Kristin Hersh

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Kristin Hersh
Kristin Hersh.jpg
Kristin Hersh in New Orleans, 2010
Background information
Birth nameMartha Kristin Hersh
Born (1966-08-07) August 7, 1966 (age 54)
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
  • Musician
  • songwriter
  • author
Years active1981–present
Associated acts
Website Kristin Hersh

Martha Kristin Hersh (born August 7, 1966) is an American singer-songwriter, musician and author, known for her solo work and with her rock bands Throwing Muses and 50FootWave. [1] She has released eleven solo albums. Her guitar work and composition style ranges from jaggedly dissonant to traditional folk. Hersh's lyrics have a stream-of-consciousness style, reflecting her personal experiences. [2]


Early life

Hersh was born in Atlanta, Georgia and moved to Newport, Rhode Island when she was six years old. Her father was a professor at Salve Regina University in Newport and her mother a special educational needs teacher. She was interested in music at an early age and wanted to learn guitar chords; as such, her father gave her a guitar when she was nine. Her parents separated when Hersh was eleven, and her mother married the father of her best friend Tanya Donelly. Hersh talked Donelly into starting a band, then called The Muses when they were fourteen. [3]

Musical career

Throwing Muses and early solo work

Throwing Muses: Tanya Donelly, Fred Abong, Hersh, Glasgow, 1991 Throwing Muses in Glasgow.jpg
Throwing Muses: Tanya Donelly, Fred Abong, Hersh, Glasgow, 1991

Throwing Muses was formed in 1981 when Hersh and Donelly were freshmen in high school. Friends from school, including Elaine Adamedes, Becca Blumen, Leslie Langston and David Narcizo, were part of the group with Narcizo becoming a long-term member. [4] Hersh initially wrote and sang most of Throwing Muses' songs, often in changing tempos. Donelly also contributed songs and lead vocals.

Hersh attended Salve Regina University, majoring in archetypal psychology and philosophy, and the Rhode Island School of Design, but dropped out shortly before graduating to establish the band in Boston, Massachusetts, where they had been playing on weekends. [3] While at Salve, Hersh befriended film actress Betty Hutton, who was attending the school in her sixties; Hutton also attended several early Throwing Muses shows in Newport. [5] [6]

The Throwing Muses were signed to 4AD, the first American group to be signed on the British label, and released the EP Chains Changed in 1987. Two releases followed, The Fat Skier and the album House Tornado. The 4AD Throwing Muses biography describes its sound at the time as "... joining the dots between elliptical post-punk, harmonious folk jangle and rockabilly thunder without ever settling into standard genre patterns." [7] For the Throwing Muses 1986 UK tour, the Boston-based Pixies, embarking on their first European tour, was the opening band. [8]

The band signed a U.S. deal with Sire/Reprise Records in 1987 and began touring the U.S. and Europe while recording albums, with Hersh writing most of the songs. The band became a trio when Donelly left the group after 1991's The Real Ramona .

In 1994, Hersh began a solo career on Sire/Reprise and 4AD as an acoustic performer, beginning with Hips and Makers , an album sparsely arranged around her vocals, guitar, and a cellist, in contrast to the volatile, electric sound of her band work. Michael Stipe of R.E.M. made an appearance on this first solo album. [9] After receiving some airplay and major media coverage for the Throwing Muses album University in 1995, Hersh moved to Rykodisc for the band's 1996 album, Limbo, and released her solo album, Strange Angels in 1998.

To better control her career and the distribution of her recorded material, she created the ThrowingMusic label with then-husband and manager Billy O'Connell in 1996. This enabled her to co-release some of her projects, including an ongoing download-subscription service called Works in Progress (WIP) for releases available through the label's website. [4] Hersh continued to offer her solo releases online, releasing "Sky Motel" in 1999. [10]

Throwing Muses functions as a noncommercial musical enterprise, focusing on touring over record sales and airplay. In a 2014 interview, Hersh stated, “As far as I’m concerned, music is not a commodity. It’s something that people have earned by being human. They have a right to hear it, and a right to share it, as they always have in churches and parties. That’s how music happens.” [4]

2000 to present

Hersh at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, 2007 Kristin Hersh Bowery Ballroom-2007-04-25.jpg
Hersh at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, 2007

In 2001, Hersh released the Sunny Border Blue solo album, on which she again played nearly all instruments. She described the album as having even more intensity than her previous works, as she continued her pursuit of songwriting as being in part a way to transform "ugly feelings" into art. She also collaborated further with like-minded alternative artists like Vic Chesnutt, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Grant Lee Phillips, and John Doe.

In 2003, she released The Grotto , an acoustic solo album of song sketches with personal lyrics set in Providence, Rhode Island, with Andrew Bird on violin and Howe Gelb on piano. On the same date a self-titled album by Throwing Muses was also released, the first since Limbo. Both were recorded at Steve Rizzo's studio in Rhode Island. When Narcizo was unable to tour on a full-time basis due to other commitments, Hersh formed her power rock trio 50FootWave. Her touring appearances and recording efforts in 2004 and 2005 centered around both 50 Foot Wave and her solo career.

Independent output

In 2007, Hersh released her first solo album in four years, entitled Learn to Sing Like a Star . [11] NPR described Hersh's "emotional and raw" pop songs as both "accessible and off-kilter." [12] Concurrently she launched CASH Music, a subscription-based, direct-to-consumer website, that was formed along with fellow musician Donita Sparks. [13] Fans can become “Strange Angels” [14] and subscribe to her output to receive albums and print releases, downloadable content, and guest spots for live shows – packages ranging from $30 per quarter to $5,000 (executive producer credit on her next album) [14] 50FootWave's EP Power+Light was released on CASH in 2009 [15] and Hersh was involved in several projects—a second collection of Appalachian folk songs, The Shady Circle and a series of new free tracks. The album Crooked was released as a downloadable album and hardback book containing essays about each track.

Throwing Muses reformed in 2013 and released Purgatory/Paradise , a 32-track album accompanied by a book designed by Narcizo, who works as a graphic designer. The book features photos, artwork and lyrics by Hersh. It was the band's first release in ten years. [16]

At this point in her career, Hersh's output was independently released online. She expressed that she wanted a complete break with the music industry, stating, "Because we differ from the recording industry ethically, we had been asked to dumb down our product so many times. I have been asked to act and look like a bimbo so many times and I just decided, 'I’m not going to turn my back on my music. I’m not going to turn my back on women.' We’re morally bound to not participate in the traditional recording industry because we disagree with it. So we continue to play music, which has nothing to do with the music business." [17]

In October 2016, she released the double album Wyatt at the Coyote Place and an accompanying book. [18] [19] Hersh embarked on a tour in support of the album. [20]

On June 12, 2018, Kristin Hersh announced on her website that she has signed with Fire Records. Her new record, Possible Dust Clouds, was released on October 5, 2018. She finished recording the album in May of the same year. [21] [22]

In February 2020, it was announced that Throwing Muses would release a new album, Sun Racket , on May 22; [23] the release has been delayed to September 4. [24]

Themes and style

Throwing Muses, reformed in 2014: David Narcizo, Hersh, Bernard Georges Throwing Muses.jpg
Throwing Muses, reformed in 2014: David Narcizo, Hersh, Bernard Georges

Hersh's vocal style ranges from softly melodic to impassioned screaming. She has an occasional vibrato that punctuates some of her more dramatic phrasing. Candid about her episodes of mental illness and despair, her songs cover a vast spectrum of topics, including childbirth ("Hysterical Bending"), love ("Tar Kissers", "Lavender"), surreal vignettes ("Delicate Cutters", "Fish"), death ("Limbo"), emotional anguish ("The Letter"), loss of custody of her first son ("Candyland"), and the shedding of a relationship's anxiety ("Snake Oil").

Simon Reynolds in The New York Times pointed to Hersh's "mesmerizing" explorations of "rage, aggression and mental chaos" as evidence of female rock artists of the early 1990s pushing against gender role boundaries to express "more than simply vulnerability or defiance" in their work. [25]

Ann Powers, also in the Times, wrote of Hersh's musical style: "Her plastic, sometimes obsessively circular song structures emphasize staggered rhythms and extreme dynamic shifts, and her voice, a carnal cry that pushes through her body gathering up air, lends her often oblique lyrics an oracular veneer." [26]


Hersh has said her parents' album collections, featuring Patti Smith, the Carter Family, Stevie Wonder, Robert Johnson, Talking Heads, The Clash, Steve Miller, The Beatles, Philip Glass, and traditional music all influenced her when she was growing up. Among her early contemporary musical influences are The Raincoats, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, Meat Puppets, Dead Kennedys, Hüsker Dü, Velvet Underground, R.E.M., and X.


Hersh's illustrated children's book Toby Snax was published in 2007 and further developed in 2011 as an interactive app for children. The app allows children to hear her read the story out loud and features her recordings of lullabies that she learned as a girl in Tennessee. [27]

Her 2010 memoir Rat Girl (published in the UK as Paradoxical Undressing) is based on a diary she wrote when she was 18, touring with Throwing Muses, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and pregnant with her first child. [28] Rob Sheffield in The New York Times called it an "uncommonly touching punk memoir," [6] and named it #8 in Rolling Stone 's "25 Greatest Rock Memoirs of All Time." [29]

Hersh's 2015 book Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt, is a rumination on her friendship with the late singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt. She cites him as one of her songwriting influences with his "fluid timing and the grace of a melody that breaks the rules of meter." [30]

Personal life

Hersh was married to her former manager Billy O'Connell for 25 years until they divorced in 2013. She has four sons. [31] As of 2020, she is engaged to former Throwing Muses bassist Fred Abong. [32]

Hersh has talked openly about her bouts with mental illness and its role in her musical process. A car accident at age 16 while she was riding her bicycle gave her a double concussion that affected the way she heard sounds. She described it as hearing ambient sounds continuously and "...the sounds would alter their sonic vocabulary until I was hearing syllables, and drums. And then all these words would come.” She's stated that hearing "pieces of songs" in her mind compelled her to take the pieces apart and craft songs from them. She also claims that she doesn't remember writing her early songs—that "they wrote her." [10] [31]

She has had more than one diagnosis (and misdiagnoses) for her condition, including schizophrenic disorder, bipolar disorder, and most recently post-traumatic and dissociative disorders, which she says have been successfully treated with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. [33]

Solo works discography

Studio albums

With Throwing Muses

With 50FootWave

Cover songs


Related Research Articles

Throwing Muses Band

Throwing Muses is an American alternative rock band formed in 1981 in Newport, Rhode Island, United States, that toured and recorded extensively until 1997, when its members began concentrating more on other projects. The group was originally fronted by two lead singers, Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly (stepsisters), who both wrote the group's songs. Throwing Muses are known for performing music with shifting tempos, creative chord progressions, unorthodox song structures, and surreal lyrics. The group was set apart from other contemporary acts by Hersh's stark, candid writing style; Donelly's pop stylings and vocal harmonies; and David Narcizo's unusual drumming techniques eschewing use of cymbals. Hersh's hallucinatory, feverish lyrics occasionally touch on the subject of mental illness, more often drawing portraits of characters from daily life or addressing relationships.

Rose Polenzani is an independent folk musician. She was raised in the Chicago area and attended Knox College before leaving to pursue a singing career. She is currently living in Boston, Massachusetts. She plays guitar and, less frequently, piano. Her lyrics often blend obscure images and emotions.

50 Foot Wave Band that plays alternative rock

50FOOTWAVE is an American alternative rock band, formed in 2003. The band is fronted by Kristin Hersh, who writes the group's songs with collaborative efforts from the other group members in composing and arranging the music. The group's name is a reference to both an illustration and the term for the 50-foot sound wave of the lowest F tone audible to the human ear. The band sometimes abbreviates its name as L'~, using the Roman numeral for 50.

Belly (band)

Belly is an alternative rock band formed in Rhode Island in 1991 by former Throwing Muses and Breeders member Tanya Donelly. The original lineup consisted of Donelly on vocals and guitar, Fred Abong on bass, and brothers Tom and Chris Gorman on guitar and drums respectively. The band released two albums during the early 1990s alternative rock boom before breaking up in 1995. They reunited in 2016, and mounted limited tours in the United States and United Kingdom that year.

Tanya Donelly

Tanya Donelly is an American Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist based in New England who co-founded Throwing Muses with her step-sister Kristin Hersh. Donelly went on to co-form the alternative rock band The Breeders in 1989, before leaving to front her own band Belly in 1991. By the late 1990s, she settled into a solo recording career, working largely with musicians connected to the Boston music scene.

David John Narcizo, is an American musician and graphic designer, primarily known for his work as the longtime drummer for Throwing Muses.

<i>The Real Ramona</i> 1991 studio album by Throwing Muses

The Real Ramona is a studio album by Throwing Muses, released in 1991. It peaked at number 26 on the UK Albums Chart.

<i>Hips and Makers</i> 1994 studio album by Kristin Hersh

Hips and Makers is the debut solo album by Kristin Hersh, best known as the primary singer and songwriter of the band Throwing Muses. The album was released by 4AD in the UK on January 24, 1994, and by Sire Records in the US on February 1, 1994. In contrast to Hersh's rock-oriented work with Throwing Muses, the album is primarily acoustic, with Hersh usually playing unaccompanied. Other credited musicians include Jane Scarpantoni on cello and Michael Stipe of R.E.M., who sings backing vocals on the opening track, "Your Ghost." In addition to Hersh's own material, the album features a cover of the traditional song "The Cuckoo".

<i>Hunkpapa</i> (album) 1989 studio album by Throwing Muses

Hunkpapa is a studio album by Throwing Muses, released in 1989. It peaked at number 59 on the UK Albums Chart. NME named it the 33rd best album of 1989.

<i>House Tornado</i> 1988 studio album by Throwing Muses

House Tornado is an album by the alternative rock band Throwing Muses. Produced by Gary Smith and engineered by Paul Kolderie, it was recorded at Fort Apache Studios in Cambridge, MA. The album was released in 1988 internationally on the 4AD label, except in the United States, where it was released by Sire Records. Sire used a different album cover for its release, as the label was putting a strong promotional push behind the band, and label executives favored a picture of the band over the collage featured on the 4AD release.

<i>Throwing Muses</i> (1986 album) 1986 studio album by Throwing Muses

Throwing Muses is the 1986 debut album of the band Throwing Muses, released on British independent label 4AD. This was the first album by an American band to be released on 4AD, which had concentrated primarily on British-based acts up to this point. The release marked a shift in the label's direction; a year later 4AD would sign Pixies based in part on the band's connection to Throwing Muses, and by the mid-1990s much of the label's roster was made up of American bands.

<i>Learn to Sing Like a Star</i> 2007 studio album by Kristin Hersh

Learn to Sing Like a Star is Kristin Hersh's seventh solo album and was released in the US on Yep Roc Records on the 23 January 2007 and on 4AD for the rest of the world on the 29 January. The album was produced by Kristin herself and mixed in Nashville by two-time Grammy winner Trina Shoemaker. It features her Throwing Muses bandmate David Narcizo on drums and with strings by the McCarricks. The album peaked at #27 on the US's Billboard Top Heatseekers Album Chart.

<i>Throwing Muses</i> (2003 album) 2003 studio album by Throwing Muses

Throwing Muses is an album by the alternative rock band Throwing Muses. It was recorded over three weekends and released simultaneously with Kristin Hersh's solo record The Grotto on 17 March 2003. The album features Bernard Georges on bass and David Narcizo on drums as well as original bandmate Tanya Donelly on backing vocals.

<i>University</i> (album) 1995 studio album by Throwing Muses

University is the 1995 album by the American alternative rock band Throwing Muses, released on Sire Records and Reprise Records in the USA, and on 4AD elsewhere. It features the single "Bright Yellow Gun", the band's first national hit. The album's radio exposure led to feature articles in Rolling Stone and other major music magazines.

<i>Red Heaven</i> 1992 studio album by Throwing Muses

Red Heaven is a studio album by Throwing Muses, released in 1992. It peaked at number 13 on the UK Albums Chart. NME named it the 38th best album of 1992.

<i>Limbo</i> (album) 1996 studio album by Throwing Muses

Limbo is a 1996 album by the American alternative rock band Throwing Muses, released on Rykodisc. The album was recorded at the New Orleans studio where the band had recorded University. Following a tour for the album, Throwing Muses were dissolved, with Kristin Hersh continuing her solo career and David Narcizo and Bernard Georges working on several personal and music projects including Hersh's. The album, engineered by Trina Shoemaker, also features cellist Martin McCarrick and Robert Rust on piano.

<i>Chains Changed</i> 1987 EP by Throwing Muses

Chains Changed is an EP recording by Throwing Muses, released in 1987.

<i>The Fat Skier</i> 1987 studio album by Throwing Muses

The Fat Skier is a mini-LP by Throwing Muses, released on 6 July 1987 on the 4AD label in the UK and licensed to Sire Records in the US. It played at 33 ⅓ RPM on the A-side and at 45 RPM on the B-side. It reached number two in the Independent Albums Chart in the UK.

<i>Rat Girl</i> book by Kristin Hersh

Rat Girl is a memoir published in 2010 by Penguin Books and written by Kristin Hersh, a guitarist, songwriter, and singer who has performed as a solo artist, and as guitarist/lead singer of the alternative rock band Throwing Muses. In the U.K., it was released with the alternate title Paradoxical Undressing.

<i>Sun Racket</i> 2020 studio album by Throwing Muses

Sun Racket is a studio album by American alternative rock band Throwing Muses. The album was released on Fire Records on September 4, 2020, and has received positive reviews from critics.


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