A breed apart

A cussing, cack­ling Kim Deal tells Jim Car­roll how Pix­ies fell apart and were put back to­gether, how The Breed­ers made their drop-dead gor­geous new album ... and then she has a chat with her mom

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

IT’S A cold, cold morn­ing in Day­ton, Ohio. Proper cold, says Kim Deal. Her car is frozen over and no amount of coax­ing will get it started, so she’s wait­ing for a lift to take her into town. To­day, Kim and the other Breed­ers are go­ing to have a party. “It’s a record re­lease party, ex­cept it’s not a record re­lease party be­cause peo­ple don’t buy records any more, do they? We thought it would be funny to have one any­way.” Kim Deal cack­les. “It’s go­ing to be in the Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars club over on East 3rd Street. We made our­selves a cake which is shaped like a record. I know, I know, it’s so loser. No­body is go­ing to be there ex­cept the band. That’s our kind of party th­ese days.” She cack­les again. You get the feel­ing that there is go­ing to be a lot of cack­ling dur­ing this in­ter­view.

The Breed­ers are back. Bet you missed them. When it comes to scuzzy riffs, un­kempt gui­tar nuggets and un­ex­pected melodic pop turns, you can al­ways count on The Breed­ers. And when it comes to very strange but al­ways in­ter­est­ing in­ter­view tan­gents, you can still thank­fully al­ways count on Kim Deal.

She’s in the mid­dle of talk­ing about one of the pro­duc­ers who worked on the band’s new album, when she’s in­ter­rupted by some­one at the other end.

“Hey mom, I’m talk­ing to some­one from Dublin, Ire­land. Yeah, he’s Ir­ish. You’re Ir­ish, aren’t you? Hey, we’re not sure but we think our mom is Ir­ish. She’s from the Ap­palachian hills of West Vir­ginia. We think that her real last name was Aust. Do you think it’s Scot­tish or Ir­ish? Mary Aust. Do Ir­ish peo­ple have red hair and freck­les? They do? Wow. You think the name sounds Ir­ish? Hey mom, he thinks you’re Ir­ish. That’s nice, isn’t it?”

She then goes back to talk­ing about the pro­ducer with­out miss­ing a beat.

“We did most of the tracks with Manny Ni­eto. Steve Al­bini did a few tracks and we did some with a girl called Erica Sharkey too. We were look­ing for stu­dios that were ana­logue but I didn’t want to go fuck­ing dig­i­tal.

“Manny hangs out in east Los An­ge­les. He looks like some sort of Mex­i­can thug, but he’s not re­ally. He’s a nice guy who has his own stu­dio and he had the same record­ing board as Al­bini. He ob­sessed by Al­bini. In fact, Manny’s friends called him Al­bi­nar. You don’t think that’s funny? I guess you had to be there.”

The new album, Moun­tain Bat­tles, is a fol­low-up to 2002’s Ti­tle TK. It’s a blast, all short backs and sides with songs in Span­ish (Re­galame Esta Noche) and Ger­man (Ger­man Stud­ies). Kim’s voice is pretty and pink and bit­ter­sweet in places, while the band tease bat­tered shapes into ro­bust struc­tures in a lofi, old-fash­ioned man­ner. They’re all drop- dead gor­geous tunes that sound as if they should cap­size and fall apart but don’t be­cause the mu­si­cians are so smart. We prob­a­bly haven’t heard the likes from this quar­ter since Last Splash (1993).

Many peo­ple have come through the ranks since 1988, when Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly put The Breed­ers in mo­tion as a side project to their day jobs in Pix­ies and Throw­ing Muses, re­spec­tively. Donelly has long gone; th­ese days you’ve Kim’s twin sis­ter Kelley, Jose Mede­les and Mando Lopez in the fold.

Kim has re­mained in the frame all the time. She’s flirted with other out­fits (The Amps) and she’s been on kiss­ing terms again with her old band, but she was al­ways des­tined to come home.

The Breed­ers be­gan work­ing on Moun­tain Bat­tles in 2002. “We were at the house here in Day­ton work­ing on stuff a lot. I don’t write quickly, so it takes time. Then I went on tour with that other band for a while and went back to the album last year and did some more tracks.”

Ah, “that other band”. That would be Pix­ies, the group in which Kim made her name as the bass-sling­ing Mrs John Mur­phy back in the day af­ter an­swer­ing an ad­vert in the Bos­ton Phoenix. Pix­ies re­formed in 2004, toured the world and . . . well, lets ask Kimif they had a whale of a time.

“Peo­ple were so fuck­ing happy to see us and, I got to tell you, that was nice. Back in the 1990s, peo­ple in the United States would come up to me, once they found out I was in the Pix­ies, and say they saw us play and that they were big fans. So many peo­ple would say that.

“I was al­ways, ‘no you didn’t moth­er­fuck- er’. They didn’t. Be­cause there was no­body there when we played at the start. Sure, they may have come to the big sta­dium or arena shows when we played with The Cure. No­body knew us in the States. We were on an English la­bel be­cause no Amer­i­can la­bel would touch us.”

She turns to the per­son driv­ing the car. “Did you go to the shows, Sh­eryl?” Sh­eryl says no and Kim bursts out laugh­ing. You can’t even find love for those Pix­ies in a car driv­ing down a snowy road on a cold Fri­day morn­ing.

Kim first heard mut­ter­ings of a Pix­ies re­union when she was do­ing Breed­ers tracks in Steve Al­bini’s Chicago stu­dio. “I didn’t have a com­puter or the in­ter­net, but he was ob­vi­ously read­ing stuff in var­i­ous places about rum­blings. I kind of ig­nored it.” The call came a few months later in Day­ton.

“Joe San­ti­ago called me and said they were talk­ing about putting the Pix­ies to­gether again. I was like ‘oh God Joe, no, no’. It’s true, I did, I groaned. Then Joe went ‘it would mean a lot to me’ and of course, I said OK. You can’t say no to Joey.”

Kim hopped into her Volvo and drove out to LA, think­ing and pon­der­ing all the way. Pix­ies singer Black Francis (aka Frank Black) “was on one of those hellish tours that he books that last for­ever, those tours that are like go­ing into the World War I trenches. Me and Joey and Dave [Lover­ing, Pix­ies drum­mer] went into The Breed­ers re­hearsal space and tried some Pix­ies songs. I said to them if this doesn’t work, I’m go­ing home. But we sounded ex­actly the same, for bet­ter or worse. I said ‘fuck it, let’s do it’.”

The Pix­ies went on the road and Kim stayed

on the dry. Af­ter many years on the bat­ter with drink and drugs, she de­cided to go into re­hab around Christ­mas 2002 to clean up her act.

“I was as sober as a judge on the Pix­ies tour. Like I had done some shows in South Amer­ica, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia with The Breed­ers when I was sober in 2003 and it was hard. But with the Pix­ies, it was much harder. I al­ways want a drink, but there are cer­tain places like Aus­tralia and Eng­land and Ire­land that you re­ally want to drink. I don’t go to Ger­many, for in­stance, and think ‘I want a beer’. I like those non-al­co­holic beers. They do taste much the same. Well, the malt and bar­ley taste the same from me­mory.”

Sis­ter Kelley also has had prob­lems with ad­dic­tions, but Kim says she’s good th­ese days. “You know, she was never a beer drinker. She al­ways liked the opi­ates. She loves her heroin, doesn’t give a crap about beer. Strange wo­man.”

Kim ad­mits she’s freak­ing out about how peo­ple will re­act to the new album.

“I think peo­ple are go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed, but that might be just me. They’re go­ing to hear us rock­ing out and we sound odd, re­ally odd, and sloppy com­pared to what peo­ple usu­ally lis­ten to nowa­days. There’s noth­ing on our album which is looped or made by com­put­ers. Peo­ple will be go­ing ‘she sounds too airy and they sound too noisy’.”

That sound, though, was what they were af­ter from the very start. “We prob­a­bly did some more over­dubs than usual, but that was re­ally the only change. And I sing in Ger­man and Span­ish. What do you think of that? That’s im­pres­sive, isn’t it?”

Kim’s tu­ition for the Ger­man Stud­ies track came via a Ger­man-lan­guage teacher in Day- ton. “I had this sim­ple lit­tle riff which I made up on the four-track recorder. Re­ally sim­ple, but re­ally cool. I thought it would sound even bet­ter if I sang it in Ger­man in­stead of English. Yeah, I know, great idea. Any­way, I thought I could just get the trans­la­tion on the com­puter. But there were pro­nun­ci­a­tion prob­lems, so Kelley hooked up with Elka and we went round and she showed me how to say this and that.”

A lot has changed about the mu­sic busi­ness since The Breed­ers last had a new album prepped and ready to go. Kim says she finds it hard to get her head around it some­times.

“When you start writ­ing and play­ing and record­ing new mu­sic, you don’t think it through. You don’t think about what hap­pens when you’re fin­ished. You just fig­ure it’s go­ing to be re­leased. That’s the way it’s al­ways been for me if you were in a band – it was taken for granted that you made records and re­leased records and played gigs.

“I guess it’s dif­fer­ent for younger bands now, and not just for Brit­ney. With over­weight and ugly old-timers like us, it’s the same as al­ways. We put a col­lec­tion of stuff to­gether, re­lease it and then play like mad.”

Over the phone I hear Sh­eryl tell Kim that they’ve ar­rived at the club. Time for The Breed­ers to have their cake and eat it.

The Breed­ers (from left to right): Kelley Deal, Jose Men­de­les, Mondo Lopez and Kim Deal

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