Kristin Hersh proved herself a truly independent artist with her bands Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave, but her solo career allowed her to express that independence in ways that went beyond her other projects.
Her acoustic solo debut, 1994's Hips and Makers, displayed the full range of her piercing vocals and intricate guitar playing more fully than her work with the Muses up to that point, and she dug deeper into her love of folk with 1998's collection of Appalachian murder ballads, Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight. Later, she reframed the cathartic rock she mastered with the Muses on solo albums such as 2001's Sunny Border Blue and 2018's Possible Dust Clouds. As time passed, writing and finding innovative ways to finance independent music became as important to her body of work as her actual music. Hersh established Throwing Music (and later, CASH Music) as a platform to fund and distribute her releases years before crowdfunding became commonplace for indie musicians. As an author, she won acclaim for her 2010 memoir, Rat Girl, and 2015's Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt, both of which bore the same direct yet poetic voice of her songwriting.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Hersh moved to Newport, Rhode Island, with her professor father and special education teacher mother when she was six. She began playing guitar at age nine; when her parents divorced and her mother married the father of her best friend Tanya Donelly, Hersh gained a sister and a bandmate. She and Donelly formed Throwing Muses (first known as "the Muses") in 1981, when they were both 14. After a move to Boston, Throwing Muses became one of the most acclaimed alternative rock bands of the '80s and '90s. They were the first American band to sign to the prestigious British record label 4AD and issued albums spanning the ferocious intensity of their self-titled 1996 debut and the shimmery pop of 1991's The Real Ramona.
After the release of Throwing Muses' fifth album, 1992's Red Heaven, Hersh took a break from the group and issued her first solo album, the acoustic Hips and Makers, in early 1994. Thanks to the airplay the single "Your Ghost" -- a duet with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe -- received, the album sold more copies than any of the Muses' releases. Later that year, Hersh also released the Strings EP, which featured versions of selected songs from the album recorded with a string quartet, and did a solo tour.
Despite her success as a solo artist, she kept the Muses going as well; they released their next record, University, in February 1995. Throwing Muses and Hersh as a solo artist moved from Sire to Rykodisc, forming the boutique label Throwing Music in 1996; the label's first release was the Muses album Limbo, which appeared that August. She released her second solo album, Strange Angels, in February 1998; like Hips and Makers, it was a largely acoustic set of songs. That year, she also released Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight, a collection of lullabies and Appalachian folk songs, as a Throwing Music exclusive. In 1999, Hersh and Throwing Music returned to her original label, 4AD, for her fourth solo album, Sky Motel. Two years later, she returned with Sunny Border Blue, a raw set of songs on which she played nearly all the instruments. For 2003's The Grotto -- which was released the same day as Throwing Muses' second self-titled album -- she collaborated with Andrew Bird and Howe Gelb. Hersh also established the Works in Progress series, a subscription service of exclusive rarities, through Throwing Music's website.
Hersh then formed the power rock trio 50 Foot Wave with Throwing Muses bassist Bernard Georges. The group debuted with a string of EPs, including a self-titled 2004 release, 2005's Golden Ocean, and 2006's digitally released Free Music EP. She returned to her solo career in 2007 with the raggedly catchy Learn to Sing Like a Star. The following year, Hersh founded CASH Music, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping independent musicians produce and distribute their work, with L7's Donita Sparks and Jesse von Doom. Several of Hersh's projects, including 50 Foot Wave's 2009 EP Power + Light, appeared on the service. Cats and Mice, an unedited performance recorded at Yoshi's in San Francisco, was issued in 2010. That same year, Hersh published her memoir, Rat Girl, which focused on events in her teens from 1985 to 1986. Also in 2010, she released the album Crooked as a book and a digital download via her website. In 2012, 50 Foot Wave issued the EP With Love from the Men's Room.
The following year, Throwing Muses returned from a ten-year hiatus with Purgatory/Paradise, a double album that included a book designed by the band's drummer, David Narcizo. In 2015, Hersh published the semi-memoir Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt, which focused on her long friendship with the late singer/songwriter. Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, another double album accompanied by a book, appeared in November 2016. For 2018's fiery, concise Possible Dust Clouds, Hersh moved to British indie label Fire Records. The following year, the label reissued Crooked. ~ Heather Phares & Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi