The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday June 27th

Hersh Keeps Muse, Busts Mold

By Russ Lane

Managing Editor

Don't expect Kristin Hersh to fall into the "female confessional singer-songwriter" category. You know the type: the girls who strive to look tortured and arty at Tori Amos concerts, the ones who hug their guitars and journals as if they were stuffed animals.

In Hersh, you'll find a singer-songwriter who doesn't have patience for that stereotype of musician.

"I'm against the idea of self-expression marketed to people," Hersh, 35, said. "I think you should get all of that pyscho-garbage out of your head so that you're clean in order to write real songs -- because it's only when you're clean that the real songs that are not necessarily specific to you will start to write themselves."

So take note: Hersh is not of the camp that believes in songwriting as therapy. Which is not to say her music isn't intense. Throughout her 20-year career -- both as the frontwoman for the now-defunct Throwing Muses and as a solo artist -- Hersh's songs have taken harrowing experiences and paired them with deceptively beautiful melodies or unrestrained rock arrangements that veer and twist along with the lyrics' wild emotional terrain.

It's hard not to be moved by her five solo albums and the Muses' 10-album discography, as listening to it is like watching a car crash as a symphony plays Brahms in the background: it's intense and sometimes scary, mesmerizing and strangely beautiful.

Hersh, who will be performing at Go! Rehearsal Studios on Wednesday night, now takes the stage without her Muses compatriots, drummer David Narcizo and bassist Bernard Georges. The band dissolved after 1996's Limbo because Hersh wanted to continue her solo career, most recently with her self-produced fifth album, Sunny Border Blue .

Wife of husband-manager Billy O'Connell and mother of three, Hersh mourns the loss of the Muses like it's her fourth child. On In a Doghouse, a double-album of early Muses material, the band's name was followed by "(1983-1996)." When the band played mini-reunions at various parts of the country, Hersh teared up as she taught the band new songs for the event.

"Solo has been an adjustment from the Muses, because I grew up in Throwing Muses -- it never occurred to me I wouldn't have them," she said. "My new plan is to keep writing songs for the Muses until we come across a sugar daddy to let us record them."

The pain of losing the Muses found its way into some of Sunny Border Blue's songs, but Hersh found the darker aspects of her life resurfacing in her latest work. In the Muses' early days, Hersh's bouts with bipolar disorder led to her losing custody of her first child.

She said that much of Sunny Border Blue's content concerns itself with experiences for which she found closure some time ago, and that her writing style -- in which she considers herself merely the conduit for songs that already exist on their own -- revisited old memories.

"The songs pick and choose among my life stories to make their own point," Hersh said. "I was surprised they seemed to be digging kind of deep, but I decided years ago not to censor them, so I let them make their point."

While she may not censor the songs, Hersh is also not a glutton for their punishment, either. She refuses to perform some of her work -- "The Letter" from her first solo effort, Hips and Makers, and "Candyland" from the new album -- live, given the songs' intensity and their tendency to emotionally exhaust her.

She still plays songs from her Throwing Muses days, most notably "Delicate Cutters," but ultimately, her decision of which songs to perform and record is not based on personal catharsis. She picks songs she feels will speak to her audience in an authentic manner.

"A good old song can be used as a scrim for you to view your current life pictures through ... and a lousy old song isn't going to impress you very much once you've written it," she said.

"I stick with the ones that continue to teach me about what's going on now and I find other people can relate to."

Russ Lane can be reached at

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