Kristin Hersh: From My Headphones to My Basement

Live Performances, Drive Time
Kevin Cole
DJ Kevin Cole and Kristin Hersh // all photos by Kevin Cole

In 1986, I was DJing at First Avenue/7th Street Entry in Minneapolis by night, and by day, I was running Platters Records. At Platters, we specialized in imports and two of my favorite UK record labels at the time were Factory Records and 4AD Records. Both labels had amazing rosters and remarkable aesthetics that manifested in everything the labels put out: from the music, promotion, and album artwork. Without having heard a note, I would purchase everything on Factory and 4AD, which was the case when 4AD released the self-titled debut album from their first American signing, Throwing Muses. This album was unlike anything I had heard before. Lead singer Kristin Hersh’s voice led me through a kinetic and complicated mix of angular guitars, bass, and percussion that was at times punk, at times folk with a country twang, and always, extremely intense and personal — both from the artist’s perspective but also for the feelings it evoked. I listened to that album with headphones on every night for a year, trying to figure it out, intrigued, and also taking comfort in its sheer beauty and cathartic release. I never “figured it out” and instead have just marveled at the power, strength, beauty, and uniqueness of Kristin’s music. What a gift. That album started a lifelong love affair I’ve had with Kristin Hersh’s music in all her various configurations, as Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave, and solo. 
When Throwing Muses made their debut Minneapolis performance at the 7th Street Entry in 1988, I made sure I was the DJ for that night, taking special care in selecting music that I felt reflected Kristin’s influences. About three years later, I was working with a small group of people to launch Rev 105/Revolution Radio in Minneapolis, and Kristin and husband-and-manager-at-the-time Billy O’Connell came in before we actually launched, to record a session for the syndicated show I was producing along with Shawn Stewart for Spin Magazine, the aptly titled Spin Radio. They were taken in by what we were doing — launching a radio station unlike any other, that would play great music spanning genres and eras — basically an alternative leaning freeform radio station that was defying, or challenging, the typical mindset of the radio industry. (This was exactly what Kristin would do with her music and with her innovative approach to distributing her music.) We found a connection, stayed in touch during the early Rev 105 days, and I was fortunate to get to know Kristin and her family over the years and to become friends, which led to some remarkable experiences. 
Shawn and I were invited to join the band at Daniel Lanois’s Kingsway Studio in New Orleans in 1995 as Throwing Muses were recording Limbo, witnessing the sessions and also Kristin’s dedication and determination parenting while being a working musician. Later I had the opportunity to sequence the album, which was a mind-blowing experience for a super fan! Like her music, Kristin and family live an adventurous non-conformist life, recording and touring as a family and relocating often. When they moved to the high desert near Joshua Tree, I was able to spend quality time with the family in this magical environment having evening discussions around the fire and avoiding rattlesnakes, and black widow and desert recluse spiders during the day. And, it was exciting when they moved to Seattle for a while in the 2000s as it provided more opportunity to get together. With Kristin’s busy recording, book writing, and touring schedule, and my busy schedule in the lead up to the building and opening KEXP’s New Home, I hadn’t seen Kristin in a while so we decided to connect and do a session the next time she was in town. 

This got bumped a few times along with everything else during the pandemic, and when she was finally about to make it to Seattle in November 2021, our live studios weren’t fully up and running at KEXP yet, so Kristin agreed to come over to the house for an interview and guest DJ set from the vinyl room in my basement. She brought along her guitar, and graciously also performed a four-song acoustic set from the basement.  During the session we talked about style with substance, chaos, making people nervous, stage fright, being misapprehended as a “tortured artist,” and looking for the right sounds — sounds that “glow.”  After the session, Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave bassist, and Seattleite(!) Bernie Georges swung by and we all had a wonderful, laughter-filled day, never wanting it to end while Shawn baked Christmas cookies. It was a beautiful reminder to not let our business get in the way of things that truly matter — people and friendships. 

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