Kristin Hersh

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Kristin Hersh
Kristin Hersh.jpg
Kristin Hersh, New Orleans, LA May 20, 2010
Background information
Born (1966-08-07) August 7, 1966 (age 49)
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
Genres Alternative rock, folk, pop
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, author
Instruments Guitar, vocals
Years active 1981–present
Labels 4AD Records
Throwing Music
Sire/Reprise/Warner Bros. Records
Associated acts Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave
Notable instruments

Kristin Hersh (born August 7, 1966) is an American singer, songwriter and author.

Early life[edit]

Born in Atlanta as Martha Kristin Hersh, she was raised in Newport, Rhode Island. She learned guitar at age nine from her father, and started writing songs soon after.

Musical career[edit]

Throwing Muses and early solo work[edit]

Hersh with Throwing Muses at San Francisco's Noise Pop Festival, 2014

While in high school, Hersh formed Throwing Muses in 1983 with stepsister Tanya Donelly and friends including Elaine Adamedes, Becca Blumen, Leslie Langston and David Narcizo. Hersh sang and wrote most of Throwing Muses' songs in changing tempos, with Donelly composing and singing some of the songs as well.

Throwing Muses, then based in Boston, Massachusetts, was the first American group to be signed by the British 4AD Records label in 1986, releasing the EP, Chains Changed. In the next few years, the EP The Fat Skier and the album House Tornado were released and the band opened for The Pixies during their first UK tour. The 4AD biography of the band describes their sound as "...joining the dots between elliptical post-punk, harmonious folk jangle and rockabilly thunder without ever settling into standard genre patterns."[1]

Throwing Muses 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 an additional career on Sire/Reprise and 4AD as an acoustic solo 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.

After receiving some airplay and major media coverage for Throwing Muses album University in 1995, Hersh moved to Rykodisc for her 1996 Throwing Muses album, Limbo, and her 1998 solo album, Strange Angels. In order to better control her career and the distribution of her recorded material she created the ThrowingMusic label with husband/manager Billy O'Connell in 1996. This enabled her to co-release certain Hersh-related projects, including an ongoing download subscription service called Works in Progress (WIP) for releases available through the label's website.

By the mid-90s, David Narcizo became Throwing Muses' drummer and remains so. In 1999, Hersh also participated in Narcizo's Lakuna solo project album release, Castle of Crime. In 2013, Throwing Muses released Purgatory/Paradise, a 32-track album accompanied by a book designed by Narcizo featuring photos, artwork and lyrics by Hersh. It was the band's first release in ten years.[2]

2000 to present[edit]

Bowery Ballroom in NYC 2007

In 2001, Hersh released the Sunny Border Blue solo album, on which she again played nearly all instruments. She has described this 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's collaborated 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 her Throwing Muses group was also released, the first since Limbo. Both were recorded at Steve Rizzo's studio in Rhode Island.

Also in 2003, she formed a power rock trio called 50 Foot Wave, when Narcizo was unable to tour on a full-time basis due to other commitments. Her touring appearances and recording efforts in 2004 and 2005 centered around both 50 Foot Wave and her solo career.

In 2005, Hersh recorded a cover version of Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation" for American Laundromat Records 80's film tribute.

In January 2007, Hersh released her first solo album in four years, entitled Learn to Sing Like a Star.[3]

On November 26, 2007, Hersh announced the opening of CASH Music.[4] The subscriber-based, direct-to-consumer model had its first year-long project in the form of what was supposed to be an album called Speedbath, which was released one song per month for free at Kristin's CASH website. 50 Foot Wave also released an EP titled Power+Light through the CASH organization. January 2009 began another series of one track per month for free on the website, and the tracks wound up cohering without the song "Speedbath" at all; the new record, Crooked, was released in 2010. It was available to buy as a hardback book which included essays on the songs and a link to download the album and related tracks.

In 2008, Hersh recorded a cover of Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" for the American Laundromat Records charity CD "Cinnamon Girl - Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity". She also released a second collection of Appalachian folk songs, The Shady Circle.

Themes and style[edit]

Hersh's vocal style ranges from softly melodic to impassioned screaming. A few of her songwriting subjects have included 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").

The New York Times pointed to Hersh's explorations of "rage, aggression and mental chaos" as evidence that there were at least a few female rock music artists by the early 1990s pushing against gender role boundaries to express "more than simply vulnerability or defiance" in their work.

She has stated that hearing "pieces of songs" clanging together in her mind compelled her to take the pieces apart and craft songs from them. "If I don't turn ideas into songs, they can get stuck in me and make me sick," she said in a 1995 interview with AOL's Critics' Choice electronic music magazine.


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


Hersh discussing her memoir Rat Girl with Dan Charnas at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival.

Hersh's memoir, Rat Girl (2010, Penguin Books), covers the early stages of Throwing Muses in the mid-1980s when she was in her late teens.[5] The UK version of the book is entitled Paradoxical Undressing (2011).

Hersh wrote and illustrated a children's book, Toby Snax (2007, Delicate Press), and in 2011, she developed the book as an interactive app for children. The app allows children to hear her read out loud and also features her recordings of lullabies that she learned as a girl in Tennessee.[6]

Her book, Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt (Texas University Press, 2015), is about her friendship with the late Vic Chesnutt. In a 2015 interview, she described the musical traits they shared:

"We found common ground in the fact that we couldn't help sounding the way we did. Sometimes he tried to sound like other people, but to me, that felt like clothes that didn't fit him very well... Vic taught me fluid timing and the grace of a melody that breaks the rules of meter."[7]

Solo works discography[edit]

Further information: Kristin Hersh discography

Studio albums[edit]

With Throwing Muses[edit]

With 50 Foot Wave[edit]


  1. ^ Throwing Muses Biography 4AD Artists. Retrieved on October 20, 2015
  2. ^ Pan, Arnold. "'A Keyhole View of Our Goofy World' - Kristin Hersh on Purgatory / Paradise," PopMatters, 21 November 2013. Retrieved on October 20, 2015.
  3. ^ London, Larry (26 February 2007). "Kristin Hersh Releases New CD". VOA News (Voice of America). Retrieved 1 January 2009. 
  4. ^ CASH Music
  5. ^ "Rock Book Show Interview: Kristin Hersh – Rat Girl," April 18, 2011. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  6. ^ Becker, Emily. "Kristin Hersh Brings Talent To iPad Book For Kids," AppAdvice, June 29, 2011. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
  7. ^ Mistich, Dan. "Kristin Hersh Remembers Vic Chesnutt in Story and Song," Flagpole, Athens, GA, September 30, 2015. Retrieved September 30, 2015.


External links[edit]