“If I’m in a bad mood for my show, I sit there and fuckin’ pout right on the damn stage!” Kelley Deal says unapologetically. Her charming chain-smoker’s croak rises to a raspy laugh that rings loud and clear through the tin-can phone connection. “It’s not like I get my ‘show face’ on when we play, you know?”
It’s two weeks before the Breeders begin the first tour since the release of Title TK (4AD/ Elektra), the band’s absurdly long-awaited third album. Between commiserating about the ungodly Midwest humidity and talking firsthand trash about Sebastian Bach, Kelley isn’t shying away from discussing the unpretty, petty moments of life on the road. In fact, she seems to get a kick out of ’em — particularly the infamous onstage spats with her twin sister and band mate, Kim Deal.
“I remember one time I was so mad at Kim for something — ’cause I get mad at her five times a day and she gets mad at me five times a day — that I spent the whole show just snarlin’ at her and she spent the whole time flippin’ me off. But she does that whether she’s mad at me or not,” she snipes good-naturedly, then promptly and rather proudly adds, “What you see with us is what you get.”
And while Kelley’s refreshing frankness leaves little doubt about their sisterly love, it’s hard to argue with her considering that no one’s actually seen much of the Deals lately.
After becoming alt-rock royalty in the early ’90s, the Breeders went on a nearly nine-year hiatus that’d spell commercial suicide for most bands. For Kim and Kelley, however, it seems the break was just another speed bump in the band’s quirky, convoluted history.
In the beginning
Formed as a sorta supergroup in 1989, the Breeders originally included the Pixies’ Kim Deal, Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, Josephine Wiggs, Carrie Bradley and Slint’s Britt Walford. The band’s uneven debut, 1990’s Pod, and the subsequent Safari EP were promising and impressive enough, but things didn’t truly come together until 1992, when Walford and Donelly left the band and Kim enlisted Jim MacPherson to get behind the drum kit and convinced her sister to learn guitar for the follow-up LP, Last Splash.
A year later, amid the early ’90s alterna-rock explosion, the newly reconfigured Breeders were on their way into Billboard’s Top 40 as the hugely popular, pogo-positive single “Cannonball” pushed Last Splash into platinum-plus territory and landed the Dayton-based band on the 1994 Lollapalooza tour. “It was a blast, like summer camp,” Kelley laughs, recalling the festival’s backstage debauchery. “Lots of drugs and alcohol.”
She’s being somewhat facetious, of course, as Kelley Deal developed a highly publicized heroin habit that summer and was eventually forced into rehab. Soon Wiggs, burned out from touring, left to focus on other projects, then MacPherson departed. Suddenly, with only Kim left, the band was MIA at the peak of its popularity.
After forming the short-lived Amps in ’95, Kim repeatedly and unsuccessfully tried to re-form the Breeders, ultimately opting to record the band’s third album on her own. It was after one of her New York studio sessions in 2000, however, that she fatefully stumbled upon the long-in-the-tooth Los Angeles punk band Fear at a neighborhood bar, invited them to jam back at the studio and decided she’d found her new band mates. Three months later, she moved out to East Los Angeles and the Breeders, with Kelley back on board, began work on the proper follow-up to Last Splash.
And just like that, Kelley insists, the Breeders — now featuring the Deals, guitarist Richard Presley and drummer Jose Medeles of Fear, and bassist Mando Lopez — were resurrected. “It just had so much to do with getting the right people, and once we got the right people we knew it, it was cool, and everything just clicked.”
An album nine years in the making can never fulfill everyone’s expectations, of course, so the Breeders wink-winkingly dubbed the disc Title TK — journalistic shorthand for “title to come” — and simply aimed to please themselves: “Getting it done was one [goal],” Kelley says matter-of-factly. “The other was that we wanted to like it.”
“When [fans] go to the shows ... they seem to like it,” she continues. “But I have no idea what people think. Especially with a band like the Breeders, I think people expect not to get what they’re expecting with us. I think they know we’re not gonna do what they think we will.”
Which means that those looking for a sequel to “Cannonball” will be shit outta luck with Title TK. Not that the analog-only album is a disappointment or even a departure, it’s just that — as Kim repeatedly claims — it’s definitely not the party album that a lot of folks hoped for.
Though Breeders-by-numbers in sound and spirit with its bittersweet, sister-sung harmonies and crooked, off-kilter choruses, Title TK is slower and subtler than anything the Deals have recorded. Full of moody, somnambulist-rock ballads and beer-drenched up-tempo numbers, the album is surprisingly sedate, yet retains all the jagged little thrills that made Last Splash such an invigorating, left-field phenomenon.
“It’s weird, I always think of [the album] in terms of thirds,” Kelley says, clearly excited to discuss the band’s labor of love. “Songs like ‘Forced to Drive,’ ‘The She’ and ‘Too Alive’ — those were actually written and recorded by me, Kim and [producer, Steve] Albini. With another third of the record, those chord progressions and words were already there, and then Mando and Richard came in and added these beautiful parts. And then there’s yet another third of the record, like ‘Little Fury’ and ‘Sinister Foxx,’ that were just ideas [that ended up being full-band collaborations].”
Given all the press about Kim being the band’s dictator, however, Kelley’s quick to point out that the album was a collaboration of sorts. “It’s more like a taffy pull, you know what I mean? That’s our group dynamic and it’s a good thing.”
Such give and take inevitably results in tension — something Kim and Kelley have never shied away from. Things came to a head while making Title TK with “Fire the Maid,” a song Kelley wrote and sings, when the sisters clashed over whether it should be included on the album.
“Kim really had a problem with the song. But if what she said was completely alien to me, then I would not back her decision,” Kelley admits, explaining the decision ultimately not to include it. “But I understood what she meant about the song. I’m gonna try to fix it and it’ll be on the next record, I’m sure.”
Considering the ridiculously long wait for Title TK, it’s reassuring to hear Kelley already talking about the next record. I mention this to her, and she insists the band’s future has never been in jeopardy.
“The Breeders — at least for Kim and I — were never over,” she says before telling a truly funny story about the pre-Pod days, when the teenage sisters first dubbed themselves the Breeders, opened for Steppenwolf and won over a bar full of bikers with only an acoustic guitar and some Hank Williams covers. “Kim and I were doing it before, we’ve been doing it since, we’re gonna keep doing it. We’ll be old ladies sittin’ on the porch, rockin’ out.”
The Breeders will perform Sunday, July 21, at the Majestic Theater (4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit) with Imperial Teen. For information call 313-833-9700.Jimmy Draper writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]