FOREWORD: I caught up with guitarist Kelley Deal, Kim’s lower profile twin sister, in 1999. Their band, the Breeders, had gone four years without an album, due to Kelley’s personal problems, but returned in good form on Title TK. Afterwards, Kim and Frank Black reconvened as the Pixies on a high profile national tour, playing favorites for loyal minions. Finally, after all the excitement, the Breeders returned with Title TK’s belated follow-up, ‘08s psychedelic-etched Mountain Battles.
Before Nirvana exploded, the biggest underground American band was arguably Boston-based quartet, the Pixies. After ‘88s monumental tour de force, Surfer Rosa, and ‘89s even more resilient Doolittle set the stage for ‘90s grunge, inspiring Kurt Cobain to compose the anthemic “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” bassist Kim Deal became unhappy with the limited role lead guitarist Frank Black dealt her. Determined to stake ground on her own, Deal picked up the guitar and formed her own band, the Breeders.
Following the formative ’90 debut, Pod, the Breeders (Deal with former Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donnelly and ex-Slint drummer Britt Walford) hit real paydirt when the explosive Last Splash crash-landed in ’93. Now consisting of Deal, her twin sister Kelley, friend Josephine Wiggs (former bassist from Perfect Disaster), and Jim Mac Pherson, they stormed college and mainstream radio with “Cannonball,” an electrifying masterpiece full of Kelley’s rubbery bass bounce and Kim’s searing guitar sonics. “Cannonball” became one of the biggest post-Nevermind alternative rock hits, allowing the Deals’ to sniff (or “huff”) the fumes of fame left in the wake of grunge rocks’ path.
But drug addiction took its toll on Kelley (busted by the cops for accepting a package of heroin) and Kim struggled to come up with new songs. In the meantime, Kim and Mac Pherson formed interim band, the Amps, releasing the fine, under-recognized ’95 one-off, Pacer.
After much debilitation and more deliberation, Kim and Kelley finally got their shit together and began working on new tracks during ’99. On the ambitious, long-awaited Title TK, the twins’ dry, pallid altos slouch drowsily forward over spare rhythm and controlled guitar-bass on the opener, “Little Fury,” creating an understated harmonic interplay that informs some of the better moments. All three tracks Kim and Kelley laid down as a duo in ’99 prior to Richard Presley (guitar) and Mando Lopez (bass) coming aboard, “Too Alive,” the buzzy narcotic mantra “The She,” and the brittle verses of the otherwise loud, noisy “Forced To Drive,” fare well with this approach.
It should be duly noted Presley and Lopez were members of the legendarily nihilistic art-punk combo, Fear, which released the thrilling debut, The Record, in ’82, at the height of West Coast post-punk hype. They met Kim in New York City when she was desperately searching for serious musicians to work with. A late night drinking spree led to a jam session and a mutual admiration was formed. Along with Kim’s East L.A. buddy, drummer Jose Medeles, a newfound passive-aggressiveness secures new Breeders material such as the exuberantly chuggin’ “Full On Idle,” the creepy flowing “Put On A Side,” and the hyper-driven “The Huffer.”
AW: Before we get into Title TK, give me some background on the under-recognized Kelley Deal 6000 projects from the recent past.
KELLEY DEAL: After my condition got worse (from heroin), I received treatment. By ’95, I felt great and creative. I went into the studio with the Frogs’ Jim Flemion and Dave Shouse from the Grifters. It was real fun. One record was called Go To the Sugar Alter. Someone asked if it was a reference to heroin, but it was unintentional or subconscious. Dave referred to the Hammond organ as the sugar alter. Next was Boom! Boom! Boom! Last time I toured with them was ’98. Then, Kim and I started working together again.
Your press kit claimed Title TK was recorded in an analog alcoholic haze.
(laughter) Kim was doing a lot of stuff in New York City. It became more of an answer to Pro Tools, not a revolt against digital technology. But it’s not a lo-fi 4-track portable recording.
No. But there’s a quiet splendor and melodic subtlety to spare tracks like “Little Fury” and “Off You” that fans may mistake for lo-fi.
People listen to this and compare it to what’s out now. Quote unquote ‘alt-rockers’ like Creed and Limp Bizkit… I can’t tell the difference. I’m a big Country music fan of not only standards like Bill Monroe, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, and Kitty Wells, but also early ‘80s Randy Travis. But what happened in Country was new acts sounded like the same five session guys in the exact same Nashville studio with the same writers but different vocalists were doing everything.
What’s with all the driving metaphors on Title TK?
You’re the first one to recognize that! We didn’t want to write touring songs like Bob Seger’s “On the Road Again” (a.k.a. “Turn The Page”). So we downplayed it. Kim found this ‘Dear Traveler’ section in a road atlas and photocopied it to add to the artwork in ’99. But things evolved. We didn’t want to make a road record.
“Son Of Three” is another ‘motorific’ number.
Europe wanted another single so we’re gonna do a live version that’s sounding real good. “Cannonball” was a punch track for radio before they ever decided to make it a single for America. I didn’t think people would be cool enough to get that record. At the time, Josephine and Jim came back from the recording studio and were so mad. They couldn’t believe Kim put all that distortion all over the song.
Kim claims it was difficult getting musicians to play with. Was that because DJ culture has sapped creative instrumentation?
Part of it is DJ culture. Part of it is the digital revolution. People could go to their bedroom and they have Pro Tools and keyboards. So why get band mates with bad personalities? Kim was in New York and people knew she was in the Breeders, so they expected to get paid for practice jams.
I see there’s a vinyl version of the new LP.
CD’s are handy and they are everywhere. But I recommend vinyl. It’s so beautiful. You can hear an added dimension and white sound or empty space better. The bass on our record booms better and sounds so huge on vinyl. It was not only recorded on analog, but mastered, too. There’s only three places left that still do that. One was Abbey Road studios where we went.
You end the album with the vibrant “Huffer.” What’s that about?
I don’t want kids to think it’s fine to huff paint, so use discretion. But it’s about huffing chemicals. There’s the line, “I tried it once, but I’m not that quick” and “gotta get your jolt.” But it’s from a negative view. The song before that is “T and T,” which actually stands for Toil and Trouble. So when you’re toiling with huffing it’s trouble. That’s why they’re together. “T and T” is like an introduction.
Does the overall relaxing mood reflect maturity, especially since you’re settling down to get married soon?
I don’t think it’s from maturing. Last Splash was the party record while this is the morning after record.
What was it like growing up in Dayton, Ohio? Fellow band Guided By Voices live a rather active lifestyle.
Braniac was also from there. I have a great t-shirt of theirs that said ‘Fuck Y’all, we’re from Dayton!’ on the back. I was going down the road and saw a sign that said ‘flagger’ recently. I think it’s so funny Bob (Pollard of GBV) uses so many local references. It’s a private joke in Dayton that the roads are always under construction.