FOREWORD: The Muffs should’ve been as big as Blondie, the Go-Go’s, Bangles, or at least, Courtney Love’s Hole. Led by big-voiced shouter, Kim Shattuck, they tore into trashy hard pop candy with utmost conviction and nervy verve. I got to see ‘em thrice in New York City during the late-‘90s. But the first time I saw Kim in person standing outside of CBGB, she had sunglasses on and wore pants instead of the li’l skirts she’s known for and I didn’t think it was her. Too bad. I could’ve hung out with one of my favorite female rockers for awhile. Anyway, since this ’99 interview supporting Alert Today Alive Tomorrow, the Muffs put out ‘04s o.k. Really Really Happy and drifted into the sunset. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Pouty-faced pop-punk singer/ guitarist Kim Shattuck went from the cozy confines of Long Beach, California to the craziness of L.A. when she flew the coup in her twenties. Using music as therapeutic medicine, she formed the Muffs after a stint in fuzztoned ‘60s revivalists the Pandoras. Originally an all-female band, Shattuck recruited drummer Roy Mc Donald and bassist Ronnie Barnett and recorded one of the hardest hitting post-grunge albums, ‘95s Blonder And Blonder. With one of the most diabolical screeches since Roger Daltry caterwauled through youth-liberating “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Shattuck made the Muffs a major club attraction.
The trio’s third album, Happy Birthday To Me, traded some of the sneering vehemence and jagged, Hole-like snarl of Blonder And Blonder for the sharper melodic edges, softer tones, and more diversified material which somewhat informs the back-to-indie resonance of the newly waxed Alert Today Alive Tomorrow (Honest Don’s Records).
Running the gamut from sincere balladry to AC/DC-ish hard rock (“Dear Liar Love Me”) to spaghetti Western instrumental (the closing “Jack Champagne”), Alert Today Alive Tomorrow captures Shattuck as both maturing artist and wild-ass bitch.
Attired in her usual baby doll dresses, Shattuck’s seductive goofball sexiness and half-demonic stage presence hooked me during a sweaty, intense ‘95 CBGB gig and a vibrant ‘97 Tramps show. I spoke to her via phone in early June.
Why’d the Muffs make the switch from a major label to a small independent for the new record?
KIM SHATTUCK: Reprise was having problems so we fell in with the Fat Wreck Chords people. We were too poppy for that label so they put us on Honest Don’s. We’re on a cool San Francisco label and get a good royalty rate. As long as we keep playing and building a loyal following of fans, we’ll be happy.
Strewn among Alert Today Alive Tomorrow’s all-out rockers are several heavily emotional, sincere ballads. There’s less little girl sluttiness than previous releases offered.
KIM: Right. On “Prettier Than Me,” I was going for a Velvet Underground feel. But I wrote that ten years ago and was afraid to do it. I thought it sounded too mature and no one was gonna like it. So I sat on it for a long time. The other slow song is “Your Kiss,” but that starts off rocking before going soft.
Are you being self-deprecating on “Another Ugly Face” and “Prettier Than Me.”
KIM: “Another Ugly Face” is about someone else’s ugly face, not mine. It’s one of a continuing series of stalk and stare songs, including “Everywhere I Go.” Every once in a while I feel like I’m getting stared at. It’s a paranoia.
Your rowdy songs have a very bohemian bent. What is your take on life? Are you existentialist or God fearing?
KIM: I care about where I’ll go in the afterlife but you never know until you get there, so…I like the whole beatnik mentality but the people from that era of writers really bore me.
Are you aware the cool introduction to “I Wish That I Could Be You” sounds exactly like Who’s Next’s “My Wife”?
KIM: I’m definitely an early Who hardcore fan. I’m kind of a snob that way. But I don’t own and haven’t listened to Who’s Next. But there definitely is a Who vibe to it. Our songs go from dark and brooding to poppy and light. I wrote that song and “Lucky Guy” about Ronnie. “Lucky Guy” was a sarcastic song about how he always falls into things.
Your signature screech seems under-utilized on the new album. Why?
KIM: I started screaming less on Happy Birthday To Me. That gimmick is coming to a close. But as long as we do the old songs, I love screaming. To me, it’s just releasing a loud wail to get out frustration. Now I’m picking on myself more lyrically. I want my music to evolve naturally and move forward but I’m proud of my early albums. “Blow Your Mind” kind of reminds me of my bouncy old song, “On And On.” “I Wish That I Could Be You” is a little like “Penny Whore,” only better.
By the way, older songs like “Penny Whore” and “Red-Eyed Troll” showed a definite country influence.
KIM: When I was really little I’d watch the Johnny Cash Show on t.v. and you’d see Buck Owens on Hee Haw. I was into that a bit. But what got me playing the guitar was the second revival of rockabilly when the Stray Cats came out. I was really impressed with that kind of sound even though I can’t play it. I had a boyfriend who used to wake me up in the morning with Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. The Beatles did country tunes on their albums and that was maybe my original influence.
What have you been listening to lately?
KIM: A band called Buck that sounds a lot like us. It’s Ronnie’s wife’s band. She writes really good songs and used to be in Cub. It’s a continuation of that kind of music but way better. They totally rock. We may tour with them. Lately, I’ve been repetitively listening to a double-album of Buddy Holly. There’s a really cool place called Record Surplus around here and they have perfect condition records, some in sealed plastic. I recently bought an E.L.O. album with “Living Thing.” I love the Move. We were thinking of covering their song “Curly” from Fire Brigade on the upcoming tour. I really like the Creation compilation, too. They’re from a real dorky era of ‘60s garage-pop.
Kim from the Fastbacks told me Blonder And Blonder’s title was inspired by a comment Courtney Love made about your hair.
KIM: Yeah. She was thinking I was copying her by having blonde hair. I think she’s a toe-head: born with blonde hair that darkened as she got older.