The Breeders are back. Mind you, Kim Deal's Pixies-side-project-turned-alt-rock-powerhouse never really went away, releasing Title TK in 2002 and Mountain Battles in 2008. But those albums were recorded by Deal and her sister Kelley and other perfectly capable and creative musicians who are not bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson, the rhythm section that anchored the band's 1993 breakthrough, Last Splash.
Five years ago, the Deal sisters, Wiggs, and Macpherson reunited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Last Splash with a tour, and they haven't stopped working together since. The Dayton, Ohio, quartet wrote and recorded the Breeders' fifth album, All Nerve, which came out in March, and on Friday, April 13, their US tour will bring them to Showbox Sodo. Read my article on the Breeders here, and below is a longer version of my wide-ranging interview with Kim Deal.
People seem excited that this version of the Breeders is back. Reviews of the record are positive. Is it easier to appreciate all this now than it was 25 years ago?
It's interesting. You know what's specifically nice about it? When we sit down to do interviews, a lot of people will pick up the phone and say stuff like "You know, I really love the record." That's like the first thing they want to get across. And that's not necessarily the first thing that people usually say. So it's weird this time how much the music seems to be affecting people. I think people want to like stuff. And I think people like it when they like something. People almost sound like they are saying, "Man, thanks for making something that I like."
Do you get that same satisfaction out of it?
We got together for the Last Splash reunion tour. We just thought we would do some shows. Kelley said, "You know, 2013 is next year. We could ask Josephine and Jim if they want to do a few shows as a celebration." And then when we get together in the basement, it all sounds so good, but we're busy thinking about playing one song—starting one song and then going into the next song. Like, I've done it with the Pixies for Doolittle, but that's not a typical thing somebody has to concentrate on. It's kind of fun to do that with my OCD. So that's what we were basically thinking about.
And then as we got the tour up and going, 4AD thought, you know, let's do a box set. And then people are coming [to the shows], and then people want to book us for 2014. And I'm like, "Wait a minute, that's not exactly the 20th anniversary. So I'm a little confused. Are we supposed to do the album?" They're like, "We don't care what you play. Just come to our city and play." So we have these other songs and they sound so good. "Walking with the Killer" was a solo song that I had done, so we added that song and it sounded beautiful when we played it together. So I'm just saying, yeah, it did sound really good—and when we started playing these songs together, it was just like, "Man, we've got to record these."
When you all first got in a room, plugged in, and start playing, did the sound that happened surprise you in any way?
The first thing that happened was this: We started playing and I just stopped, turned around to my amplifier, and turned it up two numbers, which you know how much louder that is. Because Jim Macpherson... there's no turning him down. He's just a loud drummer. So that's the thing. It was like, "Jim's back!" Because, you know, he had taken all his drums out of my house. We played in the Amps together during the 1990s. In '97, we get back from the tour, I go downstairs one day, and all of his drums are out of my basement. We were drinking a lot during that tour, and I thought, "What did I say to him?"
Did you talk to him about it?
No. We have such emotional maturity, we made sure not to talk to each other for the next 18 years. And the thing is, he doesn't remember what I said, either [laughs].
You didn't talk to him at all for 18 years?!
Well, let's figure it out. We toured in 1997, and then we did the Last Splash thing in 2013, and we talked the year before that. So what is that? [She mumbles through some math.] Fifteen years? Fifteen years.
So how did you approach him about doing the reunion tour?
I had Kelley call him. She said, "We should call Josephine and Jim and see if they want to do some shows as a celebration next year." I said, "Sounds great. You call Jim." [Pause] I forgot how loud he was.
Is his drumming style a key component to the Breeders' sound?
His drums would definitely be one of 'em. We can't sound like us without Jim playing. His playing is joyful. He plays kind of muscularly, with a lot of joy and a lot of bounce. It's the sound of happy drumming. Which is really cool. Although this album, it's a little different because he's doing less beat-driven stuff and he's more into these open-phrasing fills that sound really beautiful.
I saw in an interview where Josephine said something about All Nerve being the follow-up to Last Splash. Does it feel like the proper follow-up to Last Splash to you?
[Laughs] Maybe to her it is because she is not on those other albums, so to her it is the follow-up. But for me, it's the follow-up to Mountain Battles. No, I agree with her. It does feel totally different. It really does. Each album had different lineups. For this lineup, this is the follow-up to Last Splash.
Maybe a better question would be: Does this feel like the "classic" lineup of the Breeders to you? It's being billed that way.
It feels like it, because people respond like it's the classic lineup, which means they're really happy to see this lineup. It makes me wonder if people are happy to see [former Breeders bassist Mando Lopez], but he's playing with Morrissey, so I don't even feel bad. Mando, the old bass player, is good-looking enough to play with Morrissey now, and he's been with him for like five years.
Not to discount what people like, but I think a lot of people who liked Last Splash certainly didn't run out and get Title TK or Mountain Battles. So maybe the music does sound different. There is something about this lineup, with Jim and his drumming, Josephine and her negativity... [Laughs] I'm just fucking around.
How much do you think the interpersonal chemistry in the band plays a role in the music?
I think a lot. It feels like Kelley and Jim and I are these Midwestern [types], and Josephine... Here's the thing: She's from an incredibly small town in England. I've been to her house—her manor. But she comes with this incredibly regal accent. It's a good blend. It's weird. Josephine likes to say that me pushing the songs forward and her pulling back on the songs... creates a frisson.
Do you agree with her on that?
I know that it's happening because I speed up and I'm not supposed to, and I think she's too fucking slow. So I do believe it's happening. But when she says it, it makes it sound really exciting. So maybe there's something to it.
How about your chemistry with your sister? How has it changed over the years?
The big thing about Kelley for me now is that she's gotten to be a really good guitar player. On this record, she's doing some really cool stuff. Like on "MetaGoth," Jim and I had that riff and then she started playing stuff on it and just made it sound super-cool. There's a lot of drama with her guitar playing. She's adding a lot of horror to the songs. Not drama—she's adding the horror.
I know that you spent years caring for your mom. [Deal's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2003.] I'm curious if you think that experience has changed your perspective on the music you play or the people you play with?
There's a lot of pathos, isn't there? Anybody who's caring for a child or a spouse or a parent with a chronic, debilitating illness, day after day, hour after hour, month after month, year after year, it's heavy, man. I mean, it's fine. We do well. It's a dynamic thing. It changes.
I guess I just wondered if it might have accelerated your appreciation for people and perhaps opened the door to playing with this band again.
Living my life, I always thought: As I grow old—coming to terms with my own mortality, trying to make peace as I'm going along—I'm thinking, "You know, I guess that's why you just really have to have a beautiful life, so you can have the memories." And then after working with my mom, I'm just like, "That's all bullshit." She doesn't remember anything! Lost her mind in 2003 at age 69. She doesn't have any memories. And that's not the nicest thing to come out of it. Jeez, when you say it, it makes me think I really should try to focus on loving the people that are still here. Which I do... I don't know.
Well, my question has no basis in your reality. Your experience is real. My question is some romanticized projection of what I imagine your family has gone through.
Everybody loves my mother. When someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, you never know how they'll be. They could be a runner. They could have OCD where they scrape the aluminum off the bottoms of the pans. They could be audio—they could go "aaahhh aaahhh" all day long. And some people can hit and be extremely aggressive. But imagine what they're going through. Their brains aren't even clocking. Tiny dots of light become these bright hallucinogenic moments. It's like a horrible acid trip that never stops. So my mom... she is just the sweetest thing. She rubs her toes together when she eats ice cream. She smiles. We're really lucky.
Okay, back to the music. Last question: I've noticed in reviews of All Nerve and chatter on music-focused message boards that "Dawn: Making an Effort" is universally cited as a highlight of the album. Everyone loves it. Does that song stand out to you as special or different in any way?
It does feel special. It was just this little ditty, and then Kelley started playing that beautiful guitar. We recorded it in our digital studio. That was the only song we've done digitally. And we tried to re-create it in analog to make it sound super-good, and we never made it sound as good. It is weird, because all it does is get bigger. It starts at the beginning and just gets bigger. There's no this part and that part. There's no real rhythm. It's just this big long swell like: "Oh my god, I'm going to try to wake up today. I'm going to try."