Throwing Muses Oran Mor

Finally, here’s the second Throwing Muses piece which has partly been delayed by real life but also by the hope that a couple of further contributions might arrive. (Still time for a part 3 if they do).

The new Muses album/book ‘Purgatory/Paradise’ is released tomorrow officially – you really should get a copy. Hopefully the following contributions from Christine Hughes (CH), Simon Cuthbert-Kerr (SCK), Andy Wood (AW) and Manic Pop Thrills will get you in the mood …

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

Christine Hughes (CH): Married. Mom to 3 daughters.  By day I’m a project manager at a web development company in Cambridge,MA. By night I administer Kristin’s website and online store.

Simon Cuthbert-Kerr (SCK):  I play guitar in Wozniak, and also do some less fun but more stressful stuff that allows me to buy more effects pedals.

AW: I’m Andy Wood, sometime gig promoter, occasional writer and Hooker for Jesus. I also have a day job with the Civil Service.

MPT: By day the ultimate local government bureaucrat. By night Scottish music blogger and long term Muses fan.

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

CH: I first heard Throwing Muses on an autumn day in 1987. I had bought a sampler CD because I loved the other bands featured on it. When A Feeling came on, it stopped me dead in my tracks. I spent the next several months scouring local indie record stores for anything I could find on this band. These were the days before the internet, it wasn’t easy.

SCK I heard a live broadcast on the Evening Session on Radio 1 in about 1990 or 1991.  I still have the tape, having been an obsessive taper of radio, although I don’t have anything to play it on anymore. (MPT – I’ve got that tape, Simon – need to rip it!)

MPT: It must have been late ’86 and there was this lonely record sleeve in Europa Music in Alloa, which I eventually worked out was the debut LP. It seemed to sit there for ages with no-one buying it. Such that I eventually bought it and the rest is history.

Which would be a great story if that last sentence was true! More prosaically a mate played me ‘The Fat Skier’ around the same time and I was hooked as I’d never heard anything like it.

AW: I think the first song I heard that I was aware of was ‘America (She Can’t Say No) which I was sure I’d seen on a late night TV show but as it wasn’t a single that seems a little unlikely. I was aware of the band, particularly in the wake of the joint tour with The Pixies which had generated a lot of extremely positive press and I worked my way back from there. It was probably around that time that I really started listening to them (1989). Seeing them on Snub TV was amazing, this twisted, beautiful music on tea-time BBC 2 was a really important moment. In the interview they talked about post-feminism and identity and the influences behind the song. Kristin and Tanya appeared very young but wise beyond their years. They played ‘Dizzy’ and ‘Mania’. I fell in love with them. I must have watched that clip hundred of times until the video tape dissolved. For a while I thought the lyric in ‘Mania’ ‘Marshmallow brain /  I need an umbrella / If I’m gonna stand in the rain’ was ‘Marshmallow brain / I need an amphetamine’ which I thought was pretty strong stuff for pre-watershed TV but actually, the lyrics to ‘Mania’ are terrifying enough without me misinterpreting them.

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

CH: I generally don’t like to pick favorites, but if I had to, I’d go with ‘House Tornado’. It’s the most dense of all the Throwing Muses albums. It took me several years to fully get it, honestly, but I was young back then. I think the best albums need to stew for a while, they last longer.

I treat Kristin’s solo work separately from the band’s, and I’ve got to pick Sunny Border Blue as my favorite there. This album is heartwrenching, deeply emotional and hard. It’s not easy to listen to but it really showcases Kristin’s talent for making difficult things sound so incredibly beautiful. I’m drawn to that contrast. It’s beautiful because it’s real, and the music never lies.

SCK: The Real Ramona

AW: I don’t know if I have a favourite to be absolutely honest. Possibly the first two Throwing Muses albums struck me the most as I was at that teenage point of really getting back into music for myself, and those records made a huge impact on me. They were full of great songs that sounded both pop and alien to me, which is something I’ve always loved in music. It might be fairer to say that there isn’t any album that anyone involved in Throwing Muses has been involved in that I haven’t found something to like on.

MPT: A really tough one but since loads of people have picked ‘The Real Ramona’ I’ll go with ‘House Tornado’, the first Muses LP I bought on day of release. The wild energy of the debut is slightly more under control but it still sounds completely original to me today. It’s a fantastically varied record and there’s several songs which still pop up periodically in live shows.

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

CH: I have probably seen Kristin, Throwing Muses and 50FOOTWAVE play close to a hundred times by now (or so). My first show was in May of 1988 in NYC during the House Tornado tour. Pixies opened. I remember standing close to the front, between Kristin and Tanya and being in awe of the sounds coming from these ladies not much older than myself. I didn’t even have House Tornado yet, only the earlier records and EPs, so I didn’t know everything they played at the time, but I loved every sound they made. This band was like no one I’d ever heard before. I loved them more after seeing that music happen on stage.

SCK: I have only seen Throwing Muses once – at Primavera in 2009.

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Throwing Muses – Fat Sam’s, Dundee – February 1989 (photo by Charles A Murray)

AW: Fat Sams on Sunday 19th February 1989. They were absolutely fabulous. They had been touring with The Sundays as support. The Sundays had been the recipients of tons of positive press and were the flavour of the month but they didn’t play the Dance Factory show. The story given was that they had pulled out to attend a friend’s wedding though my suspicion was that Dance Factory couldn’t be bothered paying for supports – there rarely were any. Anyway, a good few people decided not to come in as The Sundays weren’t playing which was a big mistake – they were a good band but I’d seen them live before and they weren’t all that. Throwing Muses played a fantastic show and afterwards my friends and I were dancing to the post-gig disco and the Muses asked us if they could join us. I danced with Tanya Donnelly. Given that, at eighteen, I was terminally shy and would never have dreamt of asking a female to dance to with me, let alone an alternative indie-pop goddess, I’m surprised I never ran off and hid in the toilets for the rest of the night. I did a fanzine at the time and regretted afterwards not asking for an interview there and then but you can’t have everything can you? Or can you…

MPT: Really impossible to pick a favourite. The first one was part of the best gig of my life, March 1988 Newcastle Riverside, the co-headline tour with Pixies. Two bands at the height of their powers – a show never to be topped. Whilst the Pixies were never quite as good again, the Muses just seemed to stay at the top of their game. I genuinely can’t remember a show out of the 8 or 9 I’ve seen that wasn’t special.

Then there were the two shows at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh whilst the ‘comeback’ shows in Glasgow in 2003 and 2011 were special because, before both of them, I really didn’t think I’d ever see the band play together again.

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?

CH: The one constant in my life since I was 17 years old has been Throwing Muses. My love for this band has only grown over the past 26 years and I’ve bought every single thing Kristin’s ever done.

SCK: I bought the last solo LP (Crooked), which came with a cool book.  I must admit that I have bits and pieces of Kristin’s discography rather than the whole thing.  It’s always interesting.

AW: I have to confess that after Hips and Makers I drifted away from Kristin and kind of gravitated towards Belly. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t enjoy the album as I lost interest in the singer/songwriter thing which didn’t seem as visceral or joyous. The last thing I bought was Paradoxical Undressing which is a fantastic book and drew me back into the Muses and Kristin again. I was also very happy to receive copies of Kristin’s Crooked and 50 Foot Wave’s Golden Ocean from your good self. I guess that’s the fun thing with long careers, there are always potential treats to find later on.

MPT: Whatever the last release was (probably the last 50 Foot Wave E.P.) I’ve never left the Muses but initially wasn’t so keen on the all-acoustic early solo records so I didn’t buy the post ‘Hips and Makers’ albums with the same alacrity as the Muses records. Fortunately as I’ve grown older, I’ve learnt to appreciate these self same solo LPs anew.

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

CH: I love Throwing Muses because their music is timeless, smart, interesting and it leaves me thinking, even old songs continue to have an impact on my life 20+ years later.

SCK: With Throwing Muses I was always taken with the intricacy of the music, particularly the guitar playing.  My favourite stuff is from when Tanya Donnelly was in the band because the interplay between the two guitars was always really interesting, and all topped off with an intense woman muttering and shouting.  What’s not to like?!

AW: I still find it incredibly intense, alien and sometimes emotionally overwhelming but also inviting, gorgeous and warm.

MPT – In a word – unique. There’s very few artists you can say that about.

Any Muses stories to share?

CH: In 1994 my friend and I flew from Boston to London because Kristin was playing solo gigs and Throwing Muses were doing a couple of shows, too. We surprised Kristin when we ran into her on the street outside the Cambridge Theatre. There, we learned that the band was playing a show up in Glasgow a few days later, then doing an unannounced set afterward at King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut. I took the train up to Glasgow for those shows, It was spontaneous and a little crazy (my friend opted to stay in London) to go to Glasgow just for a couple of gigs, but that’s what I did. I didn’t see much of the city except for an adventure with the band to find a Thai restaurant which turned out to be completely gone, but I’m still hopeful I’ll get back there someday for a proper visit.

SCK: I could have seen Kristin Hersh in 1994 at Radio 1 Sound City in Glasgow – she was on a bill with Tindersticks.  Instead, being a big fan of Buffalo Tom I bought tickets to see them and the Wonder Stuff, only for Buffalo Tom to play for about 15 minutes and the Wonder Stuff (who I have never liked) to play for about 2 hours.  Still kicking myself…

AW: There’s the above dancing with Tanya story. Also, I won a copy of ‘Dizzy’ in a competition on Radio Tay once. Well it was a mixed batch of 100 singles, one of which was ‘Dizzy’ which shone in amongst a bundle of nonsense, 95% of which was given away,

I did get to interview Throwing Muses in a roundabout kind of way. I interviewed Belly on the Glasgow leg of their tour to promote the second album King in the foyer of a rather posh hotel. What struck me as that although Tanya had already had something of a successful career Belly were very much a band and she was very down-to-earth and not starry at all and it was a wonderful experience. More recently I co-interviewed Kristin Hersh in a much less grand hotel and I felt really nervous at the start but afterwards, felt as though I’d had a really great chat with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in a few years. These are two interviews that I really enjoyed the most out of all the people I’ve met in music.

MPT: Apart from trying to sell Dave a spare ticket as he went in to the 2003 gig in Glasgow? To be fair it had been a while and he did have a beard! And a wry smile!!

Otherwise, probably the same interview as Andy above. Kristin and Billy were having a business meeting before our interview and when we turned up they were still in that meeting – in the hotel lobby. So it seemed polite not to eavesdrop and we retired to the front steps of the hotel.

After a few minutes we heard the door open and a voice, with a touch of a laugh in it,  asking us ‘Do you like it out here?’. It was Kristin.

Oh, and sitting there in the interview thinking ‘Wood – when are you actually going to say something?’!

Thanks to Christine, Simon and Andy for taking part in this series – I hope that you enjoy their contributions.

Demos of some of the songs on the new album can be found here.

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

Part 1 of this feature featuring Peter Kelly, Dan Willson, Chic Murray, Matt Nicely and Dominic Venditozzi can be found here.

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