Lifers #1 – Throwing Muses LP preview

Throwing Muses

I thought it would be nice to mark the imminent release of the new Throwing Muses LP ‘Purgatory/Paradise’ with a feature of some kind.

Knowing that a number of Scottish based musicians were fans, the idea of trying to involve them took hold. But when my plea for anyone to take part on Twitter was retweeted by Kristin herself, the scope of the feature was expanded slightly!

The idea initially was for a short set of answers to a set of questions. But whilst some did exactly what they were asked to do, keeping answers short seems to be a problem for at least some of Kristin’s fans! So this is probably longer than it should be …

Introduce yourselves please – who are you and what do you do? 

CM: “My name is Charles A Murray, shortened to Chic (when I moved to Scotland in ’74) and then to Chi (in secondary school – aged 15-16)… I now play in a band called FAKE, hence fakechi…

“I am employed as an ICT Teacher/ Network Manager/ IT Guru at a special needs school in Perthshire.  Musically I play guitar (badly) in FAKE, a metalcore kinda 3 piece.  Previous bands = Junk, Fuel.”

DW: “Dan Willson – I perform as Withered Hand and write songs, sing them etc.”

PK: “I am Peter Kelly and I play music called Beerjacket. I write and record music (now with a producer, but for years lo-fi) of the alt-folk ilk, informed by American indie-rock first and foremost with other more rustic sounding influences like Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen as a sonic vehicle.”

DV: “I’m Dominic Venditozzi , writer/ singer/ guitarist for Sonny Carntyne.”

MN: “Matt Nicely – My passions are writing (fiction and now blogging, I guess), although I get paid to work in the construction technology field. I am also a wannabe/amateur drummer (David N. being one of my faves – oh those tom tom sounds). I am 42 years old and am married to a woman, and we have two small children (2 and 5). We live in Portland, Oregon.

“Most of my energies go to chasing my kids around, working, writing when I have the time, reading, doing my best to keep my relationship functional and vibrant, and listening to music during my commute to work. (Rarely get to live shows these days.) My official title is Business Systems Analyst, which really means that I talk to both the business and the IT folks and try to explain one side to the other.”

How did you first get introduced to Throwing Muses/Kristin Hersh?

MN: “I discovered the Muses in the early 90s when a friend made me a mix tape (remember those?). My entry point was ‘The Real Ramona,’ which is still one of my favorites. Tanya’s songs were what originally drew me in, but the enigmatic nature of Kristin’s music and lyrics is what turned me into a kind of ridiculous rabid fan. I bought ‘Hunkpapa’ next and then ‘Hips and Makers.’ I think the only album I haven’t heard is ‘Red Heaven.’ “

DW: “Via Pixies, I bought into other 4ad bands at the time.”

CM: “Used to listen to the Cocteaus and other 4AD stuff so heard about the Muses early on.”

PK: “I first encountered Throwing Muses through Kristin’s debut solo album, ‘Hips and Makers’.  I was a big REM fan as a teenager and I think it was initially hearing Michael Stipe sing on ‘Your Ghost’ that attracted my attention. However, (no disrespect to Stipey – he’s obviously a singularly remarkable artist) his role in the song rightly receded as Kristin’s influence on me as a fan, a musician and a person grew. And I’m talking within a few plays of the song: that influence grows daily and it’s been nineteen years since I first heard Kristin’s music.

“After buying ‘Hips and Makers’, I entered ‘Red Heaven’ before graduating at ‘University’… it goes on. The music of Kristin Hersh, Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave has and continues to soundtrack my life more consistently, more powerfully and more profoundly than any other band or artist ever could.”

DV: “Through my brother Michael in my teens.”

What’s your favourite Muses and/or Kristin LP?

PK: “This changes regularly. I have so many memories attached to so many of them. It would be clichéd to say it’s like being asked to pick between your children (although it’s actually more accurate to think of myself at various points of life as many children of all of them).

“I really do struggle to answer this. For Throwing Muses, I’ll go for ‘The Real Ramona’ but I’m far from happy to choose. It feels like a betrayal of all the others. The beauty of the Muses is that they’re never really the same band twice from record to record.

“Of Kristin’s solo records, I love ‘Strange Angels’ the most. It has some of my favourite ever songs like ‘Gazebo Tree’ and there’s an assuredness throughout that heightens its emotional depth. She has made so many other amazing solo records – all of which sound unmistakeably like her alone, yet none sound the same. “

CM: “Fave = ‘Throwing Muses’ (the debut) although I do like ‘The Fat Skier’ and most, if not all, tracks off the other albums up until ‘The Real Ramona’.  I then kinda drifted away.  I picked up ‘University’ in a charity shop a few years after it was released and then didn’t  really listen to any stuff after that.”

DW: “‘The Real Ramona’.”

DV: “‘The Real Ramona’.”

MN: “’University’ is the band’s master work. Hands down. Don’t get me wrong: ‘House Tornado’ is brilliant, as is ‘Hunkpapa’, but ‘University’ is an amazing album. And this in no way is meant as a diss on Tanya’s contributions, both in song-writing and harmonizing/playing – I think she’s fab. But there is something so…tight and punishing and transcendent about the three-piece grinding its way through the songs on ‘University’ – it’s just a cathartic, mesmerizing, transporting listening experience. Hard to pick a favorite track, but I’ll always love ‘Surf Cowboy.’”

What was your first and/or favourite Muses/Kristin show?

DV: “I saw Kristin the other year at the Edinburgh Book Festival which was intimate, intense and really encouraging about the issues surrounding mental health and creativity.”

CM: “Fat Sam’s (Dundee) 80 something… (see pic below)”


Photo (c) Charles A Murray

DW: “A solo Edinburgh house show earlier in the year. She read from her wonderful book.”

PK: “Again, it’s not like any show is a replica of another, despite Throwing Muses’ remarkable consistency as a band. There’s always something distinct in the air owing to Kristin’s amazing connection and sensitivity to some special otherness that is hers alone. Throwing Muses’ most recent Glasgow show a couple of years ago made me feel like I’d been dragged back and forth through the best part of twenty years of my life, snagging on the music that built me as I went. They played almost everything I’ve ever loved.”

MN:Sadly, I only made it to one Muses show: The University tour when they played La Luna here in Portland. What a great fucking show. And Kristin played ‘Two Step’ which is one of my all-time favorite songs. Bernard and Dave make for such a poly-rhythmic, snaking counterpoint to Kristin’s music and the trio must be experienced live.

“Kristin and family lived in Portland when she released ‘Sing Like a Star,’ and she played a bunch of small rooms at the time. I saw every one I could. Being able to experience her music in such intimate settings was powerful. She’s great fun to talk to, as you no doubt experienced yourself. “

With long recording artists, there seems to be an element of “half life decay” in terms of interest as folk get older/get involved in other things. What was the last Muses and/or Kristin record (and/or book) you bought? 

PK: “In both cases – Kristin and the Muses – the last thing they released is always the last thing I bought. I buy everything she releases, both literally and metaphorically. As regards her book, ‘Paradoxical Undressing’ (or ‘Rat Girl’ in the US) is the best and most beautiful literary expression of how it feels to play music that I have ever read and aside from its reflection of the creative mind, is simply a remarkable story of human experience.

“There’s a reason why KH/Muses fans are lifers and why the “half life decay” syndrome is irrelevant here: this music is like a spirit, not a body. It will not decompose as its composition is pure and unfettered by the “creative process” – Kristin just listens and reports the music as it appears to her. A manmade song will die; Kristin rescues the spirits of songs from limbo and gives them a home.”

CM: “After stopping “following” them, a couple of years back I saw something about Rat Girl and decided to buy it… It’s brilliant, and revived my love of The Muses and Kristin Hersh.”

DW: “I bought ‘Rat Girl’ on import.”

MN: “I feel I must disqualify my answer because, thanks to work and kids eating up most of my personal time, I rarely buy music (or have an inkling of what’s going on) outside of the artists I love and can rely on. Objectively, Kristin keeps her song-writing vital with her solo outings and ’50 Foot Wave.’ There’s great cross-pollination.

“The last Muses album I purchased was the 2003 release (I also acquired a copy of their bootleg live show in Europe…when they played ‘Manic Depression’…shit, can’t remember the name.)

“The last Kristin album I bought was ‘Sing Like a Star.’

“I get that this ‘half-life’ phenomenon is a reality, but Kristin is as vital and important a song-writer as ever. She’s one of those rare, ‘pure’ artists who truly can’t do anything with her life energy but create music. These types of folks are so rare, and such a gift, that you have to along for the ride. You have to. I have no trouble putting her in a camp with someone like Dylan.”

DV: “This is a terrible answer but I haven’t bought any music as my own creativity seems to get overtaken when I hear things I like and I need to then disregard it in order to re-discover my own thoughts again. I usually only listen to Radio 3. I want to get round to reading the book from that show but life with 3 children and a steady job with my own musical endeavours have come first!”

In one sentence can you explain what draws you into Muses/Kristin’s music?

CM: “I particularly enjoy how different musical styles, which shouldn’t necessarily go together, are interwoven within each song, along with the unpredictability of lyrics and vocal melodies.”

DW: “Honesty/empathy/therapy.”

PK: “Kristin married my head and my heart in the church of her songs where they’ll honeymoon forever.”

DV: “Intensity and pop sensibility.”

MN: “This is what I wrote to Kristin: Her lyrics have an inherent dream logic where all the connections make sense just below the surface of the music’s flow. (They also ROCK.)”

Any Muses stories to share? 

DW: “Kristin signed my old copy of ‘The Real Ramona’ for my daughter. Here’s to a new generation of Throwing Muses fans.”

CM: “I met the Muses in Edinburgh in ’89 after the Queens Hall gig in Edinburgh where I got a set of autographs (inc Langston) and a kiss from Tanya…  I also remember seeing them at Calton Studios in Edinburgh and then going onto a club in Lothian Road, where the band showed up after the gig.  I talked to Dave and Tanya…”

DV: “I named a song ‘Ramona’ after the memory of that album playing a large part of my musical psyche as a developing teen. I sent it to Kristen and she described it as “Just beautiful.” I love knowing that she felt that way about something I made. “

MN: “I wish. I’ve met Kristin, but I haven’t met the other Muses. The La Luna gig was one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.”

PK: “I’ve written too much already… My first Throwing Muses gig was at the Glasgow Plaza when I was a young teenager and my Dad and I missed all but the last three songs. Worst of all was that in the Plaza, you entered from behind the stage so I saw from three-dimensions the band finishing their set before I arrived at (and they left) the stage. My poor Dad felt so bad for me that he hurriedly wrote a note for Kristin asking if I could come and meet them backstage. Only thing was that he slipped the note under the cleaning cupboard door, leading to no fanboy band meet ‘n’ greet and pretty much only greetin’.

“Now that I’ve known Kristin for years, I have no doubt that she would have sympathised if only the note had not been with the mops and brushes. She’s the loveliest, most genuine and big-hearted person you could hope to meet, as well as the most inspired and inspiring.

“I love her to bits.”

Thanks to every one for taking part. More Throwing Muses fans next weekend …

 ‘Purgatory/Paradise’ is released on October 29th as a regular CD but also through the Friday Project as a book/CD. Demos of some of the songs on the record can be found here.

Kristin spoke to MPT about the record a couple of years ago here and here.

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