Series 2:

Download Bliss:
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Notes

"Bliss" happened a couple years ago, in Portland Oregon. It's one of those songs that tells the future. I mean, it told the future, but I still didn't see the future coming; I hardly ever do. One of the pitfalls of being more concerned about a guitar part or a production technique than what a song is attempting to spell out in big, fat English: "you will walk willingly into a trap." Something we all do from time to time, so I coulda sworn it was talking about the past or maybe even the present, or, best of all: somebody else. Big, fat English'll only get you so far.

Warm and cool and hot and cold and you're shaking, trapped, but golly, it seemed like such a good idea at the time! It happens to everybody. Whole groups of people sometimes, but usually just two. So at least you can turn to the guy next to you and shrug helplessly, "I guess we did it again..."

In the studio, I told Rizzo that I wanted to sound like a sweet, sixties rhythm section: hardly any melody, just keeping time. That I'd play a full kit, then knock off one drum at a time until I had the bare minimum that the song needed, which turned out to be kick and shaker. And maybe an adorable, little tambourine. The guitar had to be percussive yet gentle and the bass needed to sound acoustic: just sweet, to frown sympathetically and pat your arm if this unfortunate fortune rings true for you, too.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics & Credits

warm on your cold heart
cool on your hot head
a worn blanket statement of innocence
a way out
a way to keep lying honest
if restless and frantic

and you a breaking man
i've studied your shaking hands
and this a pretty jail
bliss
a beautiful jail

hot coffee's melting this plastic cup
and cold, i can't dial this tiny phone
to find you
and, no, you don't seem pathetic
just restless, frenetic

and you a little kid
in a chokehold of bliss
and this a pretty jail
bliss
a beautiful jail

--

credits:
"bliss" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Flooding:
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Mix Stems (320kbps zipped) / torrent

Notes

Having heard "Flooding" every night on the last tour (I kept opening with it, inexplicably, 'cause I didn't know it yet), Billy wanted to hear it again, but he wanted to hear it the way it was bouncing around inside his head. I did too, 'cause I'd only heard the version that bounced around inside my head.

So I gave Billy the wheel and he steered "Flooding" in an impressionistic, watery direction. It swims, doesn't even try to walk. Swiminess is effective when emotional timing is called for, but to play a song with no discernible meter is hard, to make it sound okay, even harder. Piano?? Seriously?? But I trust music that bounces inside heads, so I let the man with the plan boss me around until "Flooding" became a sad water creature.

And it is sad, I should warn you. The heaviness of the vocals was not put on, it's real. But such a beautiful treatment; I'm honored to have played a part in its painting.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics & Credits

i can pinpoint the moment you closed your eyes
and said yes to the flooding

like melting you shrugged off the clothes of your life
and, well, i hope you remind me it's here

at twice the speed
hungering
for someone who left in half the time

fuzzy
fumbling
that thirst is gone
we're alone

a parking lot plea
begging
for a future you need

--

credits:
"flooding" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by billy o'connell
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Glass:
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Notes

To see or not to see? I don’t know anybody who wants to see everything all the time. A whole lot of crap out there is unsettling, so we shut our eyes and turn off lights and peer through opaque glass, hoping our brains make up something better than what’s really out there. If a nearby personality begins to disintegrate and show us its component parts, we hope it grows quiet and wanders away–soon!–before things get uncomfortable.

In the dark, though, we find ourselves in the dark. There’s gotta be more than this, we think, turning on the light, and soon find ourselves looking out the window and asking questions until we come across some piece of information, visual or otherwise, that’ll help us make it through another day.

Should glass people be clear or cloudy? I don’t know. Warily, I let them sleep on the couch in the sunshine and sooner or later, flies are waking up, another spring is here, and it’s time to open the windows again.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics & Credits

is this witchy?
my thoughts are cloudy
this is weird: my mind is clear

in this hyper-chlorinated pool of humanity
you're very clean

i give up

is this hunger?
i can't remember
this is strange: we're just the same

in this insatiable, unstable subspecies
you're very sweet

i give up

flies woke up, confused
sprung to life
and spring all here and everything

sleeping on the kitchen couch
sun everywhere
you're very clear

i give up

why put the light on?
why put the light at all?

--

credits:
"glass" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Quick:
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Mix Stems (320kbps zipped) / torrent

Notes

"Quick" wore a bunch of different outfits before it settled on a look. It tried sad and lumpy, waifish and thunky, strident and pleading. And it wound up sounding like an amalgam of all of these, like someone locked in a closet with nothing better to do than wear all the clothes in the closet at once.

I think "Quick" is actually in the closet on purpose, though, hiding. It's a very sad song, in my opinion. I enjoyed playing it, but not singing it. The music is almost anthemic, the vocals...well, sorta pathetic. Which has its place. I do what songs tell me to do and I'm actually pretty good at pathetic; it comes naturally to me. But "Quick" is a stomach ache.

The first time I played it in the studio, it belted itself out, so I responded with pounding piano and loose drums. Then it got so fragile, I thought it would break if I added so much as a quiet cello bed. I remixed it, then re-recorded it, tried it solo acoustic, full on electric with countless overdubs, but it never really settled in.

I was confounded by its inability to settle. Then I stopped to make a pot of coffee and think. "Quick" is many stories rolled into one. It never slammed on the brakes and rejected my advances like most songs do (they tend to get fed up with my butting in and yell "Stop!"), but it never really shone when left completely alone, bare bones acoustic, either. So I figured "Quick" probably knew what it was doing, and I let it be an "unsettled" kind of song. Which works, oddly enough.

After all, some of the best people I know are unsettled; they try this and take up that, shift over here for a while and then ping-pong back to where they started. They try roles and voices and attitudes but never with the intent to adopt them permanently. And they never accept or reject anything outright; they just move on, vague and distracted. They're vines and flowers. "Quick" is for them.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics & Credits

who did you cut down to the quick?
you know it's true

hold back, you've been saved
hold your breath, you've been saved
hold your tongue, you've been saved

maintain your ground

smooth you take a shower when you can't take anymore
nostalgic flowers wind their way around your core

'til you peer into the moment
the danger clear and present
can't keep your eyes shut anymore
you're naked on the floor

how did you know him?
the trouble i was in

hold back, we're not safe
hold your breath, we're not safe
hold your tongue, we're not safe

maintain your ground

can't make your mind up anymore
you're naked on the floor

--

credits:
"quick" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Bamboo:
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Mix Stems (320kbps zipped) / torrent

Notes

Sometimes, the world ends for a whole month. Then, shattered and rattled, you look up and someone you know is pointing out something cool. Something Strange and Important, like bamboo dancing around in a blizzard. It shatters and rattles you out of the wicked month and into another, better one. A month that might help you through, of all things. Inject some Strange and Important into now.

"Bamboo" crawled into my ear on a plane. I had no idea what it was talking about until I got home to New England and, all in a flash, kissed a dark month goodbye when Billy pointed at this snow-covered, psycho bamboo going apeshit in the wind, out the window.

A lot has been said about the ability of bamboo and the like to bend without breaking and the cleansing effects of snow and wind, so I won't say any of that. Flexibility and purity are special qualities, but what I like best about anything is ordinariness. Strange and important and ordinary are somehow not mutually exclusive, but all-encompassing. Extra ordinary is indeed extraordinary.

When I brought this song to Rizzo's studio, I told him that I've always thought Christmas should come in February. At least to those of us who worship Santa instead of Jesus. That way, the whole winter season could be the Christmas season, we'd have three months to shop for gifts, and something to look forward to in February other than dismal weather and the freakishly-doomed-no-matter-what-you-do Valentine's Day.

So we made "Bamboo" a Christmas in February song. It's jangly and anthemic and there're even bells on it, but...it's messed up. The real Christmas would never let it join in any reindeer games. It isn't strange or important like snow or reeds, it's just...ordinary. Like February.


Lyrics & Credits

snow flying
bamboo dancing
you coughed up this month

the light changing
undulating
us all swell and born

it's extra ordinary

--

credits:
"bamboo" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Opiates:
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Notes

In the studio, you build a song layer by layer: cement to mayonnaise, as it were. You start with the basic structure and develop the feel over a series of sonic events that eventually lead to, well, goo. Whether your goo is a room mic or a reverb, the sheen is not musical, but it holds the track together. When you’ve reached goo point, it’s time to go back to cement and start peeling away layers that serve no purpose.

“Opiates” reached goo point rather quickly, as it seemed determined not to shine, and began asking for less and less. I pared my guitars down to a couple of acoustics and a couple of electrics, the bass part was refined until it attracted no attention whatsoever and my already character-free drums became percussive wallflowers. Only the lyrics would stand out, and they go by too fast to attract too much attention.

Then “Opiates” suggested that it’s outro should be the star of the show by refusing to accept my background drumming and demanding that Rizzo sit in with his live, drunken, seventies, free-for-all technique (see “Trouble” - Sunny Border Blue). Rizzo gracefully accepted the challenge and the outro was laid to sweet waste.

As an anthem for feeling over numbing, “Opiates” does actually shine. It sets the stage for every body’s question, to feel or not to feel? and then helps you make the choice by example. It dances away.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics & Credits

in spite of everything like redoubled efforts to glide backward
to go in both directions, this dumb boat still doesn't fly

and that's no way to let a body down

i believe in balancing after a month of midnights in hot water
scalded under holy water punctuated with the punch of opiates

and that's no way to bring a body down

standing with a bulging fist of nickels for the parking meter
that's the art and science part of your eccentric sleight of hand

and that's no way to cool a body down

i believe in violencing after a feast of fasting on hot water
scalded within by holy sin punctuated with the punch of opiates

and that's no way to bring a body down

--

credits:
"opiates" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Crooked:
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Notes

What brings me to a song is not necessarily what a listener should take from a song. In my experience, music is no more “about” something than a person could be. To associate the images and sweat and life of “Crooked” with anything other than itself seems limiting. So, at the risk of “explaining it away,” can I tell you my crooked story?

A few months ago, an acupuncturist friend from Chicago, said to me, “I can’t watch you go through this anymore. I’m going to help you whether you like it or not.” What she was referring to was bipolar disorder. It’s true, I haven’t found much on planet earth to ease this condition which destroys bands, marriages and lives.

Music and movement help a little…lithium was amazing until its side effects prevented me from working. So I gave up the fight--I’m trapped in here--and my insides lived an up and down, back and forth, past and future, switch-flipping existence for years. I prayed that my outside could hide this world from those around me (it couldn’t).

When my friend met me in San Francisco and stuck needles all over me, I sighed, thinking, “You don’t understand. This isn’t subtle, it’s systemic; a world view, a personality, an everything. And nothing helps.”

Then the room started spinning, my heart started pounding, my brain time-tripping, a baseball-sized lump swelled up in my throat…it felt like race cars were driving my outline, but the outline wasn’t me. I had an unshakeable “phantom-body” syndrome that wasn’t inside my skin—the real me was next to the one made of skin and bones and muscles: a dark, crooked space body. So, I’m not trapped in here. I’m not in here at all.

This woman flew to New York to treat me on the road, then to New England to treat me at home. She moved the crooked body into my skin. She saved my life. Suffice it to say, acupuncture is as “not subtle” as bipolar disorder and it seems to be curing me of an illness for which western medicine has no cure. Songs still fly out unchecked, because the healthiest me is a songwriter. Knowing what it’s like to feel everything and nothing may help songs breathe; but it’s no way to live.

So that’s my “Crooked” story. Please take what this song offers as a scrim for you to view your own life pictures through and share them with me, if you’re moved to. A song shouldn’t function as a page from my diary, but as an offering for your soundtrack. That’s the highest honor afforded any musician.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics & Credits

hold the flashlight under your chin
closer as the lights dim

you lonely doll
you lucky dog
you free fall
down to the living room
closer as the lights dim

spread the glitter on your pillow
count your blessings on your fingers
crawl your way back down the stairs
down to the living room
closer as the lights dim

glittering
in lazy boys and christmas lights
glittering
then found a dark body
to the right and crooked

--

credits:
"crooked" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Sand:
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Mix Stems (320kbps zipped) / torrent

Notes

“Sand” is a road song, I think. Having known pretty much nothing but the road, my catalogue is full of these (sorry about that). Many of my friends are also “tar kissers” who race around the country for music, too, learning to live without food, shelter, sleep, showers, etc., except when these “necessities” pop up as kindnesses from caring locals.

Road nature is a meadow behind a dumpster, road health is finding any food, road highs and hangovers are mixed up to the point where you are no longer in touch with the contents of your own bloodstream.

Like firefighters, musicians sit and wait and play cards and bullshit and stare out the window and listen to their own breathing and sit and wait some more until suddenly, the fire calls and adrenaline kicks them headfirst into it.

I am basically a chicken; a lousy firefighter. At show time, I am shaky, terrified, hyper-aware that there is no longer any time to breathe (“pull over and stop to breathe”).

This is, admittedly, a bipolar lifestyle (“you pick me up, I pull you down”), but eventually, you hit the Road Wall and that‘s a good, gentle, softening thing. That‘s when touring boot camp pays off ‘cause, “your brain unbuckled,” it forces you to peel off the civilized skin you‘ve worn your whole life and see that underneath, you‘re a clean organism that needs nothing but music to survive. This is a luxurious state of mind.

This song is basically a love song to the tar kissers, those clean organisms that have raced through the country with me, a desperate hope that someday we‘ll be able to catch our breath, and an even more desperate hope that the road trip never ends.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics & Credits

race through the country
the perfect carnivore
pull over and stop to breathe
there's grape jelly on your sleeve

you pick me up
i pull you down
down to the ground

make the most of daylight
a sun-drenched meadow by the dumpster
i came back high and hungover
from your flickering light

i hope you find your way home

to the country
the perfect manifested heaven
and stop to breathe
there's an aching heart on your sleeve

you pick me up
i pull you down
down to the ground

your brain unbuckled:
luxurious
and softer than sand

--

credits:
"sand" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Coals:
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Mix Stems (320kbps zipped) / torrent

Notes

Coughing engines, hot coals, mid-air explosions and all the other alive, inanimate happenings that press into existence...plus a buttload of tambourine (Bob Mould: "When in doubt, tambourine!")

After the frenetic intro, the bass becomes the star of the show, settling the song into its long-winded pocket. "Coals" demanded an extremely standard treatment: build the verses at the midway point, chorus must be anthemic (of all things) and come at the usual time (of all things), beefed up by creepy old distorted bass organ and then, of course, allow a French film score from the sixties to guest star on the bridge, for some reason.

My favorite sound in the song, though, is the diminutive lead guitar. Crunchy yet sinewy, murmuring not unpleasantly throughout, then bursting into tiny song at the end...more a ramble than a rant, a sputtering little engine that could.


Lyrics & Credits

shrug off this wretched event
stoic, detached, you relent
you wonder why
we crash but don't land

how a purring engine sputters
like these coals that never cooled
why we crash but don't land

you heated even the mist
around this mossy existence
we never found
cold, gray, calm, dead

it's how a purring engine sputters
like these coals that never cooled
why we crash but don't land

a ramble, a rant
a ramble, a rant
a fairy tale
remorseless and serene

--

credits:
"coals" written and performed by kristin hersh
published by yes dear music, bmi
produced by kristin hersh
recorded & mixed by steve rizzo at stable sound studio portsmouth ri usa

Download Gin:
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Mix Stems (320kbps zipped) / torrent

Notes

I met Gin in Sydney; a two-parter, both casual and complex. Called Rizzo right away to book time, telling him to be prepared for a nocturnal me when I got home from down under. "Great!" he said. "Looking forward to it." Rizzo himself is a night creature, a gentle vampire.

Gin is also a night person, and a good way to begin the CASH year, I think. A New Year's Eve song containing an exceptional Bodhi quote: "Here's the plan: I don't go out of my backyard." Good plan. Great plan. A resolution to end all others.

Gin says that it isn't the shock, it's not even the aftershock, but the shock that follows that. I hear ya, sister. Aftershock shock shows up when the lights go out; when there's nothing else to look at. Which is okay, I guess.

Aftershock shock demands attention not 'cause it's bitchy, but because it's real. The point that gin makes, though, is not for you, but for others. Remember their midnights.

This was the first recording session for The Guitar that Love Built and it shone. Both percussive and melodic, depending on what I asked it to do, it played tame wildly and tamed wild...whoo-hoo! I was charmed, Rizzo impressed.

I would love to hear Throwing Muses play this song someday. Night people, they step in when they get the chance and compress hours of darkness into moments of clarity. Sometimes they have to stay up all night to make this work, but their midnights are valuable, worth sharing.

As Gin asks, "Are you completely numb?" and then answers, "mmm...probably not." In that case, playing for each other is the least we can do.

Love,
Kristin


Lyrics

tempting to finish this disaster under midnight sun
hope, gin
new year's eve again
i know it makes you swallow hard

here's the plan: don't go out of your backyard
finger in new fallen snow
a taste of what's to come

san bernardino
starlight bores your midnight son

you made it up howling
you made it up when real proved too rough
you're gentle
you're fragile

aftershock shock

so you're not lucky
you look a little thin
burdened

your courage wasted time
your courage and mine

lay down your arms
you were plenty strong

i've heard enough of your howling
say you succumb
are you completely numb?

your gentle aftershock shock
your fragile aftershock shock


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CC BY-NC-SA
All songs and all downloads are ©2009 Kristin Hersh, and offered under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license — meaning you can share, remix, or rework as long as you give credit.