Everything changes, in the last year Throwing Muses have lost their lead guitarist and co-founder Tanya Donelly, their bass player Fred Abong, this is all after a hugely successful tour across Europe supporting The Pixies. But last years ‘Red Heaven’ showed any doubters that everything’s fine in the Throwing Muses, actually better than that with new recruit, Bernard George on bass, and drummer David Narcizo, they three have all pulled together. And It shows. Steve Janes talks to Kirsten Hersh of ‘Red Heaven’, ‘TheCurse’, English sound engineers and waterfalls.
The seeds of Throwing Muses were sown when step sisters Kirsten Hersh and Tanya Donelly co-founded the band back at Rogers High School. By 1983, The Muses, as they were know, changed their name, with the arrival of drummer David Narcizo, to less gender specific name, The Throwing Muses. The band saw both Kirsten and Tanya become the songwriters and vocalists of the Newport band.
Why the history lesson? Someone is bound to enquire. Well the introduction to this interview helps you to recall the events of the past year. Tanya Leaving Throwing Muses to form a band with Kim Deal of The Pixies al a The Breeders were born… Then asking Throwing Muses bass player, Fred Abong to join Tanya in her new band, Belly. The result has left the ranks of Throwing Muses somewhat sparse. The only two visible members are Kristen Hersh and David Narcizo with Bernard George on bass guitar, hopefully on a full time basis.
After troubled times Kirsten Hersh and the Throwing Muses have come back in style with the recent release of their album, ‘Red Heaven’. We talked to Kirsten while she was taking a well earned break between albums and tours, trying to find out what the Muses were planning for 93 and to talk a little about last year’s album and tour.
1992 seems to have been a good year for you musically. Topped by Augusts’ ‘Red Heaven’ album. Did you think it was a good year?
“Yeah I do. We finally pulled the band together into a real tight unit, Bernard happens to be an incredible bass player and he only improved on the road and we actually worked harder on the album and that really improved it, both the words and our playing…I’m really impressed by this last album. Most of what we did this year had to do with preparing our next record.”
This year seems to hold a lot for you; have you finished working on your solo album?
“No I haven’t started yet. It’s an acoustic record. It’s to be full of songs that are meant to be specifically acoustic songs, which is strange for me, I haven’t done that very often in the past so I have to learn not to let the guitar or medium make me sound wimpy.”
‘Red Heaven’ definitely seems harder for me, much more guitar, much more rock, a lot tougher….
“But those acoustic songs kind of ask to be; the acoustic songs obviously don’t have to be so loud and the next load of Throwing Muses material, I think, lots of the guitars should be clean. Like many guitars I find myself leaning on distortion which is a really silly thing to do, it’s really easy to do too because everything sounds smooth and loud and raunchy…cool! So I’m very much attracted to clean sounds, we’ll see how it works out; it might be difficult to try and do.”
The last track off ‘Red Heaven’, ‘Carnival Wig’, has the lyric “I won’t be afraid when my ears ring and my head spins/I’ll be on your good side”. Apart from being a tribute to Billy, does that mean you are now out of it, (Bi-polar disorder) and moving on?
“Yeah, I would say so, I wrote that song probably when I didn’t know if I would be out of it. But I’ve faced the fact that I’ve fought something that I was very much afraid of and I’m ok. I’m very happy and I don’t know too many other people who are that happy. I think you do need to be very afraid of something.”
I’ve been told you’ve been planning the next Throwing Muses album. You’ve mentioned a little about a cleaner sound on the guitars, is that the only direction it’s going, or is it continuing from “Red Heaven”?
“I like to stop writing in between records for a long time which isn’t that hard because we’re on tour and I’m never alone. There seems to be the time to prepare yourself and then when it’s time to write I know it and about fifteen, twenty songs come out at the same time, usually they make up a record, so they have a very different identity and personality.”
I did have a few records ‘Hunk Papa’ and ‘Real Ramona’ where I was a little more removed, I wasn’t as clear in my own language as I should have been and ‘Red Heaven’ was a return to that clarity and when you’re that clear and fluent then it will hold together; it’s identity will be very clear too so I think it was more distinctive than the past few records or maybe as distinctive as the first one; ‘Red Heaven’ reminds me of the first record and hopefully we’ll be able to retain that clarity for the next record, it’s hard in this God awful music business.”
I was listening to ‘The Curse’ Throwing Muses live album recorded on these sunny shores on the behest of the 4AD label. What do you think of it?
“I haven’t actually heard it; I heard a few tracks while they were mixing, they mailed it to me but I haven’t really heard it in completion yet and sat down and listened to it because I’ve played that set so many times.”
The only criticism I have of the Curse, it’s a great set and it’s well played, is the mixing and the production; its poor quality in parts.
“Usually I find engineers, producers and particularly English ones mix the vocals very load and I like the vocals to be heard as instruments as part of the band.”
On ‘Pearl’, the first track, it’s a bit lost. You hear the guitars much more than the vocals.
“Exactly. What we expected, you know, knowing that, “oh well he’s English he’ll push the vocals up front no matter what we say” and he did – he mixed them so low that we could hardly hear them in some places but I do guess it sounds like a live band can in a club.
Are you planning to come over to the UK in 1993?
“Oh yes. We should start work on the next record within the next few months and I may do the acoustic record in England.”
So will Bernard George (bass) be on the tour? He seemed to fit in perfect with the band as if he’d been playing with you for years.
He has been in long enough; he’s now a main name. I didn’t know that a bass player could be so tight and have such good taste at the same time, it’s rare.”
After talking for a while about how hassled we were coming up to copy date (the office was hectic) Kirsten told me where they have both moved to (I’m still dreaming about now).
“We’ve moved our family up to the Catskill Mountains, we live near a waterfall, we have a large lake and fifteen acres of forest and we just live in a little house, a little place, the place is small and we’re in the mountains so we don’t get TV or radio stations, it’s backwards and obviously there are no music papers anywhere.
“I don’t have any account with the music business at all; that’s the way I like it. I don’t know if I can call it a break, I haven’t stopped working yet but it’s really nice to pull out of it for a while.”
It all seems much uncomplicated.
“You should sit by our waterfall for a while, there’s just that stuff folding in your head and literally outside of our window there’s a twenty-five foot waterfall. It’s like that stupid thing like the pinhead next to the ocean; you realise that your problems are so tiny; they’re just outside of your head and there a lot of people running around telling you that’s the proportion of problems you should have, they’re evil, they’re going to hit you hard, but here there’s nothing, I mean we have bears to run away from and stuff, that’s the problem.
Unfortunately I think I’m in the best band in the world, I wish I thought we were not, I wish I thought we were bad but to be ignored by people who push such crap…
But even people who sell toothpaste know a lot about toothpaste but these people don’t know anything about music except “well how stupid is it don’t you have anything a little stupider” or “something that reminds me of what I heard on the radio when I was a kid” or “something that sounds like that hit we heard in the 70’s.”
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