A bona-fide cult indie legend, since the age of 14 Kristin Hersh has spent her life making music, following her ’accidental’ creative calling. She started her first band, Throwing Muses, soon after sustaining injuries in a bicycle accident, at the age of 16, an accident that saw her possessed by sounds she heard in her head. Sounds that she was able to turn into song at a prolific rate. Sounds that she can’t actually do anything about. They came to her and she seemed to have no other option but to put them down as songs. This continued right up to only a couple of years ago when she was finally properly diagnosed and a treatment was found. Whilst she was able to channel these sounds into a career as a songwriter and musician, she was also periodically suffering from this ‘malaise’, that had alternately enabled and inhibited her. “It’s a blessing,” she says whilst on the road for another tour of the UK. “It’s very quiet now.”
In her recent memoir, Paradoxical Undressing, she described the sound in her head as, "a metallic whining, like industrial noise, layered with humming tones and wind chimes.” There were shapes, too. "I watched and listened," she wrote, "bewildered and enthralled as sound and colour filled my empty hospital room.” She’s also described her songwriting method as, “Lyrics puke themselves out, for me. I hear them as an instrument, of phonetic melody. When I try and sing lyrics that are wrong they stick in my throat. I feel that I am lying and it’s not until they spill out that I know they are telling the truth.”
She also says she has no memory of having written any song. “I had no memories of any of the traumas in my life. I had no emotional attachment to any of them. I didn’t know what my songs were about. So what it released was a barrage of trauma. Your whole psyche is geared towards avoiding those traumas. I thought it would kill me. I thought the pain would kill me.
“I was a very nice lady who would scream and yell for a living. I am a little frustrated that there isn’t a single professional in all these audiences for thirty years that could see me shifting personalities, where I would start to shiver and freeze and go glassy-eyed and not be present. In-between songs I would be me. It was classic dissociative (behaviour). My drummer said he knew. Journalists, I think, must have thought I was speaking metaphorically when I said I had no idea what was going on when I play. I’m not there, I disappear.”
Such is the extraordinary conditions that Kristin Hersh has had to endure since that childhood accident, conditions that have had her diagnosed as bi-polar, and schizophrenic. Not that it was all bad. She’s survived, and she’s had plenty of fun and good times on the way. But her peculiar condition was one she had to learn very hard to cope with along the way. “The dissociative issue is one of those terrible secrets,” she says. “Your form, your psychology, your physiology. I don’t want to say it ruined my life, but my goodness! When I went through EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitisation, Reproducing), I lost about 100 pounds of history.”