Interview: Kristin Hersh on combining music and literature for ‘Wyatt at the Coyote Palace’

It’s always nice when an album is released and there’s a little special something to go along with it. The album could come with a special edition poster or a collector’s item accessory. Sometimes it even comes with a book. That’s what accompanies Throwing MusesKristin Hersh’s brand new solo record Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, which gets released here in the United States this week. It’s the third installment of her album and book series following her previous solo record Crooked and Throwing Muses’ 2013 release Purogatory/Paradise.

The acoustic driven record consists of songs that were written by Hersh during a turbulent time in her life over the past few years. There’s a haunting vibe present throughout the album along with there being a triumphant feeling being exuded as well. Tracks like “Bubble Net,” “Secret Codes”, and “Day Three” walk the fine line between the two aesthetics. The end result is a stripped down sound that resonates poignant notes and melodies. It’s a soothing listening experience that has Hersh putting her heart into each song.

Ahead of the album’s stateside release this Friday, November 11, and her show happening at the Sinclair in Cambridge on December 18, Vanyaland had a chat with Hersh about the origins of the idea behind releasing an album with a book, the story behind the album’s title, her views on society’s problems with gun violence and her upcoming endless tour.

Rob Duguay: What was the initial inspiration for this unique approach to putting out your music with a book and what do you view as the ultimate goal of the series?

Kristin Hersh: I didn’t feel that CDs were inherently valuable. Vinyl is lovely but it’s still hard to force your soundtrack on another person, it’s almost like forcing your religion on someone. Even suggesting they adopt your religion would be a little awkward. A book is so valuable as a gift, you can push it into someone’s hands and it’s a beautiful object they appreciate.

Then you can sleazily sneak your religion on to a record [laughs] and hope they adopt it. Right now with the music business toppling onto its face it’s a good time to open up your product to other media. I’m lucky enough to have Dave Narcizo, who’s the drummer in Throwing Muses, helping me with the visuals. He’s a graphic designer and I write books now so I’m better about prose. I like what we’re doing and when it stops working we’ll move on to something else but it’s quiet and it still makes an impression.

That’s working and people pay money for that while they won’t really pay for music anymore.

The way the industry is these days there’s a lot more improvising involved when you want to put out your music and market what you’re doing.

I like that idea. I like that it’s becoming a trend, while, as a shy person and as someone who is not about marketing, I miss the days when I could just be a musician hiding. I would define myself as a guitarist first and then songwriter next and go way, way down the list and there wouldn’t be anything about me even close to knowing how to market. I do care about the listeners so I let my passion for music and my passion for listeners meet up. That means I can’t offend anyone, I have to offer something of value and always give more than expected.

The whole thing is really an unselfish endeavor anyway. The more I put into it, the more they get out of it and I’ve enjoyed myself.

The album title comes from your son Wyatt’s fascination of an abandoned apartment inhabited by coyotes while you were recording the album with Steve Rizzo in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Wyatt even did some filming of the coyotes when he visited the place, do you plan on using some of the footage during your upcoming live performances?

If only you’d been there a month ago [laughs], that’s a great idea. No, these are just solo acoustic shows coming up. They are very low key and lo-fi. I’ve done stage performances in museums, in theaters for Rat Girl which is my first book for Penguin Books. Those stage performances were big and they included films, music and it was a scripted performance. It was very much like a one woman show, I don’t know what else you’d call it.

Production value has to be so fleshed out or it just trips on itself. It’s sort of better to go raw when you can and that’s what I’m doing. I’m grabbing a guitar and driving around the country and if you can pull that off, that’s impressive to people. They know enough about music to be moved by a pencil sketch, they don’t necessarily need light shows for production value per say.

I think it all depends on the tone of the album too. For example, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace has acoustic tones and there’s a dark vibe to it with the songs on the album conveying stories of love and loss from the past five years during a turbulent time in your life. Did you find the songs you were writing for the album to be therapeutic while you were experiencing these struggles?

Probably? I’ve been doing this since I was around nine years old so I don’t really know much else. I imagine I would go nuts if I didn’t do it so in that sense if you do the math it must be therapeutic. It doesn’t feel cathartic to me, it doesn’t feel like self-expression. It feels like I need to be empty so I can talk but first I have to live these stories and they’re hard stories. I’ve not had an easy life but that just means when I play these songs I’m not lying and that’s really the whole point.

They do seem to resonate with the right person. They’re not for everyone but intensity isn’t always a turn off, sometimes people need it.

As a music fan I always appreciate artistic genuity and you can definitely tell that it’s present within the new album. On September 25 you performed as part of The Concert Across America To End Gun Violence in America in Providence. For the past few years it’s been a daily occurrence of someone being killed or maimed by someone else with a firearm. It’s become a part of the national discourse in America but it seems like no one has the perfect solution while the problem is still prevalent. What’s your opinion on what we can do as a society to confront this important issue to stop these tragedies from happening?

I think personal politics inform any political movement obviously and all we can really do is keep those in line. It’s a no-brainer that we shouldn’t be hurting each other. The difficulty is when we begin to define ourselves as commie libertarians [laughs], that math is beautiful and unimplementable. We don’t want the government telling us what to do and we don’t want the government not telling us what to do and I absolutely get that. All we can do is tell people to do the right things even if you fade into the background, even if you’re very quiet.

It’s not necessarily preaching to the choir and getting your voice heard that’s important. It’s just always doing the right thing.

It’s all about the person, the decisions they make and how they carry themselves.

It’s about kindness. It’s just about kindness.

You’re currently in the middle of a European tour in support of Wyatt at the Coyote Palace and then you’ll be heading back to the United States with that leg starting at the Triple Door in Seattle on November 29. When you go out on the road and you play in Europe versus our side of the Atlantic are there any differences between the crowds you play in front of or the places you play at?

I used to think that they were very different with all these territories. They’re a little more homogeneous now. There’s definitely a more unified culture in the United Kingdom. America is like 50 countries but it’s where I’m most comfortable and most uncomfortable so it suits the music. When I go to the United Kingdom I’m a polite guest and I’m honored that they would step into what essentially is a foreigner’s world and take something away.

Yet even when I play places that seem very strange to me and we don’t even speak the same language I’m just amazed at the similarities between people. It’s just a universal quality of humanity and the people that want to respond to music.

Especially when you have a place as diverse as the United States where all different areas of the country are different from each other while on the other hand you have a centralized nation like England or Ireland where it’s so close knit where everybody shares the same customs and culture. After this tour, what do you have planned next? Do you plan on writing another book? Do you plan on just taking it easy?

50FOOTWAVE just put out a record and we haven’t yet toured and technically Throwing Muses is in the studio in Los Angeles and we’re making a record now. I also just signed a five-book deal so I have projects ahead of me but I’m not sure if they’re going to let me off the road this time. As soon as I come home I go back to Europe, then Australia, then Asia and then the States again. By that time I’ll be going back to the United Kingdom and the whole thing starts over again but that’s good, it’s an honor.

KRISTIN HERSH :: Sunday, December 18 at the Sinclair, 52 Church St. in Cambridge, MA :: 7 p.m., 18-plus, $20 :: Advance tickets :: Bowery Boston event page :: Wyatt at the Coyote Palace book page