“Not that I’m anti–record company — I really appreciated the advances we got from Warner Bros. when we got them. But as far as I’m concerned, music is not a commodity. It’s something that people have earned by being human. They have a right to hear it, and a right to share it, as they always have in churches and parties. That’s how music happens.”
On the first Tuesday of 2004, 50-Foot Wave began a monthlong residency at the Silverlake Lounge with exactly 11 songs and a stage full of vintage and modern gear to play them on. From the first chord, it was clear this was neither a reworking of Throwing Muses nor an extension of Hersh’s broody solo work, but something new, brighter, more polished and more intricate than anything she’d done before. “It’s a shitload of counting,” Hersh says of the band’s sound. “It shifts and shifts and shifts. But that’s the essence of a power trio — you’ve all memorized each other’s parts; it becomes this triangle of strengths. You have to be playing within each other’s beats and around each other’s notes all the time. It’s hard work, but every single measure is fun.”
Fun or not, it was hard to bring the band back for an encore that night; the audience
wasn’t quite big enough to persist, and Hersh admits the band was out of songs anyway. “We had to dig to the bottom of the barrel,” she says. (They finally re-appeared to perform a straightforward version of “Your Ghost.”) Two weeks later, the crowd was bigger, louder, and rushed the stage as the show wound down. By the end of January, you couldn’t get in the club after 9 p.m.
Hersh and O’Connell have not let this go to their heads. They’re pressing only 5,000 copies of the band’s six-song debut, due out March 23, and offering volume discounts on the Web site so fans can resell them at a markup. “We need that kind of viral distribution,” says O’Connell. He also plans to get the songs on iTunes. “It’s a very fair model,” he says. “Their payment schedule is sober and correct.”
Ryder and Wyatt show up — they’d been wandering in the bookstore — and the 12-year-old graciously introduces himself and his brother. “He can play some 50-Foot Wave songs on the guitar,” Hersh says of her second-oldest son; the 7-year-old, who stares out from huge eyes “the color of the ocean,” is like “a little Jackson Pollock — he just draws and draws and draws wherever he goes.” (Dylan is already off at college.)
I ask Hersh what it means that a 37-year-old mother of four is playing faster and harder than she ever has in her life. On paper, it just doesn’t seem right. “It’s the only way I can play right now,” she says. “I need to remove my mind and keep it busy with something so the gut can kick in. I’ve got to get to the no-mind place, and the only way I can do that is by playing fast and loud. It’s like how mathematicians have to keep pogo sticks in their offices and jump on them or they can’t think clearly.
“I don’t understand why everybody my age isn’t doing it. Everybody should play louder and faster the closer they get to 40.”
50-Foot Wave performs at Amoeba Records in Hollywood on Tuesday, March 23.