Saturday, 15 October 2016

Interview: THE BREEDERS (1993)



THE BREEDERS: 
 KIM DEAL – MEMOIRS 
 OF A WOMAN OF PLEASURE 

The BREEDERS tend to talk at the same time, and sometimes the 
resulting cross-talk makes as much sense as a Japanese VCR manual. 
 But the Barbie Generation has come of age. And it takes no prisoners. 
 An interview in which the Geekoid Heavy Metal equation is defined. 
 The secrets of sentimental Bikers, wankey Beatles lyrics and Tom Jones 
are discussed, and drummer Jim is sexually harassed…



‘I don’t understand this Who thing?’ complains Kelley Deal as the lights shriek and the feedback zigzags. ‘They what? – they recorded an album here?’

Well, no. Not actually HERE. Not here at the ‘Metropolitan University’. But yes – the Who did do a 1970 ‘Live At Leeds’ vinyl full of the kind of bombast and swagger that now sells like cold cakes. Of course, things have changed a tad since then. All that testosterone male Rock ‘n’ Roll braggadocio is deader than tank-tops, isn’t it? As hairy as a month-old turd.

By contrast, the Breeders ‘Live In Leeds’ can be as delicate as a moth. And simultaneously deadlier than bombs. In the earth-shaking stakes they’re probably somewhere around the 89-mark on the Richter scale. The levels of seismic activity that cause mass evacuation in Southern California. But they move through sheer swerves of volume into sudden halts and pauses, strange distortions and bursts of half-audible vocals, with Kim and Kelley Deal at the centre of the energy. Breeders are the quake epicentre of the Nineties main musical thrust – the female revision of Rock’s antique blueprints. An anti-matter inversion of all that frazzle-brained riffology. Aren’t they?

‘Rush. Ted Nugent. Michael Schenker. UFO’ enthuses Kim. The bands they saw during their formative years, ‘’cos they was RAAAWK!!!’

‘I saw Rush about thirteen times’ brags drummer Jim. ‘Black Sabbath. Ozzy Osbourne…’

But all those Dukes of Dork are Metal. All the worst excesses of politically incorrect unsound sound! The guys who savour guitar solos as if they’re blow jobs.

‘Ah. But there’s Cool Metal’ explains Kim patiently. ‘Mountain. Rainbow – that’s kinda cool metal. But then you have your Geek Metal too. Everybody else thought it was metal, but you didn’t like that. Geek Metal would be…’

‘Kiss’ suggests Kelley, delineating the Geekoid party line.

‘And who else – Night Ranger. That’s Geeky. Toto, Loverboy, Foreigner – YUGHK!’ She wrinkles her nose in disgust. ‘I’d like for Breeders to do a Ted Nugent song. But the thought of us doing a Foreigner song – UURRRGH!’ A pause for reorientation. ‘But I like everything. I think “Sleepwalk” is a pretty song (Santo & Johnny’s 1950s instrumental hit). I like the Chiffons “He’s So Fine”. And what’s that one that goes ‘…why do birds si-ing so-oh gay…’?’ She sings the song sweetly and directly at me, demanding identification.

‘I like Jim Morrison’ declares Jim. His intervention coming as a momentary distraction from Kim’s interrogation. ‘It’s just great pot-smoking music.’

‘Tanya likes the Doors a lot.’ Tanya is Tanya Donelly, one-time Breeder, now full-time Belly. But to Kim ‘naw, Jim Morrison just gets a little too weird for me.’

‘Too weird for YOU! How could THAT happen?’ howls Jim incredulously. ‘That’s impossible.’

‘‘I am the Lizard King?’ I ain’t buying that y’know’ she grumbles suspiciously.


--- 0 --- 

The Barbie Generation has come of age. And it takes no prisoners.

Kelley is reading the ‘Wordsworth Classics’ paperback ‘Fanny Hill: Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure’. Her well-thumbed 99p edition of John Cleland’s Nineteenth Century soft-core is crushed down into the upholstery between us. Erotica, or proto-Feminism? I’m tearing up theory. Party lines are up for grabs.

Kelley’s dark hair shows the residue of recent perming. Kim’s is the same deep black, worn long and lank. She used to be a Pixie, and she’s all surface toughness, but fast and very funny too. Both Deal sisters dress on a casual overdrive. Consider the changing aesthetic of the female form from Titian to Allen Jones. The Deal’s come somewhere around ‘Minnie The Minx’.

‘New York is right here’ explains Kelley, indicating a position on an imaginary map printed in mid-air between us. ‘Right? And Pennsylvania is… here,’ one invisible step from right to left. ‘And Ohio is right HERE,’ an emphatic stab a further step to the left identifies home.

‘I’m right next door to Chicago’ adds drummer Jim (Macpherson), Breeder’s token male. ‘We’re just surrounded by a lot of cornfields.’

‘We have a rehearsal space downstairs in our house. Me and Kelley live together in Dayton, Ohio. Jim lives fifteen minutes away. Josephine… she lives fifteen HOURS away, in England.’

‘But she’s hardly ever home. She’s usually with us’ glows Kelley. ‘That’s the way we like it.’

Josephine Wiggs is no Pixie. Never was. But she’s got an M.A in philosophy from Sussex University, and she did cut three albums with her old band – Perfect Disaster, plus one called ‘Nude Nudes’ (1992, Playtime Records) as part of a duo called Honeytongue (with Jon Mattock of Spiritualised). She’s a calorie-controlled version of the Deal sisters, slimmer and more tightly focussed. ‘Do you realise, if I lived in Los Angeles it would take about the same time? A bit less. But not THAT much less. That is – if you could get a direct flight… which you can’t.’

Kim is unconvinced. ‘But yeah, I bet it probably would. Are you thinking of moving to Los Angeles?’

‘No. That’s just an example.’

Breeders interviews tend to be like that – slightly off-centre. Their internal dialogue is wondrous to behold. It’s a Living Soap Opera with gags, handbrake turns, and buckets of adrenalin to upset your every preconception. They don’t easily open their heads for inspection, not because they’re devious or evasive. Just that they tend to de-rail each other. While Breeders songs give tantalisingly distressed impressions of murky pasts. So let’s unzip the past, from where Kim and Kelley used to be an acoustic duo playing Truck-Stops.


‘In Dayton, Ohio? Yeah,’ from Kim. ‘If you were a guy in Spandex you could play the Bars. And if you did a lot of Night Ranger. You did a lot of .38 Special. You did a lot of Toto – that kind of thing. But there were some places we could play. We used to do an old Hank Williams song, “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)”. We did it recently as a ‘B’-side (of “Divine Hammer”, October 1993). And an Elvis Costello song – “The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes”. I remember doing that at Truck-Stops. We also did Delaney & Bonnie things. We did “Comes The Time”, the Neil Young song. And things that we had written. “Do You Love Me Now” (on ‘Last Splash’, August 1993) is from that time. You could play Country stuff. And you can do some Blues stuff. Biker guys – they don’t mind sitting down and watching pretty girls sing and play guitar. It’s a lot different to College-age-type kids who just think ‘there’s no fuckin’ way we’re gonna sit around listening to THIS shit’. But it’s weird because these tough big macho Biker guys – you know?, you could make them cry. You really could, and it’s so nice. There’s this song by… oh yeah, Little Feat! You know the one where they go… erm… TWANG TWANG T-T-TWANG AH-AH OW-OW AH-AH – right?’ She mimes with huge soulful emphasis, thrashing out monstrous chords on an invisible guitar as she memory-searches the title. ‘It’s called…’

‘....“Special”’ suggests Kelley.

‘Yes, that’s it. And it’s all about watching Mexican girls singing and playing in a Cantina in Mexico. How the guy finds all his answers when he sees them play…’ (it’s actually “Spanish Moon” on ‘Feats Don’t Fail Me Now’ (1974) ‘well I pawned my watch and I sold my ring, just to hear that girl sing, yeah yeah’).

And it goes on.

This is what life is like on planet Breeders.

--- 0 --- 


Memo to the serious reader: ‘Pod’ (May 1990, 4AD) – the Breeders first album, comes in a sleeve-shot that resembles one of those ‘naughty’ vegetables that people used to send in to the Esther Rantzen TV-show, and now stick on sniggery ‘Facebook’ posts. Those that resemble mutant genitalia. Built around a trio of Kim, Josephine, and former Throwing Muses sister-act Tanya, it can be a slow and grunge-heavy album. There’s a sharply faithful Beatles ‘White Album’ remnant, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” (but ‘…just towards the end there’s a section that we just don’t sing at all – ‘and when I hold you in my arms, and I feel my finger on your trigger…’, y’know, they’re going into those risqué really horrible things. Sometimes they did some really wanky things’). But the sharpest most perverse song is Kim’s “When I Was A Painter”. A massive snit of resentment exploring the shape of ravaged and hoary sexual relationships and the intricacies of gender politics.

But why ‘Pod’? It’s a title that sounds like something out of the ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’ movie.

‘Yeah. It’s just self-loathing. A bunch of ugly stinking gross songs. That’s it!’

Steve Albini gets producer credits. But although the main-man of Big Black and Rapeman may be a sorcerer of sound with breathless credentials, can’t he also be… er, difficult to work with?

‘He was really great. He was fun. He’s funny. He’s a smart guy.’

‘A smart ass’ grins Kelley.

‘A smart ass too’ admits Kim. ‘But in a neat way. He’s different. Some producers really become a fifth member of the band. And they really, like, agonise over every decision. But what we had was… we’d go ‘do you like this guitar sound, or this guitar sound?’ And he’d go ‘I don’t give a fuck. It’s not my band! Do whatever the fuck you wanna do. Just tell me when you’re ready and I’ll put the mikes on.’ I can see how people might think he’s difficult. But, y’know – don’t hire him if you want a big fan. He’s not like that. So just don’t hire him.’

‘He can be difficult if you continue to disagree with him’ agrees Jo. ‘But basically, if you go in pretty quickly and say ‘oh, we’re going to do this, this and this’, then he’s not difficult.’

The resulting sides are immaculately twisted, and they shove Breeders way above the Pop Event Horizon. Outside of dildos and Tupperware, pieces of moulded plastic (and whatever it is CDs are mad of) have rarely been known to trigger such intense reactions. Now Tanya and Kim, Belly and Breeders, occupy different planets. But they still inhabit the same sonic solar system. Kelley joined Breeders in time for their ‘Last Splash’ album. It was her initial reading of another underground classic of erotica – a Marquis De Sade biography, that ignited “Cannonball”, the band’s first charting single (UK no.40, August 1993).

‘We just had this conversation about it’ relates Kim.

‘I haven’t – like, read his actual works’ admits Kelley with a devious smile. ‘But I saw (Pasolini’s 1975) movie of his ‘120 Days Of Sodom’ and it was like ‘my gawd!’’

‘I can invent my own fantasies, thank you. I don’t need to READ through that.’

Take these words – and stick ‘em in your head. Kim Deal can think around corners. It was Kim who wrote the Pixies bristling “Gigantic”. Her songs manipulate the complex exchange rates between energy and intelligence, combining the mind-bending with the mundane. The Breeders make violence graceful.

And… Frankie Lymon.

‘Why do birds si-ing so-oh gay…’ I suddenly worry Kim’s question through to its conclusion. The song she can’t name is “Why Do Fools Fall In Love?” – originally recorded by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. He was a star in 1955 at the age of fifteen, a junkie at twenty, dead of an OD in 1968. One of Rock’s early casualties…


--- 0 --- 

‘Women DO throw their underwear at Tom Jones, you know?’ muses Kelley in wondering disbelief. ‘Why? That’s an interesting question.’

The Breeders might be at the quake epicentre of the female revision of Rock’s antique blueprints. But the amused fascination with that old frazzle-brained riffology remains – from the Who, to the ludicrous posturing of Tom Jones.

‘I saw him in Manchester’ admits Kim. ‘At the ‘Apollo’. And talk about sexual imagery on stage! Here was Tom Jones, and his trousers were so tight he could hardly MOVE. So that when he reached down on one knee to pick up a Lady’s underwear…’ She mimes it out in very slow, very careful, exaggerated slow motion, as the rest of the assembly disintegrates into hysteria. ‘He picks up the Lady’s underwear, he wipes his brow with them, and then he gives them back to the woman.’

‘But then there’s Marky Mark!’ and his Calvin Kleins.

‘Yeah, he’s got into a lot of trouble. If he doesn’t take his pants down and show his underwear, they don’t want him to perform. Now THAT’S a fuckin’ problem, don’t ya know? WE don’t get any sort of things like that. THEY’VE got the problem! And have you noticed recently how many guys are taking their shirts off? Evan Dando. The guy from Depeche Mode. Even the guy from Tears For Fears opened his top button. Why?’

‘You’re getting the wrong idea’ grins Jim slyly. ‘When I take my shirt off on stage, it’s because I’m burning up.’

‘Naw Jim, we’re talking physique here. When you do it we’re not talking about the same thing’ insinuates Jo mischievously.

‘Now THAT is sexist, Josephine’ scolds Kelley.

‘No, it’s not sexist. It’s cool.’

‘Naw – it’s English.’

‘We’re just kidding around here’ assures Kim. ‘Of course, Jim’s not uncomfortable. But what is a joke to you might not be to someone else. You have to ask ‘is it appropriate’ or ‘is it inappropriate’? Does it make somebody uncomfortable…’

I came here tonight to sniff out the critique of the Nineties main musical thrust, and I wind up with the Geekoid metal equation, the secrets of sentimental Bikers, wanky Beatles lyrics, Tom Jones, and the inappropriateness of sexism. But is Jim uncomfortable? More sexual harassment is yet to be inflicted upon his uncomplaining person.


‘…Another good album cover-picture was for Tad’s ‘Eight-Way Santa’ (1991)’ opines Kim as the internal dialogue goes on, faster and more CD-interactive than I can type it. ‘It showed a guy and a girl in a Trailer Park. Me and Jim will do it… I’m the guy – he’s the girl…’ They get up. Jim more than a little apprehensive and unsure what’s expected of him. Kim begins to embrace him. ‘I can’t do it, you’re too big’ she complains. ‘Anyway – the guy had his hand on her breast.’

‘Jim can do that for you’ suggests Jo enthusiastically,

‘OK. Here, I’ll do it for you’ leers Jim, suddenly warming to the game.

The tableau mutates into a writhing skirmish of crawling limbs as Kim continues to talk unperturbed. ‘He just had his hand on her breast – right? It was so… sleazy. The band had just picked the picture up in a garage sale. The album was released, the radio played it. Then the couple in the picture sued – they’d become Born Again Christians, and they don’t like their photograph being used.’

Things subside from active tussle to more normal levels of the Breeders Living Soap. ‘After that they had a big contest’ she resumes. ‘The slogan was ‘TAD NEED A NEW ALBUM COVER PICTURE, SEND IT IN TO THIS ADDRESS’ and blah-blah. I was going to take a picture of myself and send that in.’ An imperceptibly reflective pause, ‘But it was just one of those things that I never did.’

Memo to the Serious Reader: I get the impression there aren’t too many other things Kim Deal’s never done.


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