interview by Spike
So what did you do in 2007? Well, if you’re Kristin Hersh, you released a new record (Learn to Sing Like A Star) and then toured relentlessly, as a solo artist and with the bands Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave.
As if that wasn’t enough, Hersh wrote, illustrated and published her first children’s book, Toby Snax. She’s also been preparing a spoken word/multi-media show titled “Paradoxical Undressing,” based on writings from her forthcoming memoir of the same name. The show opens in the UK in March.
But hold on — that’s not even the big project. Hersh, husband/manager Billy O’Connell and songwriter Donita Sparks (L7) launched the website CASH Music. Every month a new Kristin Hersh song is uploaded. You can download that song as an mp3, a full audio file, or even the entire recording session folder so you can remix it yourself (and upload your remix to the site for others to pass around.) Whatever you want to pay for the song is what you pay — including downloading it for free. Sure, Radiohead made a splash doing this last year, but they did it with considerable financial cushion and for a limited time only. CASH is an acronym for “Coalition of Artists and Stakeholders”, and that’s exactly what Kristin Hersh has done — staked her very career on her belief that people will support the arts, and participate creatively as a community, if you simply trust and encourage them to.
The obvious question, Kristen. How has the reaction been so far?
Just amazing… I’m blown away. As usual, I’m riding a funny line. On the one hand, I like to stay hidden away, to solve my own problems in my own way. On the other, if I expect anyone to embrace music I record for publication, I’m gonna have to let them know about it!
The problem I had to solve was this — the traditional record company deal/world tour was no longer supporting my work. I couldn’t afford to record or tour any more, and neither could many of the musicians I know. So I politely extricated myself from my record deals to try an experimental support model which brings musicians and fans together with no middleman in between. I sorta get left to my own devices, because I don’t have to sell a record company on selling me, but as CASH’s guinea pig, I have to be a little noisier than I’m comfortable with, too.
Luckily, people seem to like the model and appreciate the values-driven ethic that CASH embodies. Listeners have been generous with their time, their money and their efforts to make this a two-way venture.. I give songs away at the CASH site, and people re-mix these songs, paint pictures to them, make films about them. Obviously, we’re all artists; it’s exciting to see people embracing the concept.
Although the emphasis is on downloads, I see that eventually a CD release will come out as well. I take it that you haven’t given up on the idea that some people still want an “object” — a collectible they can hold, something that presents the songs in a tactile form?
Things can get awfully esoteric in this virtual world. We don’t want to alienate those listeners — and countries! — who are less computer literate or download-centric. Also, we think it’s important to support the independent record stores.
While we’re talking, tell me about Toby Snax. From what I understand, the world of book publishing is just as shaky as the music biz; what prompted you to take the leap and publish a book?
My kids! I was always trying to talk my sons into being excited about touring. I tour a lot every year and I bring some or all four boys with me, but a younger kid has to be pretty brave to want to leave home for months at a time. Time and space are fuzzy concepts when you’re little.
At first, all the pictures I drew were realistic and, well, scary. It took six months for me to learn how to draw cartoons — pictures that kids actually like to look at! In our house, we have lots of childrens’ books that are beautiful and confusing. Books that make the author look good, but my kids never looked at them more than once. I’m proud to say that they read Toby Snax all the time.
I published the book very quietly. I thought there might be other parents with cautious children who needed to nudge them out into the world. I’ve had nice feedback. The book seems to fire kids up; they talk about their fears and feel a little safer at the same time.