Kristin Hersh recently released Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, a book of essays and lyrics that includes two albums. Hersh has written two critically acclaimed memoirs: 2015's Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt was about her friendship with the late, great musician Vic Chesnutt, and 2010’s Rat Girl was a candid portrait of her life in music and her struggles at a young age after having a child and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Hersh came to prominence as a member of Throwing Muses, a band she and Tanya Donelly started their freshman year in high school, in 1981. The group came up in the Boston music scene around the same time as bands like Mission of Burma and the Pixies. Darlings of college radio, Throwing Muses was the first American band signed to the respected 4AD imprint, based in Great Britain.
Hersh was a compelling if reluctant face of a popular band; she never really saw herself as a frontwoman.
“I felt invisible,” Hersh says. “I still feel invisible, and I will defend invisibility as a superpower. It's a bit of a mindfuck, I suppose, but I have to believe I work in a vacuum. I feel like I'm listening; otherwise I wouldn't know what noise to make. Noise is sort of after the fact; it's the listening that's the work. If I was a frontperson, it was only because I was in the eye of a hurricane just listening to it.”
Hersh does not consider herself much of a performer, and definitely not an entertainer. “I have no stage presence — zero,” Hersh adds. “I might as well be typing up there. The idea that anyone would want to have this inflicted on them that isn't me will always be foreign.”
But there is a magnetic and emotionally intense quality to her storytelling that leaves you feeling certain about her commitment to her music. There’s an honesty in her poetic telling of even mundane biographical details. “Truth isn't always gentle, I guess,” Hersh explains. “I don't like melodrama, but drama is real, and it falls on you, and I guess that's what this record is.”
Wyatt at the Coyote Palace was five years in the making, with Hersh collecting samples on the most recent Throwing Muses reunion tour and adapting some of them for the new album, which she recorded in Providence, Rhode Island. The samples she collected ranged from bird songs to those of human voices, which all served as an atmosphere that captures the world.
"The room sound wasn't enough; I wanted Earth sound," she says. "I think it catches your ear but doesn't alienate you."
She drew the line at certain kinds of human speech. “A few people would engage in artifice, and I couldn't use their speech. The patterns were jarring, and the tone of their voice sounded like a lie. I use very harsh sounds sometimes, but they're the truth. I wasn't going to help anyone do that, and I wasn't going to do it myself.”
Hersh's performance at Swallow Hill's Quinlan Cafe on Thursday, December 8, won't feature a full band – just Hersh, her guitar, her wit and her insight. She'll tell stories between songs as inspiration strikes her, and while she is admittedly shy, Hersh won't give that fear space on her stage. “There's self-absorption in that weakness,” she says, “and we're not taxed from that. What can you give, what are you here for? We're better than that. To think that you're weak in your psyche is just not real. I think people are so giving by nature, and so I think that's how we should be. So, done, Godspeed, go do what you were gonna. Go do it for the right reasons.”
Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts at 7; tickets are $20. For more information, call 303-777-1003.
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