Just enough deranged

Goodbye to the tortured artist. Kristin Hersh is trying hard to be normal.
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The Independent Culture
On stage at London's Garage, an electric guitar obscuring her six-month pregnancy, a staring, baby-faced Kristin Hersh screams out hallucinatory lyrics hoarsely and urgently. Below her, indie kids jostle while a studiously cool older crowd near the bar chatter among themselves. "Today I've arranged to be just enough deranged to relax in the arms of someone strange," sings the 28-year-old mother of two, while bassist Bernard Georges and drummer David Narcizo, play on unperturbed.

Throwing Muses have been making disconcertingly beautiful music for more than a decade, becoming a trio in 1992 after Hersh's extrovert half sister, Tanya Donelly, quit to front the now defunct pop outfit Belly. Limbo, their new album and most pared down production to date, marks the first US release on the collectively owned label Throwing Music.

For a long time people thought Hersh was, well, bonkers. But after being diagnosed four years ago as suffering from the rare Bi Polar disorder (a condition including seizures and auditory hallucinations, controllable with Lithium), Hersh now rails against the glamorised notion of the tortured artist (despite describing her songs as "big live things that come out of the wall, which have more to do with themselves than with my brain"). Sitting in the foyer of a Mayfair hotel, she assumes a detached air when speaking of Kristin the songwriter. "I like to be separate from it," she says, "so I can't say what the songs are about. They just feel more like truth and beauty than anything I ever deal with in my real life. The way we play is visceral, so that's how you have to listen or you'll think we're being wilfully kooky."

Hersh says she worships normality. She regards marriage and motherhood as parallel careers to her public persona. Her 1994 solo album, Hips and Makers ("I couldn't work out why they wanted to release it. I thought they were sorry for me because Belly had gotten so big"), made her enough to buy a house on Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband/manager, Billy O'Connell, and their five-year-old son, Ryder. Dylan, 10, lives with his father a few blocks away. "He'll never be with me full time," she says. "The courts are really behind as far as working mothers go, and with a rock band added into the equation..."

When not "doing that natural chemical job of building your hut and keeping your cubs healthy", Hersh plays with a band that "is still at the banging the coconuts under the palm tree stage. We just wait to see what happens next and it leads us around." On their own terms, of course. Fame is anathema if it means compromise. "You get a million dollars, and everyone hates you, right? Then your kids are rich kids - what do you do with rich kids?" she says, and adds, "I think people who want to be famous don't have good sex or something. They want everyone to love them and be naked for everyone. If you're happy in bed you don't need that."

So what does she make of her toothsome sibling, Tanya Donelly, poised on the brink of a spectacular solo career? "That's obviously a very different approach," says Hersh quickly. "I mean, I adore Tanya as a person, she's incredibly down to earth. People imply she's stupid because she's been in the charts! I get very defensive about what it means to be a woman in this business. It can make you seem as simple as they try to make you look. They don't let chicks be 3D, or funny, or goofy. If you're goofy, then you're not pretty any more. It's garbage. There's no beauty in that." Once, she says, at a photo-shoot for a glossy American magazine, Hersh was expected to wear a pair of lacy underpants with "Bride" emblazoned across the crotch in rhinestones. She walked out.

Hersh's band might be more successful than ever, but there will be no major lifestyle changes. Except, of course, those demanded by the imminent arrival. "We're at the level we want to be," she says with a grin. "Where we know we can make the records we want to make, good people will come and see us and the bills will get paid. In this business they think you're in a band to have a hit. That's a really insidious, offensive idea. If I wanted a hit I wouldn't even be in the Throwing Muses."

n 'Limbo' is out on 4AD