- 'A listener treats you like a plumber,' says indie stalwart Hersh. 'They want you to keep going.'
Throwing Muses/50 Foot Wave anchor Kristin Hersh's Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, a double-CD/book package, is further proof that she can do pretty much anything she wants. It's a privilege she's earned by having the foresight to see long ago where the entertainment industry was heading, digitally.
"I bought us off of Warner Brothers by exchanging my first solo record for our freedom," she recalls of the period leading up to her 1994 solo debut Hips and Makers. "And that's when I really began to engage with listeners."
Now, the singer has morphed her songwriting from a cottage industry into a bustling career, sans major label input. She started her own Throwing Music label in 1996, followed by her Works in Progress and CASH Music subscription services. Now, after some 35 years in the business, she's introduced tiered levels of Strange Angels supporters, who back her through donations on her website.
Hersh can't control every aspect of her existence, though. Wyatt and the Coyote Palace's angular, jangling songs — as well as its spoken-word passages — draw upon the real-life hardships she's experienced over the past three years. Most notable among them is the 2013 dissolution of her 25-year marriage to former manager Billy O'Connell, with whom she has four sons (including Wyatt, who's on the autism spectrum and whose enthusiastic daily visits to a coyote-overrun, abandoned apartment complex behind her recording studio helped her view the world through childlike eyes again).
Hersh didn't see the breakup coming. She recalls how she and O'Connell watched vintage movies together, strolled hand-in-hand, and tackled the task of raising children with confident diligence. "One day, the week he turned 50, he said, 'No. No more,'" she sighs. "I didn't do anything except age, and I'm younger than him. But we were a team — he was the business partner, and I provided content."
She had always urged their kids to look for the good in everyone. "But it altered our world view to such an extent that I had to say, 'I take that back — look for the bad instead, and stay safe.'"
Her son's exploration of the makeshift Coyote Palace brought the artist back online, creatively. "I thought, 'I need to be this flushed with excitement and this obsessed when I walk into that studio.' I want to emulate Wyatt's shining eyes and his drive to capture this with all of his senses."
It doesn't hurt that Hersh has loyal followers, although she steers clear of the overly obsessive ones.
"Fans are just kind of nutty," she says. "They're the people you avoid because they don't really understand what it is you're about. But a listener treats you like a plumber; they want you to keep going, so they pay your bills. And at the same time, they don't think much of YOU, they just want your work. And that's perfect. So the Strange Angels are listeners. And being listener-supported has meant that 50 Foot Wave makes records, Throwing Muses makes records, and I make solo albums. It's just a circle of gratitude."