The Breeders' real deal

Kim Deal traces her career from confounding the Pixies to upcoming Tel Aviv gigs with her twin sister.

kim deal 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
kim deal 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Kim Deal apologizes for not having been around to answer the phone in her Madrid hotel the first time Icalled. "I was locked out of my room, so I ran to the manager's office to get another key," she said. "We just got in yesterday morning and I'm in the middle of this jet-lag weirdness," added a slightly out-of-breath Deal, once safely re-ensconced in her temporary abode, in a city where her '90s iconic band The Breeders has just arrived to perform at a weekend rock festival. The breathlessness could also be the result of the whirlwind surrounding Deal's recent career resurgence. Not only are The Breeders riding high on the release of a new album, Mountain Battles, which some critics are already including on their 2008 "best of" lists, but guitarist/bassist Deal is also reaping the rewards of a wildly successful reunion earlier this decade of the Pixies, the legendary American alternative rock band which she cofounded in the late 1980s. It's a far cry from five years ago, when Deal was basically working and living in semi-obscurity, occasionally bringing the Ohio-based Breeders out of semi-inertia for a record or a tour. Then a call came from former Pixies bandmate, guitarist Joey Santiago. "He said that they were thinking of getting together [with band leader Charles Thompson, aka Frank Black, aka Black Francis] and doing some shows. My reaction was 'Oh Joe, sigh.' But he said it was really important to him and David [Lovering, the band's drummer]. So I drove my black Volvo station wagon off to LA - my equipment can fit nicely in the back," said Deal, who, with her relaxed, earthy patter resembles a slightly more refined Roseanne Barr. "Joey burned a CD of 10 songs, which I relearned. It was weird, but at some point the muscle memory kicks in. I would say 'I don't know how to play this' as my little fingers are moving right along the fretboard. We rehearsed in The Breeders' rehearsal space, just the three of us. We figured, if it sounds like crap and it's embarrassing, then we won't do it." Fortunately, the results of the reunion were far from embarrassing, and the Pixies triumphant reunion tour in 2004 and subsequent performances in 2005, 2006 and 2007, as well as a film documentary about their reunion, loudQUIETloud (which is played ad nauseam on Israeli cable), firmly encased the "all-time-great" reputation of the one-time indie fringe favorites. "People tend to think about the Pixies as this real popular group, but back then we weren't that well known. In marketing terms, Nirvana was the band that broke alternative music. That was when, in '91 or '92? The Pixies last tour was in May 1992. We missed that kind of push. I think that only after 'Where Is My Mind' got on the soundtrack to the Fight Club [ in 1999] was when the Pixies' resurgence started." BY THEN, however, the Pixies were history, and Deal was devoting all her energies to The Breeders, an offshoot band she had formed in 1989 with fellow woman rocker Tanya Donnelly, then of indie band Throwing Muses, in order to flex their own musical muscles, which frequently didn't have expression in their other bands. When Donnelly left in 1992 to form her own band, Belly, Deal brought in her twin sister Kelly, a collaboration which has formed the basis of The Breeders ever since. And despite long hiatuses due to personal issues - including Kelly's drug addiction and rehabilitation - Deal said that she never thought of the band as defunct. "I've always thought of The Breeders as an ongoing concern. When we started off in 1989, Tanya and I got together because the people in our bands were busy doing other things, and we just got together playing with each other, like people do. 4AD, our record company, heard we were doing something, and until that time we never even thought of making a record until they asked about it, and we said 'Hell, yeah, that would be cool'." "So, in a way, because we came together like a pickup band, we never had the shelf-life of a real band. It's one of those things: Since it was always considered an offshoot, why would we start following real-band rules? We were already in bands, so why get the worst of that world again?" Deal juggled her membership in the Pixies and The Breeders in the early '90s, but, just as she was recording The Breeders' 1993 album Last Splash, she got the word that Thompson had unceremoniously broken up the Pixies. "The Breeders were in the studio and Kelly walked in and said 'I just heard that the Pixies broke up.' That's how I heard about it," she said. Ironically, with Last Splash, The Breeders ended up achieving far more commercial success than the Pixies ever did, thanks to the sonic rock of their radio hit "Cannonball." Within a year, the album had gone platinum and the band had a prime spot on 1994's Lollapalooza tour. JUMPING OFF the Pixies firestorm into a new boiling kettle of crossover fame with The Breeders came totally unexpectedly to a resistant Deal. "'Cannonball' was mainstream, it hit the mall kids who didn't know who the Pixies were," she recalled. "It was really weird to have a hit. Of course, we had a certain level of fame in the Pixies, but nothing I had ever done had been mall-kid friendly. And 'Cannonball' really shouldn't have been either, it wasn't that accessible. "I remember being in Dayton, Ohio in the winter of 1993, and people began to know who I was. I didn't like it. It's not because I don't like people, I'm actually very sociable - even a social animal. But it's very disconcerting to be recognized, it's like I have toilet paper dragging on my foot." To Deal's relief, The Breeders never repeated the success of "Cannonball," and by the mid-'90s, the band was in shambles and the Deal twins went their separate ways. It wasn't until the late 1990s, with a healthy Kelley vital again, that they decided to revive The Breeders. Incorporating members of the LA band Fear into the fold, The Breeders released a well-received album in 2002 called Title TK, which was followed by an equally successful world tour. Then the Pixies reunion put the band on hold for another few years, leading up to this year's Mountain Battles and another big tour, which will bring The Breeders to Tel Aviv on August 21 and 22 at the Zappa Club. "I think Mountain Battles is one of our best. People have been coming up to me and saying they've been listening to it nonstop and thanking me for putting it out. So that's nice to hear," said Deal. "I have records that go on automatic rewind over and over, so it's a good feeling to make an album that people feel that way about. I know that I love it when I find a record like that." The band's live shows have been no slouch either, with both Kim and Kelley on guitar, driving their off-kilter pop sound, according to a review of a recent concert by the Hampshire Gazette in New Hampshire. "The sisters' harmonies were as pretty and haunting as ever, and the whole band looked like a happy family as they careened through older hits like 'Divine Hammer' and 'Cannonball,' not to mention sensual grooves for newer songs like 'Night of Joy' and 'We're Gonna Rise.'" On the songs that Kelley sang lead, "Kim stood off to the side swigging from a non-alcoholic beer, danced with a grin and watched Kelley rock it like she was her biggest fan." Deal enthusiastically admitted that she's enjoying being with her sister, both on and offstage. "We're having a great time together. And Kelley's so musical. She just picked up the violin for 'Driving On '9'' [from Last Splash] and played it. She's not very good at it, but it sounds really great," she said. AS A minority in the world of rock and roll, Deal said that she never felt discriminated against in either the Pixies or The Breeders as a woman in a traditional male role. Both sexes are treated poorly, she revealed. "When I first started out, if I hadn't been in a band with guys, I might have thought there was a big difference between how men and women got treated. If I had been in an all-girl rock band, that might have contributed to it. But I remember doing a sound check with the Pixies at the Whiskey in LA in 1988 and the house sound guy was just as big a jerk to the three guys in the band as he was to me. So I saw that perspective that guys get treated as poorly as women," she said. But that was then, and The Breeders and the Pixies are these days treated with the respect they deserve, at least from outside their inner circle. Deal hinted at a reverse kind of discrimination that might bring the Pixies back together again, despite an abortive attempt at recording new material last year. "Right now we're on a hiatus, Charles has something like five kids, Joey has a couple and David has one on the way. But I'm sure their wives will be dying to get them out of the house, so we'll see."