A good Deal better with The Breeders
Breeders frontwoman Kim Deal on revisiting their iconic ‘Last Splash’ album, being a fan of Skrillex and how the idea of ‘feminist rock icon’ rankles with her
Kim Deal of The Breeders onstageat the 2013 Hangout Music Festival last month in Gulf Shores, Alabama. (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images)
The last thing you expect Kim Deal to want to talk about is the weather, but she’s on the phone from Boston and eager to know the meteorological situation in Dublin. “I was just talking an English person, and they were saying that they were having a really late spring, or something. Has it come to you guys yet?”
It quickly becomes apparent that Kim Deal is the sort of interviewee who is both interested and interesting, asking questions and answering with a directness, warmth and wit that is rare. There is no trace of a rockstar ego, although there could be, because Kim Deal is a bona fide rockstar.
You could spend hours talking about herinfluential work with the Pixies, but we’re not here to talk about the Pixies. Today, Deal is in Boston with The Breeders, the band she formed with Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses in 1990. It’s been 20 years since the release of their acclaimed second album, Last Splash, and the quartet (her twin sister Kelley who later replaced Donnelly on guitar, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson) are touring the re-released edition, LSXX.
“My memories of that album?” Deal takes a moment to think about it. “Well, I really enjoyed it, but it was really hard at the same time – just even getting out there to the west coast to record. Josephine flew into San Francisco from England, but me, Kelley and Jim McPherson loaded up the U-Haul with all our gear in Dayton, Ohio, and we had to cross the Mississippi, the Great Plains, we had to go over the Rocky Mountains . . . and this was in January. There were roads closed, we had chains on our tyres . . . poor Jim was in the driver’s seat during the treacherous Wyoming Pass. If we’d broken down, me and Kelley would probably just have eaten him first,” she laughs. “Poor Jim, but he was a trooper and he got us down the mountain. It was fun. I brought my _acoustic in that front little cab, and I remember playing it; Hag was written on the way out there, actually.”
When the album was eventually recorded, they had no expectations for its success, she says. Their debut album, Pod, had been wellreceived, but the idea that anything that The Breeders would put out would be played on radio or become a hit was absurd – even something as sparky as Cannonball.
“I remember after Cannonball was mixed, thinking ‘Well, that’s really good’, but at the time, when we were recording it? No. I mean, we had demoed these songs out in Dayton, Ohio, and when we got out there to San Francisco, it was just about getting them down; it didn’t make sense that these songs would be on the radio. Back in those days, the charts had the shittiest music on them; nobody listened to the charts, except to make fun of them and dance along with stupid dance moves. But you didn’t actually put Paula Abdul on the headphones and smoke a joint. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who did, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I like that song, but . . . ” she trails off, giggling. “That idea of ‘aiming for the charts’ wouldn’t have been something that I, or anybody that I knew and liked musically, would have thought of. That was for choreographers and fashion and brand identity and lifestyle branding, things like that. So yeah, it was surprising when we started getting played. And it was fun.”
Does she listen to any chart stuff these days? “It’s interesting, because digital music has given music a different landscape of sound,” she says. “A lot of the time, there’s hardly any traditional instruments in music anymore, and it still sounds great – like the Skrillex stuff, stuff like that; the keyboards he uses are so far away from an electric piano or any other sort of analogue instrument. Or Micachu and the Shapes, I like them, too.”
Although Last Splash was recorded 20 years ago, Deal says the songs still have an emotional resonance for her.
“They’re actually still quite relevant to me, yeah. I always think of hip-hop as something that might sound really fresh when it first comes out, but it can get quite stale quite quickly and kind of sound a little dated – just because it’s supposed to be fresh, urban stuff. But since I was never using that sort of style, [older songs] do seem to still maintain the voice that I would use today and the things that I would say. So I’ve blown it all, basically,” she says with mock-dismay. “I’ve blown it all, intellectually and emotionally.”
She may joke, but given the turbulent period of their writing and recording (the Pixies had yet to split) it’s easy to imagine those songs acted as an anchor for the down-to-earth Deal. Her life as a musician may have brought her around the world, but she has lived back in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio for the past 10 years, where she still rehearses with The Breeders in the basement of her house. A recent jam even brought about a new song, which may or may not provide the first track for the follow-up to 2008’s Mountain Battles.
In recent times, Deal has stepped into the world of solo recording, releasing a series of limited edition 7” singles, although the prospect of doing a full album, surprisingly, still seems daunting to the woman who has been a near-constant presence in alternative rock music over the past two-and-a-half decades. She modestly plays down her status by pointing out that the limited edition run of her 7” singles has still not sold out.
Her thoughts on being seen as a feminist rock icon are a little more complicated. “I don’t mind it as a title,” she says. “I think maybe feminism got a bad name in the 1970s. I don’t know why. I don’t mind, I don’t think ‘feminist’ is a bad word, but I guess ‘feminist’ makes it sound like you’re pursuing something actively at every moment, like a policy of women’s protections, or rights.
“It sounds like it’s a high-vigilance sort of status you maintain, whereas I really don’t think most women need me to protect them or their rights; I feel like they can do a really good job on their own,” she chuckles.
“I’ve been asked lots of times to do articles for newspapers and magazines on being a female musician, but I just don’t like how it’s a convenient way to tie things into a theme. A lot of times, newspapers are all about ‘Women Who Rock’, and I never want to do it, because I never want to be on the list of ‘women who rock’, I just wanna be on the list of ‘people who rock’.
“I mean, if somebody wants to include me [in an article] that’s fine, because it’s true that I’m a woman – but I wouldn’t really want to go and do an interview and talk about my experience as a ‘woman who rocks’, or something. To me, that would be impossible to do – like asking a man: ‘As a man – what’s it like to rock?’. It doesn’t say what I like about music.”
It’s a somewhat serious topic for a musician who seems pretty permanently upbeat. Although she has seen some hard times over her 52 years – band troubles, divorce, her sister’s rehab in the 1990s and her own rehab in the Noughties – I mention that she’s smiling in the vast majority of both promo and candid shots. Have there been any regrets over the years?
“Oh sure, tons of things – but little things. Especially in the albums; you think ‘Oh, I wish I’d had less reverb on that vocal’. But otherwise? Hmmm. I’m really scouring my mind to think of stuff. I’m thinking ‘If I say that, will it be embarrassing?’” she says, laughing.
Still, though her long and varied career has had its ups and downs, Deal says making her living in any other way was never an option.
“Music has always been in the background, even when I was 18 and had a studio in my parents’ house and was recording to tape,” she says. “And it’s fun to do different things, like learning how to play drums. I’m a guitar player, but in the Pixies, I played bass, and I didn’t sing. In other things, I do sing and I’m playing guitar, so it’s nice to do all sorts. I like playing other peoples’ stuff too, if they’ll have me; I’d love to play the drums on peoples’ stuff. It’s easy to get dizzy because there’s so much to do with music, and it’s easy to stay busy – there’s so much going on. Music always reveals so much. The learning of it is never complete, know what I mean? It’s just never complete.”