Best Of '99: Kristin Hersh's Upcoming LP Finds Life In Barren Desert

After two acoustic records and Appalachian folk-music LP, Sky Motel returns ex-Throwing Muse to electric roots.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at 1999's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, May 25.]

MILAN, Italy — There's life in the desert, Kristin Hersh said.

And where there's life there's music.

After moving to Los Angeles from Boston, where her former band, Throwing

Muses, was based, the singer/songwriter and guitarist went to the Joshua

Tree desert wilderness of California to draw inspiration for her new solo

album, Sky Motel, due July 6. It's there she lived for almost a

year with her family.

"To be able to take my sound back with an electric guitar and a band is

a big deal for me," she said as she sat in her record company's Milan

office while her husband and three children played around her. "I missed

all that."

Recalling her frame of mind after Throwing Muses broke up in 1997, Hersh

said, "I really thought I lost my sound and music. I felt finished."

But the singer said she has reclaimed some of what she lost thanks to

the Joshua Tree National Park.

Sky Motel follows two 1998 solo albums — Strange Angels

and Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight, an album of Appalachian

folk songs and lullabies recorded for children and available only via the

Internet. On it, Hersh manages to combine Throwing Muses' electric rock

with the acoustic music of her solo work.

"My husband said that if I could get him to hear these Appalachian folk

songs, then I could get anyone," said Hersh, who was born and raised in

Atlanta. "He said that he could give me five days to record those songs,

with a few minutes to remember these songs I heard when I was little, and

then go on recording them, keeping the first take.

"So we did it with the kids playing piano on it and stuff like that. It

was obviously not something that I could sell to anyone. It was supposed

to be for people that really wanted to hear it. So it was also a good

opportunity to explore other ways to sell records with my own record

company, Throwing Music."

Sky Motel, which features such songs as "Echo"

(RealAudio

excerpt) and "Fog," is closer to the tradition of Hersh's own

music, employing the electric-guitar-driven sound of such Throwing Muses

songs as "Counting Backwards" as well as the intimate feel of Hersh's

early solo records.

"Both rock and folk tradition come together in this record," the

black-haired, blue-eyed musician said. "And I can finally [understand

why] I played acoustic guitar at all, 'cause I didn't really mean to —

I started demoing some songs, and my husband sent those demos to the

record company. I ended up [making] records [and] touring all by myself."

On her first attempts at making solo records, "it just sound[ed] like

Throwing Muses again," she said. "But this time I was trying to write in

a different way. It was like I was writing songs for the first time in

my life. And I was trying to put California in them. L.A. is like a perfect

cage for human beings, and the land I moved to was full of coyotes, hummingbirds,

animals. L.A. is business — everybody's connecting with other people

— while in Johsua Tree people tend to be very alone and separate."

She and her family weren't entirely alone in the barren desert landscape.

Fellow singer/songwriters Vic Chesnutt, Victoria Williams and Cracker's

David Lowery lived there awhile, looking for the same feeling. "We musicians

would get lonely and then go to musicians' parties that were like small

pieces of L.A.," Hersh said, laughing.

Hersh, who has since moved to her husband's native Rhode Island, where

Throwing Muses formed in 1980, has formed a new band with former Muses

drummer David Narcizo, keyboardist Robert Rust and Tom Gorman on bass.

Gorman played guitar in Belly, the band Hersh's onetime partner Tanya

Donelly formed after she left Throwing Muses in the early '90s. The new

lineup is scheduled to tour Europe for three weeks in July.

Although Sky Motel marks Hersh's return to traditional distribution

of her music, she said she has a variety of alternative projects in the

offing. An aggressive supporter of the Internet, she has been making

unreleased songs available in MP3 format through a subscription service

on her label site (www.throwingmusic.com).

"People sometimes only hear crap and sometimes they don't know that good

music exists," she said. "Direct access to music through the Net could

solve this situation, without having to rely on TV or magazines or fashion

to determine their musical opinion.

"Obviously I could not live on the proceeds of those operations. But

[releasing a traditional album as well] gives me the freedom to do a

hardcore record, an instrumental record or an Appalachian-songs record

and then sell it over the Net."