Kristin Hersh's new album Learn To Sing Like A Star is released on 23rd January on Yep Roc in the USA, and on 29th January on 4AD everywhere else. It will be preceded, on January 22nd, by the In Shock EP, which features three exclusive non-album tracks. Learn To Sing Like A Star was produced by Kristin, recorded by Steve Rizzo and mixed by Trina Shoemaker. It features former Throwing Muses bandmate David Narcizo on drums, and beautiful string arrangements courtesy of Martin and Kim McCarrick . Stay tuned...
1st March - Bristol Thekla
2nd March - Leicester Y Theatre
3rd March - Nottingham Rescue Rooms
4th March - Birmingham Glee Club
6th March - Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
7th March - London KoKo
9th March - Sheffield Leadmill
10th March - Manchester Academy 3
11th March - Glasgow Oran Mor
WHO IS KRISTIN HERSH?
Twenty years and fifteen albums into her career, the question reasserts itself. The teenage girl who formed Throwing Muses, who mesmerized eighties alternakids with songs like "Delicate Cutters" and "Soul Soldier" did not grow up to scream, "shut the fuck up" while fronting the blisteringly loud and fast 50 Foot Wave, did she ? Yes, she did, and she managed six solo albums in between. It's been a riveting rollercoaster of a career - and, as Learn To Sing Like A Star effortlessly demonstrates, it's one that is still reaching new heights.
Hersh was in high school when she formed Throwing Muses, the first of many American bands to sign to 4AD. Throwing Muses offered dazzling musical expressions of psychic chaos. Tempos and moods ricocheted wildly. The songs roamed and startled and defied categorization. The young band made eight albums in ten years (1986-1996) during which time Hersh bore three sons. It was a fertile decade, for sure, and a tumultuous one, too. A psychiatric diagnosis, a child custody battle, a lawsuit by a former manager, and step-sister Tanya Donelly's exodus from the band all combined to produce behind-the-scenes experiences as anything Throwing Muses captured on disc.
But by 1993, Hersh's personal life had stabilized, and she found herself hearing songs that, to her surprise, didn't sound like Throwing Muses songs. So, she recorded them solo and called the album Hips and Makers. And something unexpected happened. This small, personal record took off, outselling all of Throwing Muses albums, and expanding Hersh's fanbase at a time when Throwing Muses was ceasing to be economically viable. When Hersh sang (in 1989's "Devil's Roof") "I have two heads", she might have been predicting her future, and a career that saw her moving constantly between two musical headspaces : BandKristin and SoloKristin.
And in the songs everything is mixed up together. Pure darkness and pure light just don’t exist. Love is like a beesting (Hips and Makers), like kissing gravel (Limbo), like a velvet bed of nails (Sunny Border Blue). Joy and sadness complement and mediate each other.Next
But there has been progression, too. The dazzling disarray of the early work has given way to something mature, accomplished, but no less distinctive. The voice has grown deeper and richer and the songs now take flight without leaving anyone dizzy.
Hersh conceived another son (her fourth) in 2002, and another band (her second) in 2004. Finding solo performance often "insular and a bit of a mindfuck", Hersh formed 50 Foot Wave, so satisfying her craving to play with once again with a rock band. 50 Foot Wave was conceived as a DIY, tour-intensive project - the band prioritized the live experience and literally gave music away on Hersh's website at www.throwingmusic.com.
But enough backtracking. Here's the present, in the shape of the glorious Learn To Sing Like A Star. Here's a big, spacious, sumptuous record with emphatic energy ("In Shock" and "Winter"), stripped ballads ("Nerve Endings" and "Ice"), deceptively breezy upbeat numbers ("Under The Gun" and "Wild Vanilla"), a couple of dreamy tunes ("Vertigo" and "Sugar Baby"), and three quirky, hand-made instrumentals. The album features beautiful strings, played by British friends, Martin and Kim McCarrick. David Narcizo (from Throwing Muses) supplies the drums (and also the album cover) while Kristin plays everything else. "No sound went down on this record unchallenged," Hersh explains, "if we'd heard it before - a surf-guitar, for instance - we layered it with piano reverb, tubular bells, and backwards bass to create something more unusual, something with more character."
And the title — is there a story there ? Of course there is... Kristin traded mixes and fixes on the record via email with engineer Trina Shoemaker. And every time she tried to download a mix, she says, "I'd see this recurring piece of spam with the subject line Learn To Sing Like A Star ! At first it was just a ludicrous piece of junk email, but then it started to sound moving to me, like, why not sing for the cosmos instead of the music business ? And suddenly, there wasn't a better name for the record." And if the lyrics often hint at bad times to come, maybe the title offers a prophecy of a brighter hue ? A reference to the meteoric rise to fame Hersh will soon experience as a result of this record ? Hersh laughs, raucous and sceptical. "Yeah, that’s probably it."