Kelley Deal: The Breeders, ‘Last Splash’ and Halloween costumes
Last Splash is still the quintessential Breeders album – and still enormous fun to listen to. DOUG WALLEN chats to Kelley Deal about the album, the band’s upcoming ATP tour and the possibility of a new Breeders record.
Without even hitting play, The Breeders’ 1993 album Last Splash still resounds as a beacon of the 1990s alt-rock boom, where such a defiantly noisy record could sell a million copies with the prompting of just a bass line and a quirky video. But when you hit play, it all comes flooding right back: the squalling distortion, the nagging pop hooks, the shrugging experimentation. Twenty years old next month, Last Splash deserves both its era-defining reputation and the lavish attention of recent box set LSXX.
Newly free of Pixies obligations, frontwoman Kim Deal is bringing the gosh-wow classic to Australia in its entirety for ATP’s Halloween-themed Release the Bats, complete with the line-up that made it: bassist Josephine Wiggs, drummer Jim MacPherson and her guitarist sister Kelley Deal.
I revisited Last Splash and it’s noisier than I’d remembered. I wondered if there was any input or pressure from Elektra to clean it up a bit.
You know, we didn’t have a relationship with Elektra. We were signed to 4AD. Or Kim was signed to 4AD. They had licensing agreements with [various major labels]: certain bands would be on Elektra, some were on Warner. So I don’t really know them. But 4AD was always super supportive with any creative decision we ever made. Nobody ever walked in and said, “Oh, why don’t you turn those vocals up?” That didn’t happen with us.
There’s that great vocal distortion, which is a big part of the record. Is there a story behind using so much of that?
Well, specifically on ‘Cannonball’, Kim knew she wanted to sing using this bullet mic. It’s a harmonic mic, and when you cup it in your hands it makes feedback. And then we put it through a Marshall, which makes even more really, really great feedback. So that was always the plan, using that somewhere. That was very experimental. It’s not like we did that live. That was something we knew we wanted to play around with and were able to capture some cool sounds.
Was a lot of it done in that DIY, low-budget way of just putting stuff together?
It was really fun and experimental in terms of “Here’s a sewing machine. Let’s get that in there. Let’s mic that up, see what that sounds like.” Which is at the very beginning of ‘S.O.S.’. But it wasn’t like a lo-fi, experimental record. I mean, we were in a studio that cost money. Back then, being in a studio … that was scientific. That cost a lot of money. We were very respectful of that. We were very rehearsed; we did a lot of rehearsal, we played the songs out. Having said that, a song like ‘Mad Lucas’ – even though we had a demo of an idea of the song – that didn’t come together until we were in there, pulling parts in. But other songs: “1 2 3, here it goes.”
It’s such a pop record, but it does have all that super-noisy saturation.
I think there are pop songs on it, but I don’t know that the album itself is a pop album. Because when you listen to ‘Roi’ or ‘Mad Lucas’ – or, I don’t know, what else? What other songs are dirges on there? Like ‘S.O.S.’ is just grunting; there’s not even any words on that. [Mimics wordless vocal sound] I do think there are definitely pop songs on there.
Do you have a favourite song on the record?
It changes. But when we’re playing it live, the song ‘S.O.S’ is super fun to play lately. I’ve been having a really good time. Because it’s hard to get that feedback and try to make it ‘sing’. To play feedback and try to find notes and keep the notes up and bend the strings and try to catch that next note – that’s just good fun. Sometimes it really works and sometimes you’re like, “Fuck, that didn’t work! This room sucks! I can’t get any feedback!”
“We got a little weird with it, but it’s really fun doing that”
Yeah, are there are certain songs that are just really hard to make work live?
Well, they are all workable. But they were challenges. For instance, the song ‘Roi’. Do you hear that thing that’s going … it sounds like the Enterprise on like Voyager. It’s like a pulsing, like a heartbeat. Or an ultrasound. [Mimics the sound] There’s this wonderful pulsing that’s going on, which is actually Josephine playing a cello in the studio. But Josephine is playing the drums on the song, so Josephine can’t play the cello. But we do have a violin player with us, so what we got is Carrie [Bradley, who plays violin on ‘Drivin’ on Nine’ and ‘Invisible Man’] playing the violin through an octave pedal, doing those sub-sounds, getting that [Makes vibrating sound]. Doing that, which sounds really cool.
The only thing that is not played live but is triggered: there’s Moog, with the wind and the bubbles, on that same song. What we did is just try to recreate those sounds using the same Moog … and Moogs are notoriously tricky to play. You can’t tour with them. They change from night to night; you can have the same settings and it still sounds different. But what we were able to do is recreate the sounds and then load them into a sampler. So Jim plays the bass and then I think we’ve got nine sounds sampled; he just hits a button. “OK, we want wind here.” [Makes wind sound] We’ve like mapped it all out. We got a little weird with it, I gotta say. But it’s really fun doing that.
Yeah, you’re almost reverse-engineering it, picking apart the songs and doing it backwards.
Has it been interesting to play with Josephine and Jim again? Has it unlocked certain feelings?
It’s just … it feels like … when we went down to the basement and started rehearsing, we got two or three songs in and it was just like this flood of “Oh my god, this is so familiar.” It feels so incredibly familiar. I’ve played with other bassists who have done the [famous opening bass line from ‘Cannonball’] and, not that they are not terrific players, but unless you are the person who actually did it on the record, it’s like, “Oh my god, there’s that sound. There it is.” And they’re really nice. Everybody’s really nice. There’s not a dud in the bunch, y’know, which is really … we’re lucky.
Is there a new Breeders record in the works?
I don’t know. I mean, Kim is doing a series of singles. At kimdealmusic.com you can get these. They are beautiful. She’s got like seven singles that she’s gonna be releasing. She’s on the second one now. There are a couple of those songs that I’m like, “Why can’t we grab one of those?” There’s a couple of those that I would love to do live. But I don’t know! I don’t know.
What about you? What have you been working on?
There’s this guy named Mike Montgomery. He and I released a single on Misra and have been touring under the name R Ring. We’ve been doing that. That’s been really fun. We just got out of the studio. We did two songs. I think we’re going to do another single for Misra. Just kind of schlepping around: we went to Europe and played some European shows. Then played a bunch here in the States. It’s kind of easy for us, because we both know a lot of people: “Hey, we’re comin’ through town. Could we play?” “Sure!”
Do you think part of the reason Kim left the Pixies recently is to devote more time to her stuff and to Breeders?
No, I don’t think so. I think that was just one of those things where people grew apart. I think they wanted different things from music, y’know?
Is Kim still in Dayton [Ohio] as well?
Do you guys keep up with current Dayton bands? Do you still go to gigs as fans?
Yes, we sure do. There’s a lot of great Dayton bands happening right now. There’s Motel Beds. They’re terrific. Now this isn’t a Dayton band, but there’s this southwest Ohio band called Buffalo Killers. They’ve got a nice ‘70s vibe. Who else? A band called Crusher. He [Nick Eddy] is a friend of mine. They’re funny. He’s a great songwriter.
Will you guys play other songs besides Last Splash as an encore?
Well, did you hear what we did in London [in June]? We played all of Last Splash and then for the encore – this was Josephine’s brilliant idea; bitch! – instead of doing B-sides we came back and we played all of Pod in its entirety.
Is that a hint? Is that something you might consider doing [in Australia]?
I don’t know if we’re going to do it again. I don’t know. We haven’t done it since. You’ll have to ask Josephine.
It’d be pretty special.
It would be pretty special. But I don’t know. We’re playing there for Halloween, aren’t we?
Yeah, are you gonna dress up?
Somebody else was asking me. Should I? How could I? I never have before … I mean, I dressed up when I was a kid, but not to play a show. It seems awkward.
It’s fun to dress up and get drunk and see bands. It loosens people up.
Right. I would like to do that and go see that, but I’ll know if I want to be the guy up there sweating off whatever makeup I’ve tried to put on. Whatever gloves I have for the costume for trying to play guitar – it seems kinda hard…
Yeah, you have to have something that’s still workable, that’s not getting in the way of your actual playing.
I could go to Halloween as a lead guitarist. [Laughs]
You and Kim could go as each other maybe.
Yeah, that was talked about. That was talked about. [Laughs]
The Breeders ‘Last Splash’ tour dates
Saturday, October 26 – All Tomorrow’s Parties: “Release The Bats”, Melbourne
Monday, October 28 – Enmore, Sydney
Tuesday, October 29 – Tivoli, Brisbane
Thursday, October 31 – Astor, Perth