Kristin Hersh‘s forthcoming Meltdown Festival appearance – an anticipated highlight in this month’s Robert Smith-helmed programme at London’s Southbank Centre - will not be her first: Patti Smith’s Meltdown roster in 2005 saw Hersh perform alongside Tori Amos, Yoko Ono and Sinead O’Connor. In the intervening thirteen years, Hersh’s life and career have both been crowded with incident and the show comes at an exciting time for the artist, having just signed a new record deal with Fire Records, which will be the home for her next record (‘Possible Dust Clouds’, due out over the next few months).

As we look forward to the new album, the Meltdown performance and additional UK summer dates, we revisit our in-depth conversation with Hersh at the time of the release of her previous album-and-book hybrid, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace.

It took Hersh five years to craft Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, named after her son, who had spent most of her recording sessions behind the studio, exploring an abandoned apartment block into which coyotes had moved, in the absence of humans.

According to the Throwing Muses linchpin, the coyotes live with discarded mattresses, teapots and old books people left behind after moving out. They hunt in the woods and then come back at the end of the day, as though they are coming home from work. Her son, who is on the autism spectrum, was fascinated by the coyotes’ process and the place they’d appropriated as their abode, filming it in the snow, in the summer heat and spring mists, whilst Hersh was laying down the 24 tracks for the record.

About three years into the recording process, Wyatt suddenly lost interest. Or, rather, refused to allow himself to continue exploring what became known as the Coyote Palace. Hersh was devastated, as she’d loved his love of the building, until Throwing Muses' drummer, Dave Narcizo, suggested to her that Wyatt's love of the place would come back, when the images are filtered through his “intense and fascinating psychology”.

I ask Hersh whether Wyatt was present in the studio at any point during the making of the record. "No, not at all”, she says. “Wyatt is in his own world and he was there with me but he spent most of my studio time exploring the Coyote Palace behind the studio. I didn't believe in the artistic personality until I met Wyatt. He's a piece of art, himself. He's lost in his own world and I wouldn't want to interrupt that so, if anything, I follow him around. He doesn't follow his mother around. The name [of the record] is... what it is and also what I wanted it to be. I aspire to Wyatt-ness, I don't know if I will ever achieve it. Dave explained that Wyatt leaving the Coyote Palace behind was also what you had to do, that was part of the equation - it had to be finite. You have to be able to walk away unattached. Wyatt needed to encapsulate his sense memories of the place so he can reflect and bottle the memories. I think Dave’s right. I don’t think I’d be able to play a song if the song wasn’t a syringe of memory shooting through my bloodstream. I don’t think I would ever play a song about something that was on-going. I have to time-trip into a big budget home-movie.”

The five-year period which Hersh counts as the time it took to bring the project into life was punctuated by various other creative endeavours, not least Purgatory/Paradise, a double album with the Muses, as well as Don't Suck, Don't Die, an honest and moving book, which paid tribute to her musician friend, Vic Chestnutt, who took his own life back in 2009.

On the one hand, you imagine Hersh as a busy-buzzing-bee of a worker, who doesn’t rest for a second and finishes tons of things in quick succession, but on the other, hearing her talk about the process behind Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, you get the sense that some of the time is spent honing and re-honing things so that they are as near to perfect as possible. “I mean, yeah, it has taken five years, which is more money than I have the right to spend as a single mother to four children”, she chuckles.

About six years ago, Hersh fans started receiving bits and pieces of work in progress from the singer-songwriter via email, promising a total of 24 tracks under what then went by the working title Spark Meet Gasoline. “Some may change before they’re done. Some may be disappeared”, the email stated of the demos about to be unleashed. The first track sent out was a beautiful if sombre acoustic guitar number called ‘Secret Codes’. “Oh, that’s a sad one”, Hersh agrees. Was it the song that started this project off? “Ummm… sure!”, she laughs uncertainly and then adds that she doesn’t think of songs in time linear terms so it’s difficult for her to remember exactly.

“Those were unfinished demos. I... I feel very uncomfortable releasing unfinished stuff”, she hesitates, “but people like to have that key-hole view of the process, it seems. I'm on the fence. I think the answer is probably to release little snapshots of the process after the fact - when the pieces are a realised endeavour, it's safer to take it apart. But, yes, those were demos and, at the time, I didn't have a title for this record so I would take some lyric and name it that. It's just a "this is what's going on right now" kind of thing.”

The only track from Spark Meet Gasoline that hasn't made it onto the record is a song called 'Rubber Bullets'. I ask Hersh what it was about this song that she felt wasn't right for Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. “Usually it's just that a song doesn't play a role as a phrase in the paragraph that is the record”, she explains. “But in this case, I think it added a sonic quality that... well, there wasn't anything wrong with it but the performance was not in keeping with the tone of the record. Sometimes it's hit and miss that way. You know, I had a journalist with me in the studio watching me move the snares around until it sounded like the drums were played out of time. He said, "that's a dollar a minute I've watched you spend, recreating the drum parts as if they were played poorly. Why?!", she laughs. “I said, it had no feel, it was played as if there was no heart, only muscle. And muscle has to be infused with heart, otherwise, there's no strength and no fragility. But that did make me question my decisions. I think 'Rubber Bullets' was on top of the beat rather than behind it, it wasn't grasping that fragility of tone that Wyatt at the Coyote Palace has. A lot of songs - I think there were probably 25 or 30 songs - didn't make it onto the record for that reason. They just didn't have that clean, human feel. The production is so layered on top of that, that if it isn't clean and it has no heart, then you end up with a top-heavy robot. Nobody needs that as their soundtrack.”

When I audibly gasp at the fact that up to thirty songs were left off the record, Hersh is amused. "Yeah, when it was time to mix the record I called Steve [Rizzo, who engineered the album] and asked him how many songs I'd recorded, thinking 14 or 15. There was a long silence and I said [loudly] "Steve!" and he goes "Hold on! Counting!" - what, counting to 15? How long does it take? And then he goes: 57!", she laughs. "I had recorded a lot of songs! It wasn't just 'Rubber Bullets' that didn't make the grade.”

I ask her how she then manages to whittle it down to 24. “You gave the chop to more than half of what you had”, I argue, showing off my mathematical prowess. "Oh it feels great”, she says. “It's like somebody punches you in the mouth and you spit out. They were good, they were useful but now they're gone."

Does she then just forget about them or might she revisit them in the future, I wonder. “The songs don't really stop for me”, she muses. “Historically I have too many songs. And the ones that didn’t make it onto records, they did play a role. But I figure I can do better. I wrote my last book, the one about Vic Chestnutt… it had erased three times off my iPad. I never really had it on iCloud or anything so it just disappeared three times. It's like somebody setting your notebook on fire. And each time I thought - oh well, I just have to write a better one."

I am again taken aback and suggest that I'd be devastated if that happened to me. "Well, you'd think! But I figure I wrote better ones”, she says, resigned. “I have to think that, otherwise it would be devastating. I really don't have time for that."

Hersh famously writes 50 Foot Wave [her band with bassist Bernard Georges and drummer Rob Ahlers] songs on her Gibson guitars, Throwing Muses songs on her Telier or Strat and solo songs on her Collings. So were all the 24 tracks on Wyatt at the Coyote Palace written on the Collings, then? "Yes”, she says with a little hesitation. “But sometimes I don't play them, sometimes they're just in my head until I get to the studio. I rarely write them down until somebody makes me for some reason, you know. An edit or printing lyrics. In this case it wasn't until I printed the lyrics for the record itself, which I did because of a conversation I had with a friend that started here at the beach and continued through New Orleans and New York and L.A. To play around with the songs, I had to - for the first time in my life - study lyrics to the point where I actually knew them."

I ask Hersh what was, for her, the most enjoyable part of recording Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. "Oh, playing the drums!”, she offers immediately. “That's always the best because, well... drums are just so much fun! Bass is pretty fun too, guitars are a little fun but the drums I was, like: “carry me through a blizzard!” - I can stay up all night playing drums, it was really fun."

The stories interspersed with song lyrics in the hardcover book part of Wyatt at the Coyote Palace hold Hersh’s unmistakable voice even if you are narrating them yourself, as the reader. An instance in point is a short piece just before the lyrics to Hemingway’s Tell, in which Hersh writes: “The painkillers and the pain are fighting and I’m losing”.

I ask her about the prose and the process of incorporating it into the book. "It was while I was making [the album] that my friend said "you know you guys all die in all your stories, right?" and I was, like, "what? no we, don't!". And she goes, "yeah, you do! And you all think it's funny!". So I started looking at that and, because I was making this record, it sort of informed my sensibilities: you don't take yourself seriously but you do take life seriously. There's a gravity that is overlooked for ego sensibilities and it's important not to play that game, particularly if you're trying to make something like music. So those stories have gravity and we all take ourselves seriously in them, they're all true."

Because Hersh is very prolific as a writer and a recording artist, one might (possibly mistakenly) think that it all comes pretty easily for her, in terms of being able to mine the ideas and give them life. I ask her whether there were any songs on the record on which she struggled to match her original vision with what the instruments in the studio enabled her to do. "I think 'Shotgun', the last song... it's the most obnoxious guitar solo that ever happened”, she cackles. “I kept saying "I can't be that person!". It's really important to me to edit myself. I'd listened to it and the song just didn't want to shut up. And then there's this - what I'd consider a knowing, baby-doll piano... - there's something about it that is so deeply jarring and so deeply soothing that it happened right away and... the song was right. I just fought it and fought it and fought it but, in the end I just said, you know what, the song is always right. I go into the studio and I know exactly what my fear is, where to place it in the room, how to break the instruments until they sound the way I want them to sound. I know which reverb to use and which ones not to use, I know what the mix is going to be like and what mastering is going to be like and… I am always completely wrong. And I love that. I love that I am so off-base that I have to listen to the songs, because it isn't about style. If it isn't substantive there would be no style. You can't come at a song and tell it what to do, or it will be smaller than you. And that's really small. Nobody needs that."

On Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, Hersh plays guitar, bass, drums, piano, horns and cello. Are you bringing a band on the road or will you be doing these songs solo on stage, I ask. "Oh Solo, yes”, she says. “It's like a naked person instead of a person in an outfit, that's all. I had to learn that there was no dollar-to-decibel equation when I started making solo records, because a song body is a very raw thing and you can dress it up and that's not necessarily a false move on your part, but it may be an unnecessary one at times. To remove that wall of sound is to remove that wall between you and a listener. I am just sitting there with a piece of wood and [me and the audience] are more together when it's raw like that. It's maybe less impressive but the word intimate is used for a reason. It's a closer place to be to the music.”

The time comes for us to wrap up our conversation but before we say our goodbyes, I refer back to the fact that, at some point before going to mastering, Hersh had amassed 57 songs. I want to know how she knew that the album was well and truly finished. "I didn't”, she says. “I didn't want to finish it – ever! That's why it took five years of selfish wallowing”, she laughs. “And then I was sitting in the studio and I finished the final edit on the book and the final edit on the record at exactly the same moment and I can't tell you how impossible that is. It's impossible, that's all. And yet, it happened and Steve and I looked at each other and Steve, I think, thought that I was just going to keel over. I did too. So we looked at each other wide-eyed and he's like, "Kris - you need a beer!". So I raced into the kitchen and the only beer I had was, like, a high-school beer and I go - "definitely not". So we grabbed the gin out of the freezer and gin informs the rest of that evening. And then it was all ok. You guys all drink gin. We don't do that in America but it was all good."

I spend the evening after my chat with Hersh listening to all 24 tracks on Wyatt at the Coyote Palace in succession, twice in a row, and taking in the poetry of her stories and the poetry of her answers to my questions and I reckon I’ve figured out what makes her art so special and important to me – it’s that commitment she talks about to only play a song if the song is a syringe of memory shooting through the blood stream. It’s all raw, it’s all truth, it’s all there.

For a first taster from Kristin Hersh’s next album check out LAX. Wyatt at the Coyote Palace is available now on Omnibus Press. Kristin Hersh plays at Robert Smith’s Meltdown at the Southbank Centre on 21 June and for full details of her UK tour head here.