Throwing Muses’ unique sound placed them at the fore-front of 90’s alternative rock, alongside 4AD labelmates the Pixies. Singer Kristin Hersh took this sound in a punkier direction with 50 Foot Wave after Throwing Muses originally parted ways, but now both bands are going full steam ahead, with a new fan-funded Muses record in the pipeline and much more. M3 asked Kristin about record stores, Creative Commons and the pros and cons of fan funding…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Kristin Hersh – I’m a musician, first and foremost; solo and with the bands 50 Foot Wave and Throwing Muses, but I wrote a book a couple years ago and my job changed a lot then. Books and music are fairly similar, but the business of literature has almost nothing in common with the business of music.
What inspired you to start playing music? What is your own musical background?
My parents grew up on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, listening to Appalachian folk songs, which they taught me when I was very young. We lived on a commune when I was little though, and there I was exposed to rock music like the Doors and experimental music like Philip Glass.
I started playing guitar myself when I was 9 and studied classical guitar throughout my teenage years.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Vinyl. It demands a certain amount of attention and shifts the atmosphere in a room. What a record brings to the sound quality is akin to what a room brings to a recording.
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
Yes, but it was bound to happen. I like that music floats around in the ether because we’re in the initial stages of a musical education that was formerly in the hands of the recording industry. Corporate control of content is a very dangerous thing.
Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
It depends on the store. There were great stores and terrible ones, just as there were great record companies and terrible ones, as well as great musicians and terrible ones.
I miss my beloved Doo Wop Records in Newport, Rhode Island, where the guy would take back any record that sucked!
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
Almost none. Ticket sales have dropped as precipitously as record sales. I would give anything to be able to support myself and my bands by staying on the road but we simply can’t afford it. There is no point in being on the road if people don’t come to shows.
The upcoming Throwing Muses record has been funded entirely by fans of the band. Why did you decide to go for this approach, and what benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from it?
The benefits are of course, that we can work again, at least in the studio. Throwing Muses hasn’t made a record in 10 years and we’re presently mixing a new (40 song long!) one.
The drawbacks are that we must work piece meal, as one would raise money for a film: first we get the basics done, then raise money for the overdubs, then the mix, then mastering, etc. When the record is finally done, we’ll have to raise money for pressing, art work, distribution and publicity — all the costs that record companies used to cover (and charge back to bands).
Would you say fan-funding is a realistic alternative to record companies’ traditional top-down funding methods?
I’m not sure. I’m uncomfortable asking listeners to do much more than listen, but the few Strange Angels we have seem to enjoy being a part of the process. I was just disappointed to learn that none of them were rich. I thought the wealthy rock stars who say I influenced them might have come forward to help, but Strange Angels are all “regular people” without much cash to spare. I’d like to let them off the hook.
What was the reasoning behind making all of 50 Foot Wave’s releases available under a Creative Commons license?
50 Foot Wave has always given away its music; CC licensing is an effective way to copyright without infringing on listeners’ rights.
Do you think the internet has rendered traditional concepts of copyright obsolete, or do you think they are still relevant?
I don’t think anyone should own music, really… musicians are lucky to play it. We’ve always starved, along with all the other artists! But copyright does help musicians in that it can keep corporate involvement rewarding rather than parasitic.
What is your take on the recent SOPA/ACTA controversy?
I’ve only ever been about music everywhere, for everyone.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
First, trying not to suck. Then, being heard above the noise.
Finally, what does the future hold for Kristin Hersh?
I’m mixing a Throwing Muses record, doing overdubs on a 50 Foot Wave record and recording basics for a solo one. I’m also making 2 movies and writing 3 books. The Muses tour ended a few months ago, now I begin the solo one. My main concern is finding time to sleep…I’ll let you know how that goes.