a big­ger splash

UNCUT - - The Breeders - Photo by Marisa Ge­sualdi

With a bril­liant new al­bum, All Nerve, due this month, THE BREED­ERS and their clos­est con­fi­dants look back with Tom Pinnock on the mu­sic, friend­ships and trou­bled times at the heart of their re­mark­able saga. “I don’t know how other peo­ple do it,” says Kim Deal.

KIM DEAL IS RE­FLECT­ING ON THE SIG­NIF­I­CANCE of Day­ton, Ohio, in the story of her band The Breed­ers. As with much of the Amer­i­can Mid­west, Day­ton has been hard hit in re­cent years and is in search of an eco­nomic turn­around.

“The re­ces­sion was pretty dev­as­tat­ing over in the mid­dle of States,” Kim re­calls. “All these lit­tle main-street towns you’d go down, 35mph and a cou­ple of stop lights? The towns are still there, but ev­ery­thing’s shut down. But let’s be pos­i­tive about it. We have a friend who has a pool, he in­vites us over. We have the Cincin­nati Reds base­ball team, we go to Reds games. We watch foot­ball at each other’s houses – that’s an all-day big deal.” The band’s bassist Josephine Wiggs, who is orig­i­nally from Bed­ford­shire, has an out­sider’s per­spec­tive on Day­ton’s de­cline. “Build­ing shop­ping cen­tres in the sub­urbs of Day­ton killed the city cen­tre,” she says. “But now there are all these aw­ful de­crepit strip malls, 70 per cent empty but with a cou­ple of in­cred­i­bly sad busi­nesses, a grim-look­ing sushi restau­rant and maybe a taek­wondo stu­dio.”

All the same, Day­ton – other fa­mous alumni: the Wright brothers, Martin Sheen and Guided By Voices – is cen­tral to the mu­sic, and lives, of The Breed­ers. Deal still lives there, as does her sis­ter, lead gui­tarist Kel­ley and drum­mer Jim Macpher­son, while Wiggs splits her time be­tween Day­ton and New York. Macpher­son, mean­while, works as a master car­pen­ter when he’s not be­hind the drums; his wife cares for the Deals’ mother, who has Alzheimer’s. When they’re not re­hears­ing or record­ing, the Deal sis­ters also get ice cream with friends, or­gan­ise bar­be­cues and delve into the grisly shows on the In­ves­ti­ga­tion Dis­cov­ery net­work.

“They’re pro­foundly goofy to­gether,” says Steve Al­bini, the band’s long­time pro­ducer. “Kim and Kel­ley are both re­ally into true crime – they can blow an evening on killers and mur­der gos­sip eas­ily.”

While base­ments are of­ten the scene for just the kind of macabre crime de­picted in these shows, Kim’s is re­served in­stead purely for acts of a mu­si­cal na­ture. It was there, for in­stance, that the quar­tet put to­gether All Nerve – The Breed­ers’ first al­bum since 2008 and the first with the ‘classic’ lineup since 1993’s Last Splash. Just 11 tracks and a com­pact 34 min­utes, it in­cludes a bol­shy cover of Amon Düül II’s krautrock gem “Ar­changel’s Thun­der­bird” and runs the gamut from sweet (the crys­talline “Dawn: Mak­ing An Ef­fort”) to caus­tic (the glow­er­ing “Ner­vous Mary”).

De­spite their pedi­gree, The Breed­ers still op­er­ate like some­thing of a cot­tage in­dus­try, self-fund­ing their records, with no per­sonal as­sis­tants or day-to-day man­agers in­volved; it’s ad­mirable, but in Day­ton it’s also some­thing of a ne­ces­sity.

“We’re in Ohio,” says Kim, “there’s no busi­ness man­age­ment or mu­sic man­age­ment – or even an ac­coun­tant that does books for bands. The idea of a per­sonal as­sis­tant out here would be like, ‘Fuck you, I got my own shit to worry about!’”

The idea of a Breed­ers re­union seemed un­likely a few years ago. To get there, they patched over a lot of hurt. When this lineup splin­tered in 1995, English bassist Josephine Wiggs had long gone, lead gui­tarist Kel­ley Deal was in re­hab in Min­nesota af­ter be­ing ar­rested for heroin pos­ses­sion, and Jim and Kim had formed the hard-drink­ing, short­lived Amps. With help from the band, long-time pro­ducer Steve Al­bini, en­gi­neer and tech­ni­cian Mike Mont­gomery and co-founder Tanya Donelly, Un­cut pieces to­gether The Breed­ers’ tale of long es­trange­ments and re­newed friend­ships, drug abuse and so­bri­ety, and some of the finest rock songs of the last few decades. Along the way, con­ver­sa­tions take in Deal’s fi­nal de­par­ture from Pix­ies, and the tor­ment of creat­ing fin­ished records. “I mean, all of them are just so hard, you know?” Kim laughs, when Un­cut asks if any of The Breed­ers’ al­bums have been a breeze to make. “They re­ally are! I don’t know how other peo­ple do it. I wish I did.”

THE BREED­ERS are in Lon­don on a brief Euro­pean press tour, os­ten­si­bly to dis­cuss All Nerve. The night be­fore we meet, they play to a packed Elec­tric Ball­room, and then the next morn­ing head to BBC 6 Mu­sic to per­form new sin­gle “Wait In The Car” and 2002 fan favourite “Off You”. Meet­ing Un­cut in the pri­vate base­ment of a restau­rant near Broad­cast­ing House, they in­sist on be­ing in­ter­viewed to­gether as a four-piece, bick­er­ing and

jok­ing as if the years apart never hap­pened. Later, Un­cut speaks to them in­di­vid­u­ally from their homes in Day­ton, where they are each able to of­fer a more mea­sured view on their ex­tra­or­di­nary tale. It prompts all man­ner of mem­o­ries along the way; some more favourable than oth­ers. Kim re­mem­bers one in­ci­dent from Jan­uary 1993, when The Breed­ers hired a U-Haul van, piled their equip­ment into it, and drove alone across one of the most moun­tain­ous ar­eas of the United States. “We had to take this box truck through the Wyoming moun­tains, over the Rock­ies, to record in San Fran­cisco,” she says. “We went through the lit­tle pass that ev­ery­body died at, like we were gonna eat each other and shit… Snow­storm, roads closed… Me and Kel­ley were cling­ing onto Jim scream­ing when we were go­ing down these moun­tains – it was like a sled!” “I was white-knuck­ling the steer­ing wheel,” says Macpher­son. “We had to stop be­cause our van was slid­ing. It was scary.” If this was a rocky ini­ti­a­tion for Macpher­son, who had just joined the band, it would prove to be a fit­ting prepa­ra­tion for what was to come. The Breed­ers’ 1990 de­but, Pod, had been recorded in Ed­in­burgh over two weeks with Al­bini, who had helmed Pix­ies’ Surfer Rosa three years be­fore. The idea was that Pod would fea­ture only Kim Deal’s songs, with the fol­lowup writ­ten com­pletely by gui­tarist and for­mer Throw­ing Muse, Tanya Donelly. “I re­mem­ber we were in our py­ja­mas a lot as our rooms were up­stairs from the stu­dio in a big, beau­ti­ful old house,” says Donelly. “We were both in the iden­ti­cal po­si­tion of be­com­ing more pro­lific song­writ­ers in bands that sim­ply couldn’t ac­com­mo­date two busy writ­ers. Find­ing sup­port in each other at that time was lib­er­at­ing and ex­cit­ing for both of us, and I’m ex­tremely grate­ful to have been part of the first round.” Re­leased in May 1990 and fea­tur­ing the sub­lime, moody “Doe” and a de­con­structed cover of The Bea­tles’ “Hap­pi­ness Is A Warm Gun”, Pod found favour with Kurt Cobain and im­pressed Al­bini. “I have worked with a lot of great mu­si­cians, but I’ve only worked with a cou­ple of peo­ple who lis­ten with the kind of pre­ci­sion Kim does,” he says. “I’ve de­scribed it be­fore as lis­ten­ing through the mu­sic to the thing be­hind the mu­sic, and she’s re­lent­less in pur­suit of that, the evo­ca­tion of mean­ing. The slight­est thing can break the spell, and only she can tell when she’s achieved it.” When Donelly de­parted af­ter the “Sa­fari” EP to form Belly, Kim, Wiggs and new lead gui­tarist Kel­ley re­cruited Macpher­son – vet­eran of any num­ber of Day­ton bands – as per­ma­nent drum­mer. Then came their treach­er­ous drive across the Rock­ies to record Last Splash; once in the stu­dio in San Fran­cisco, things didn’t im­prove, with Kim book­ing a se­cond stu­dio be­cause she didn’t like the drum sound. “I lit­er­ally thought I was go­ing to die in the stu­dio dur­ing Last Splash,” she says. “‘Oh my God, this is so much work.’” It paid off, though – less than a month af­ter Last Splash’s re­lease in Au­gust 1993, The Breed­ers were on the couch talk­ing to Co­nan O’Brien on Late Night: “We gave hick­eys to each other last night,” Kim ex­plained to the host. “We got drunk at four o’clock in the morn­ing and we thought, ‘Ooh, we’ve gotta go on na­tional TV, let’s give each other hick­eys.’ And this morn­ing it didn’t seem so funny.” A few sec­onds af­ter, Wiggs jumped up and gave O’Brien his own love bite.

The Deal sis­ters were now some­thing of an in­die sen­sa­tion, helped along by the in­fec­tious, ec­static “Can­non­ball”. They toured ex­ten­sively with Nir­vana and played Lol­la­palooza, while Last Splash soon sold over a mil­lion copies in the US alone, and reached No 5 in the UK. By 1995, though, the lime­light didn’t seem so ap­peal­ing: Wiggs was con­cen­trat­ing on other projects, Kel­ley was in re­hab af­ter her brush with the law, and Macpher­son and Kim had formed The Amps. The ‘classic’ lineup was no more.

“I was just a fuck­ing wreck,” Kel­ley says, look­ing back to her younger days. “If there was not drugs or al­co­hol or par­ty­ing to be had, I wasn’t in­ter­ested in it. ‘I’m hun­gover and I’m sleep­ing late, and I’m gonna get up some­time later, eat some­thing shitty and then start drink­ing again.’ That’s how I spent that time!”

The Amps sim­i­larly found their par­ty­ing was get­ting out of con­trol. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple took place in Dublin dur­ing 1995, where they were fin­ish­ing off

“This is so much work”: back­stage at the Cat­a­lyst in santa Cruz, CA, Oc­to­ber 10, 1994

Love bites all round on with Co­nan O’brien, septem­ber 23, 1993 Late Night

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