Kristin Hersh on the Places that Make Up Throwing Muses’ DNA
Songwriter Kristin Hersh has called Throwing Muses’ new album + book Purgatory/Paradise “a keyhole view of our goofy world.”
It’s also a ramshackle map dotted with places and memories — a kind of Rough Guide to Throwing Muses, or a music-based 36 Hours in…
While the band’s hometown of Newport, RI, is a subtle but pervasive influence, Purgatory’s 32 songs careen restlessly from place to place —to New Orleans, Hersh’s sirensong “Bayou Paris”; down dark Portland highways, into the Palm Desert and across sticky Coke-spattered sidewalks in Providence, RI — but they always, always return to the windswept grandeur of Aquidneck Island.
I asked Kristin to tell me about some of the places that MADE the Muses — and how they continue to influence and shape the band, which is still a beautiful work in progress after 30 years.
How has being from Newport, a tiny town at the edge of a very big ocean, influenced your songwriting?
Kristin Hersh: Everybody from an island has an island-based psychology: you know that you’re essentially safe. All you gotta do is wander around in order to get to where you’re going. Because circles are all you’re meant to move in and god introduced confines and expanses at the same time.
This is kind of metaphysical, but what places give you strength + make you feel like you can accomplish anything?
KH: Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh: you climb a hill past ruins and picnickers and end up moved to tears by heather and yellow wildflowers.
Texas hill country, where the air feels infused with potential.
Forest Park in Portland, OR, sucking down the chlorophyll.
Anywhere in Australia or New Zealand. Sachuest Point nature preserve, here on the island.
And New Orleans: voodoo plus alcohol plus forgiveness.
Purgatory Rd. + Paradise Ave. are an actual crossroad in Middletown, RI. Name 5 other places that are part of Throwing Muses’ DNA.
KH: The Bells, a graffiti-covered wreck of a wreck of a building on Ocean Drive. It’s where skaters and burnouts partied when we were in high school.
The Cliff Walk, in Newport. We’d stumble down the cliffs to hide with our friends by the water, drink beer, and play guitar and boom boxes.
Dave’s parents’ attic, our practice space when we were 14. We left spray painted messages and drawings for each other on the walls. A far as I know, they’re still there.
Second Beach in Middletown. The suffer end is for surfers, the other end is for beached whales. We hang out in the middle.
The Salvation Army on Broadway in Newport. Nobody there has any teeth. It’s where we bought (and still buy) our clothes, furniture and Christmas presents.
Places past, present, loved, hated — go with your gut instincts.
KH: Little Five Points, Atlanta, GA. Where I was born, where my hippie home movies were filmed. Where I got the accent you can only hear when I’m tired, drunk, or both.
Athens, GA, where Vic Chesnutt lived when he lived. His house was my safe house. Can’t say that I really feel that safe anymore.
Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, TN, where my family is from, where my grandparents lived and where I learned all the Appalachian folk songs on “Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight.”
The Living Room!! We opened for REM, X, the Meat Puppets and the Violent Femmes there and played our first headlining show (where they paid audience members a dollar to come in).
Read the CD, listen to the book —Purgatory/Paradise lets you determine your own experience. It’s totally choose your own adventure, but I went for the listen first, then listen-and-read, then listen again approach. (And I’m still listening.)
Find your own way of diving in — knowing full well that, no matter how you get there, the rewards will be huge.