Alibi V.27 No.16 • April 19-25, 2018 

Music Interview

One Divine Hammer

Chatting with Kelley Deal

The Breeders
Maria Gesualdi
Sometime just before his star-struck reign began and then right before the end of the age of the slight elfin guitar god from the northern woods, America developed and fooled around with a truly alternative rock sound that the antics of Nirvana can be said to both presage and be the derivative of, too.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s assume college rock can be defined by a work by the Pixies, called Surfer Rosa that dropped in 1988—while the Cobain was still lost in Aberdeen, trying to figure out how to sound like Buzzo. Among other prophets of the age, Kim Deal played bass on that definitive Pixies outing, providing a transgressive yet translucent role model for future groovy rock star identities which had previously been predominately male in presentation.

Dude probably heard that album in the same way Wilson heard Rubber Soul for the first time. And as his life collapsed around him, on a never-ending, never grateful tour for an album he didn’t particularly care for, Last Splash, by a band called The Breeders—that featured Kim Deal and her twin sister Kelley on lead guitar—dropped just in time to end the summer of 1993 with some strand of hope.

I say a strand of hope because at that time it was mostly a matter of what band sounded most authentic, most like it came from the same dark woods and bright jet airplane-making environment that had hatched the likes of Kurt and Crist and Wayne and the boys at STP and all of them all. And that sucked.

But The Breeders were different: calmly, purposefully manic, gritty and casually informed about pop music—in a way that put the plaid-clad alpha males of the great Northwest I mentioned above to shame. There wasn’t an ounce of metal in what The Breeders were doing and it totally rocked. And they were three quarters female. Besides Kim and Kelley, Josephine Wiggs played bass; Jim MacPherson handled drums but didn’t interfere with and somehow cooly complimented the rocked-out yoni energy these three women dispensed on stage.

And now 25 years have passed since all of that happened. I met the quartet at a gig they were doing in Santa, at the convention center in the fall of 1993. Back then I was working as an assistant monitor engineer. Serio. Great fun. You need more treble.

Everyone is much older now. Now, I’m writing about music more than I am mixing it. And I was wondering what Kelley Deal was up to—her band The Breeders, are playing on Thursday night, April 19, here in Burque, after all—what she thought about being part of one of the most culturally influential rock bands of the ages now and back then in the golden age, too. This is what she told me as we talked.

Weekly Alibi: Hi, is this Kelley Deal?

Kelley Deal: Yes.

Hey, this is August March. Can we talk, because I’ve been thinking about The Breeders. I worked your concert in Santa Fe back in 1993; that plus the fact I have a twin brother named Albino who lives in Dayton has led me to non-stop listening of Last Splash this past week. Can you help me, Kelley?

[Laughs] You’re fucking kidding me, Albino! How do you spell his name? He’s a professor at the university …

He hangs out at all the seedy bars by the university, so yeah I can see how you might know him. He’s a famous Chicano poet.

Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you. If I see him … oh, my god, that’s fantastic. So yeah, so you’re old too, huh?

Yeah, now I’m like the local music critic, but en serio, I wondered what it was like for you 25 years ago and how are things, the scene, different now?

For me, everything has changed. It’s hard to quantify that, but everything is subtly different. I’m different; the music landscape is very different. I think, and I’m not going to be one of those old gen-xers that says “back in my day, music mattered.” I do recognize that music has a different place in people’s lives today. Just like, you know, going out and seeing shows. That’s where everything in the social milieu happened; they didn’t have other options. Now people have, for better or for worse, a digital world. I’m not the type to complain to say, “back in my day, if you wanted to talk to someone, you had to go find them, knock on their door and look ’em in the eye.” I like change; I like innovation. It’s all good.

I have to say, I like being part of the future, too. For those of us that have survived it’s pretty cool, no?

It’s totally cool! That’s how it was then, that’s how it is now. I was reading about how musicians went on strike in the ’30s when bands began playing on the radio. This has always been a thing; old technology is replaced by new technology. Technology can disrupt an industry. It’s either evolve or die.

Are you seeing that kind of evolution among audiences during this tour and is this a good time to tell you that Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer prize?

I wanna get more involved in that. I looked at that yesterday and thought, “He did what?” I don’t understand it, I’m not railing against it, but obviously I need to learn more about today’s [pop culture].

I only started listening to his work, three years ago and I’m like, “how did I not know about this?”

I have feelings about that. For me, because I would like to, you know, somehow dip my toe in that pool, experiment with that sound. And there are ways I could do it. But I can’t because I don’t play the blues. I will never play blues music authoritatively. I won’t do it, and I won’t be some white chick singing the blues.

Well, you all seem to come from that Midwest or East Coast rocanrol tradition anyway, that has it’s own baggage, I would think.

Yeah, it’s funny, growing up in the Midwest and going out every weekend as a kid and hearing every iteration of bad white blues imaginable. That really makes you say no. Those kinds of experiences have really turned me off to moving too far off genre.

The Breeders always seemed like an alternative to that genre-hunting, an alternative to the alternative, as it were. While grunge rock rose and then faltered, your alternate timeline, filled with creative individuals like your sister and Tanya Donelly continued to create innovatively. How and why?

We weren’t of that ilk. We were kinda put in with a lot of other bands at the time, we were mostly being influenced by things that were going on in Boston, on the East Coast. We never looked to the Northwest for inspiration or influence. Initially, those sorts of bands weren’t even on my radar. I first heard about it in the alternative press, when grunge started making the news. It seemed very regional at the time. We were really focused on what Throwing Muses was doing. That was in Rhode Island. And the Pixies: Boston, Boston, Boston.

What’s important to you now, as you revisit the glory of the past while creating a new, sqeaky-clean version of a beloved band?

I’m having a really good time doing it. I was reading through an interview we did, where Josephine [Wiggs, the bassist] was talking. I re-read it. She’s very thoughtful. She was talking about how, before, when you’re doing this rock thing, you are in a different age bracket, so you’ve got so much ahead, there appears to be so much more to come. You don’t think about the road that you’re on. Not to get old on you August, but, now I do feel like this involves renewed appreciation for—seriously—every single note I play. I’m like, “this is the bitchin’ lick that goes here, and god, that’s a cool lick!” And then there’s our goal, on with the show and Jim [MacPherson, the drummer] plays with so much joy; and Kim is having a blast, jamming, fucking things up left and right. I’m just really appreciating all of that now. Kim and I have been playing together since we were 13 and so this is what we do. Together.

Kelley, are you part of the avant-garde? What’s that like?

[Laughs]. It’s awesome, it feels really good. This is the thing that makes me high. It’s the thing that makes me tingle. Music makes sense to me and orients me to the correct point on the compass. I like that we’re an art rock band, so thanks for that. … And tell your twin I said hi! Don’t forget to come up and give me a hug if you see me on Thursday!

Right on! Bye, Kelley.

The Breeders: “Divine Hammer”

The Breeders in Concert!

Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sunshine Theater • 120 Central Ave. SW
9pm • $22 • 13+
holdmyticket.com/event/299675
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