] Rob Sheffield in The New York Times called it an "uncommonly touching punk memoir,"[6] and named it #8 in Rolling Stone's "25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time."[29]

Hersh's 2015 book Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt, is a rumination on her friendship with the singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt. She cites him as one of her songwriting influences with his "fluid timing and the grace of a melody that breaks the rules of meter."[30]

Personal life[edit]

Hersh was married to her former manager Billy O'Connell for 25 years until they divorced in 2013. She has four sons.[31] As of 2020, she is engaged to former Throwing Muses bassist Fred Abong.[32]

Hersh has talked openly about her bouts with mental illness and its role in her musical process. When she was 16, she was struck by a car while riding her bicycle, suffering a double concussion that affected the way she heard sounds. She described it as hearing ambient sounds continuously and "...the sounds would alter their sonic vocabulary until I was hearing syllables, and drums. And then all these words would come". She's stated that hearing "pieces of songs" in her mind compelled her to take the pieces apart and craft songs from them. She also claims that she doesn't remember writing her early songs—that "they wrote her".[10][31]

She has had more than one diagnosis (and misdiagnoses) for her condition, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and most recently post-traumatic and dissociative disorders, which she says have been successfully treated with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.[33]

Hersh has synesthesia; she sees musical chords in colors.[34]

Solo works discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

With Throwing Muses[edit]

With 50FootWave[edit]

Cover songs[edit]


  • Toby Snax. Delicate, 2007. ISBN 978-1934703014.
  • Rat Girl. New York: Penguin, 2010. ISBN 978-0143117391.
  • Paradoxical Undressing. Atlantic, 2011. ISBN 978-1848872394.
  • Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0292759473.
  • Toby Snax. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1477311271.
  • Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt. American Music Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016. ISBN 978-1477311363. With a foreword by Amanda Petrusich.
  • Nerve Endings: Selected Lyrics. Unbound, 2018. ISBN 978-1783525638.
  • Seeing Sideways: A Memoir of Music and Motherhood. University of Texas Press, 2021. ISBN 978-1477312346.


  1. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Kristin Hersh | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
  2. ^ Richards, John. "Nerves Exposed, Hersh Sings One for the Oddballs". NPR. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Strauss, Neil (March 9, 1995). "My So-Called Double Life: Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses Finds the Common Ground Between Motherhood and Rock & Roll". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Lewis, Judith (March 11, 2004). "Faster, Louder, Harder". LA Weekly. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  5. ^ "Beautiful Old Betty". September 27, 2007. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Sheffield, Rob (October 8, 2010). "Punk Days". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 3, 2011. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  7. ^ Throwing Muses Biography 4AD Artists. Retrieved on October 20, 2015.
  8. ^ Appearances Archive 1985–1989. Retrieved on July 6, 2016.
  9. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2003). "Kristin Hersh". AllMusic. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Freydkin, Donna (August 19, 1999). "Kristin Hersh checks into her Sky Motel". CNN Interactive. Retrieved June 27, 2016.
  11. ^ London, Larry (February 26, 2007). "Kristin Hersh Releases New CD". VOA News. Voice of America. Archived from the original on November 17, 2008. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  12. ^ Dye, David (February 21, 2007). "Kristin Hersh: Accessible and Off-Kilter". NPR. Retrieved on October 24, 2016.
  13. ^ Sisario, Ben (March 25, 2012). "Bringing an Open-Source Ethos to Bands". New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Strange Angels | Kristin Hersh". Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  15. ^ 50FootWave Power+Light. CASH Music. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  16. ^ Pan, Arnold (November 21, 2013). "'A Keyhole View of Our Goofy World' – Kristin Hersh on Purgatory / Paradise". PopMatters. Retrieved on October 20, 2015.
  17. ^ Whitmore, Laura B. (December 4, 2013). "Guitar Girl'd: Interview with Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses on New Release, 'Purgatory/Paradise'". Guitar World. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  18. ^ Martin, Ryan (September 1, 2016). "Kristin Hersh to Release Double CD/Book "Wyatt at the Coyote Palace"". Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  19. ^ Powers, Ann (October 27, 2016). "Review: Kristin Hersh, 'Wyatt At The Coyote Palace'". NPR. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  20. ^ Minsker, Evan (August 29, 2016). "Kristin Hersh Announces New Album and Book Wyatt at the Coyote Palace". Pitchfork. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  21. ^ "Kristin Hersh: Possible Dust Clouds — a vibrant set of songs". Financial Times. October 5, 2018. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  22. ^ Brodsky, Rachel (October 2, 2018). "Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh On Disassociation, Accessing Lost Memories, And Possible Dust Clouds". Stereogum. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  23. ^ Martoccio, Angie (February 25, 2020). "Throwing Muses Announce New Album, Drop 'Dark Blue'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  24. ^ Hersh, Kristin (February 26, 2020). "Throwing Muses New Album 'Sun Racket' out Sept 4, 2020". Retrieved September 23, 2021.
  25. ^ Reynolds, Simon (February 9, 1992). "POP MUSIC; Belting Out That Most Unfeminine Emotion". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  26. ^ Powers, Ann (August 31, 1999). "POP REVIEW; Surreal Visions From a Poet of Terror and Revelation". The New York Times. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  27. ^ Becker, Emily (June 29, 2011). "Kristin Hersh Brings Talent To iPad Book For Kids". AppAdvice. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  28. ^ Pollock, David (November 14, 2011). "Throwing Muses, Oran Mor, Glasgow". The Independent. Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  29. ^ Sheffield, Rob (August 13, 2012). "The 25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
  30. ^ Mistich, Dan (September 30, 2015). "Kristin Hersh Remembers Vic Chesnutt in Story and Song". Flagpole Magazine. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  31. ^ a b Duerden, Nick (October 19, 2013). "How Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh found her own muse of peace". The Independent. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  32. ^ Wray, Daniel Dylan (September 9, 2020). "Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh: 'I knew integrity would pull me into the gutter'". The Guardian. Retrieved September 10, 2020.
  33. ^ Vincent, Peter (May 30, 2014). "Ex Throwing Muses alt-rock icon Kristin Hersh says her multiple personality wrote her music". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  34. ^ Seaman, Duncan (May 8, 2021). "Strange Angels: Kristin Hersh On Music & Motherhood". The Quietus. Retrieved November 8, 2021.
  35. ^ "Kristin Hersh Discography". Archived March 19, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Soundbug. Retrieved December 2, 2004.
  36. ^ American Laundromat Records. American Laundromat Records. Retrieved on June 27, 2016.


  • Evans, Liz (1994). Women, Sex and Rock 'N' Roll: In Their Own Words. Pandora. ISBN 0-04-440900-1.
  • Post, Laura (1997). Backstage Pass: Interviews With Women in Music. New Victoria Publishers. ISBN 0-934678-84-7.
  • Shirley, David (November/December 1991). "Cracking Up Is Hard to Do: The Break-ups (and Breakdowns) of Throwing Muses". Option.

External links[edit]