How Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh found her own muse of peace

The Throwing Muses are back and their singer is fighting fit

It’s been 10 years since the influential US alt-rockers Throwing Muses last released an album, and during that time, singer Kristin Hersh has channelled her energies into a variety of other creative endeavours.

There have been solo projects, side projects and a memoir, 2011’s Paradoxical Undressing, in which she laid bare what she had often referred to in interviews and in her music: that songs, for her, were like demons arriving unbidden, and often unwanted, requiring her to deal with them the way one would an exorcism. Every time a new song arrived, she says, “it triggered a suicidal urge”.

One might reasonably wonder, then, quite why she has decided to return to the band she formed in Rhode Island back in 1983, and which went on to become one of America’s most admired cult acts, given the personal cost of doing so. As she says herself, “Anyone who has ever cared for me has suggested I stop playing music altogether. That’s just how much of a big deal it has been to me.”

But Purgatory/Paradise, the band’s latest album, which is presented with a 64-page booklet of often esoteric essays (on how to keep warm in a New England winter and other sundry musings), represents a new, and crucially different, chapter in the singer’s life. Though the 32-track album is instantly recognisable as a Throwing Muses project – like their peers REM, they manage to sound quite like nobody else, their songs coiled and complex, their melodies seesawing jarringly, while Hersh can still sing as if chewing on nettles – these are songs she wrote of her own volition. That has never happened before.

At the age of 16, she was involved in an accident, when a car knocked her off her bicycle and left her with double concussion. She began hearing music in a way she would later describe as “a kind of possession. I’ll give you an example. If a car drove through a puddle, most people would only hear it once. I’d hear it continually. The same with a whirring fan, on and on and on. Somehow, the sounds would alter their sonic vocabulary until I was hearing syllables, and drums. And then all these words would come.” Subsequently, just as the band were breaking big, she was diagnosed first with schizophrenia, then with bipolar disorder.

Over the years, she had tried many treatments to quell, or at least quieten, her bipolar disorder, including acupuncture. Nothing worked. But now, at last, something has. Last year, she underwent a post-traumatic stress therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing).

“It involves a bar of light flashing back and forth while you hold pulsing electrodes in your hands,” she explains. “At the same time you relive the traumatic memory that caused the break in your perception, that caused you to remain stuck. It somehow pushes that memory back into the past, and re-orients your synapses.” The procedure was, she admits, “bizarre”, but it was also successful. The result is that she is no longer assailed by music the way certain houses are by ghosts. This, she says, is a relief. “There is nothing wrong with me any more.” She offers up a deadpan smile. “Which is sort of a problem in itself.”

It is midday in Rhode Island, and we are speaking, via Skype, at Muses’ drummer Dave Narcizo’s graphic design practice (it’s his day job; the band have never made millions). The pair sit side-by-side, he in a baseball cap, she with a radiant flush in both cheeks, and a disarmingly wide grin on her face. Now 47, she explains how the band has spent the past decade, “divorcing ourselves from the recording industry, which is collapsing. We wanted no further part in it.” She never did stop writing songs – she estimates she has penned 150 in the past few years alone – and gravitated back into the Muses not for the sake of a possible reunion cash-in, but simply because the momentum seemed to call for it.

“We’ve always lived in our own private world,” she says, “and we might  well have made this record and never released it, but we felt it was worthy of release.” Any success it may glean, she adds, “is what it should be, and not governed by how many people [in the media] happen to be paying attention to it”.

It is the first thing she has ever done that she has been able to listen to afterwards, but that doesn’t mean she is necessarily at peace with herself yet.

“In one way, I feel like I have just dropped out of the sky,” she says of the EMDR success, “but my life is not easy right now. I’ve had to start over.” She explains, haltingly, that her husband of 25 years and longtime manager, Billy O’Connell, left her just as she was going through her therapy. “These things happen to people all the time, of course, but it’s been really hard on me.”

And so, to fill her time, she throws herself into one project after the next. The songs are still coming, the side projects still active, and she is working on two more books, one fiction, the other memoir. “Both suck at the moment, so I’m just trying to work out which sucks less. That’s the one I’ll focus on.”

Her home life, meanwhile, despite her marriage break-up, has found a rare kind of stability. The daughter of hippies, Hersh never did like remaining in one place for too long, and has spent most of her adult life moving from state to state, her four children in tow. But now she is more or less settled, spending six months of the year in her native Rhode Island and six months in New Orleans because, as she writes in one of the album booklet’s essays, “The first time I laid eyes on New Orleans, I stood, stunned: love at first sight.

“Everything changed after Bo, my youngest, was born,” she says of her six-year-old. “It’s like he said to me, OK, I see what you’ve got going on, but things are going to change now I’m here. He asked me when we were going to stop going places. I told him that if we stopped going places, the adventures would end. But he just said, Yes, Mom, when are the adventures going to end?”

And so, for the time being, she is staying put. But she still craves more adventures, and possibly, next time, far outside the US. “Oh, for sure,” she says. “America blows.”

The Throwing Muses’ book/CD ‘Purgatory/ Paradise’ is published by The Friday Project on 29 October, priced £14.99

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific