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
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