Music

The Weekly interview: Breeders leader Kim Deal

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Kim and Kelley Deal—the ones on the right and left—and the Breeders play the Bunkhouse on September 15.
Photo: Andrew Kuykendall

Give us an update on your current tour. The Breeders have been playing all last year, and we’ve been working on new material, as well. Neutral Milk Hotel asked us to play with them out at the Hollywood Bowl at the end of September, and we thought this would be a great way for us to work on new songs. We can practice in the basement with new material, but the main way of seeing how a song is going and seeing if it’s good and getting all the lyrics done and stuff is to play them out live.

Have you started recording the new album? We’ve recorded in the basement. I have a recording studio at my house, and Josephine [Wiggs] brings out her recording stuff—she uses a computer where I use tape. So we have recorded some stuff. One song sounds really, really awesome and then another one sounds good, but I have to finish the lyrics. And then we’ve got two other ones that are sounding pretty good and a couple that sound okay, too, but we have not recorded anything yet. We’re getting prepared for that.

Is it going to be a full-length or an EP? We’re thinking full-length.

You’re releasing some solo stuff in September, right? I have had a solo series where I put out 7-inches, and that is going to be released in September. I have a new 45 coming out, the fifth one.

You play so many different instruments. How do you decide when you’re going to play an instrument versus bringing another musician in? I just kind of know. If I feel like I’m making a drum beat and it’s sounding good then I’ll end up just bringing it up from the drums. But if I want it to be something that I’m not good at … like, what Britt [Walford] is good at, I’m not good at. He can play really heavy without sounding like he’s an idiot. He plays really cool heavy, and I can’t play really cool heavy. I can just play a beat and have a good feel. But he’s really good.

You’ve also worked with Steve Albini a bunch over the years. How is working with him different from working with other producers? The only thing you have to do to work with Steve Albini is call him up and the person who answers, the office manager, will book time for you. That’s, I think, why he doesn’t like to be referred to as a producer. He prefers it if people say “recorded by Steve,” because most of the bands he’s never met before; they just come in. They’re usually young kids; he’s never heard any of their music before. They drive in, he’s got rooms already built in and you can stay overnight and then you go downstairs. And he usually likes to do a few days and the band hopefully knows the songs they’re doing and he records them to the best of his ability.

Nineties music and fashion are extremely popular right now. Is that bizarre since you actually lived it? I did notice that my friend’s kid—he’s graduating from high school—he and his friends really like The Breeders … and I’m like, “What?” And then he’s explaining, [it’s] because it sounds real. It’s not computerized and—he didn’t say all those words, but this is what I understood—it sounds authentic. I don’t know if all ’90s bands are authentic or not, but that’s what his takeaway from it is. [It] is a more authentic way of listening to music. It became a trend back in the ’90s to be indie, so what major labels did was create fake indie labels, and then if you looked at the back of the album, it would sound like an indie label but it was actually Epic, or Caroline was Virgin and TAG was Atlantic. It’s just funny. They should just like what they like and not think about what things appear to be.

There’s a Spin article from 2008 where the reporter asks you if you’re upset that you aren’t married and don’t have kids. How do you deal with the portrayal of female musicians in rock music, and do you still deal with it on a regular basis? I try to take it a case at a time. It feels like it gets better as civilization goes forward a little bit. I tend to talk slower to guys that I know have difficulty, because they’re not usually the brightest bulb on the street, and I try to deal with people who are smart and tolerant and have a good sense of humor about themselves and other people. But it is confusing. I remember playing a show with the Pixies on Sunset Strip—it was at the Whiskey in ’88, I think—and I thought the monitor guy was an asshole. I had already been dealing with music by myself in Dayton and I had been onstage by myself and with my sister in Ohio. I had always thought if I was a guy they would probably be different. But the person doing the monitors onstage at the Whiskey on Sunset—it was three guys and one girl—and he was an asshole to all of us. I realized then, it was a good lesson for me, that sometimes people are just assholes to everybody, and it’s not because I’m a chick. I think that was one of the biggest lessons in feminism that I’ve actually learned. Sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I just think that it’s me, and it’s like, no, they just have a problem, and it doesn’t matter who I am right now.

Kathleen Hanna has the Punk Singer [documentary] thing out now, too. I was not part of the riot grrl movement or anything like that; they were younger and they were doing their own thing on the different coast, and it was before the Internet. I didn’t even know how to get involved if I wanted to. But my point being, there was something that she said that I thought, “Oh my god, I’ve felt like that so many times.” She said something like, “As a girl, throughout my life I’ve had to negotiate my truth, where a man doesn’t have to.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s so strange how I’ve actually felt like that, and do I do that to women? Do they have less validity when they speak than I give a man?” I don’t think I do, but maybe I do that to guys. (laughs)

You and [your twin sister] Kelley started out playing music as teenagers. If you didn’t have a sister that you grew up playing music with, do you think you would have approached music the same way? No. I think what you just said was super key for me. Like, the fact that I had an idea and it was dumb, but someone was willing to listen to it and think, “Wow, yeah, that’s cool,” and I went, “Really?” Then all of a sudden it’s a song. And we went out and played around town and we did it. I don’t know if we were any good, but we were doing it ’cause we just loved it.

How has that relationship evolved? I said to her the other day, “Thanks for listening.” I was working on lyrics and I didn’t know if they were any good, so I got on the microphone and started singing. I said to Kelley, “Thanks for listening and letting me do that.” It was just her and me and [drummer] Jim [McPherson], and I was on the mic singing a bunch of dumb sh*t.

Do you and Kelley get a lot more done these days now that you’re both sober? It is amazing how much more work one can do. There’s an old movie called Coven—it’s the dumbest movie, but the guy kept saying, “Better to create and complete than drink and dream.” I say that as a joke now, but yeah, it’s definitely easier to get anything done than being zoinked out by anything.

I saw you play FYF last year, and it was probably my favorite show of the festival. The crowd was so interesting; it ranged from adults who went to college in the ’90s to teenagers just getting into The Breeders now. Did you ever think that 20 years later, you would be so influential to such a variety of people? I don’t know. I don’t think I would’ve thought along those terms, but that’s really cool if it is happening. I think it says more for the band and the players and the music, which is really good, like, this is palatable back in the day and it’s still palatable. So that’s a good thing.

You’ve been to Vegas with The Breeders and the Pixies. Do you like playing here? Vegas is a weird thing. I mean, it’s always super exciting and it sounds really great and it’s cool, but then you get there and you realize Vegas is a big city to gamblers but the actual indie rock population, and people who are like me, that’s the minority. So now I know Vegas is like playing anything else—a regular kind of city—instead of, “We’re playing Paris.” So now it’s really fun. I live in Ohio. It’s frickin’ boring here, so it is really cool to go to Vegas. I’ve just had to get used to separating the two ideas, one is the idea of Vegas, and one is the regular Vegas.

The Breeders with The Neptunas. September 15, 8 p.m., $15-$20. Bunkhouse, 702-854-1414.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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