Feel It: An Interview With Kim Deal of the Pixies and the Breeders

[5 August 2009]

By Drew Fortune

From the moment that I get Kim Deal on the line from her home in Dayton, Ohio, it’s obvious that her mind is going in a million different directions. There is loud clatter in the background, as if 15 people are marching through her kitchen. Suddenly, Kim yells at Kelley, her twin sister and fellow Breeder, “Hold on, I’m doing a phone interview.  Yeah, give me one of those.” Kim exhales, the sound of lungs abused by years of cigarettes and screaming in the Pixies and the Breeders. Then it’s quiet, and Kim becomes immediately energized, as if she hasn’t given a million interviews in her life. “Oh man, Drew, today has been crazy. I just got back from L.A., and [Breeders guitarist] Cheryl Lindsay and Kelley are downstairs in the basement trying to get all our gear and instruments together and make sure all the amps work, and all the tubes are in and fuses aren’t blowin’. It’s a fucking pain!” And suddenly it’s loud again, as more equipment arrives and moves into the basement.  “It seems that my whole life I’ve been carrying gear around,” said Deal. “I swear I feel like a fucking mule.”

The 48-year-old Deal has been lugging gear for a long time, and her work with the hugely influential Pixies and indie icons the Breeders and the Amps has made her a legend. Her rock and roll excesses and volatile attitude are also legend, as Kim used to put the big boys to shame when it came to partying. Then it got dark, as Kelley battled severe heroin addiction and Kim checked into rehab for drug and alcohol issues in 2002. At the moment, the Breeders are in full-tilt boogie mode, self releasing and silk-screening the recent four-song EP Fate to Fataland curating the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Minehead, England. Given the woefully sporadic nature of Breeders releases (only four in 18 years) it’s encouraging to see the new EP hot on the heels of 2008’s Mountain Battles. The Pixies are also reuniting for a headlining slot at the Isle of Wight Bestival, and are re-issuing their five studio albums in Limited Edition and Deluxe Edition collector’s sets.  During our interview, Kim never seems relaxed, and as we discuss everything from addiction to mixtapes to Battlestar Galactica, her mind never slows, and my only recourse is to try and keep up.

Being off 4AD and self-releasing Fate to Fatal, are you feeling a sense of artistic freedom that you hadn’t felt in awhile?
Well, it’s strange. It’s weird because I know what you mean, but the last record that I made under a deal, under a contract of time, was Title TK, and that deal stopped in 2002. So I’ve never actually been under a record contract. Mountain Battleswas a one-off. We’d gone into the studio, I’d paid for it, and I said, “Would you like to release it?” and they said, Yeah,” and we gave them the masters, and the same with this one, too. 4AD is more interested in doing stuff worldwide now, instead of just in England and Europe, so I thought, “It’s an EP. I don’t know if we need a label or not.” I got involved with 4AD because of the Pixies, and that was when I first met those people, so that was in the ‘80s. The first two recordings that the Pixies put out were import-only, they weren’t even released in the states, they were made by 4AD and manufactured overseas, and if somebody wanted to sell them, like Newberry Comics wanted to sell them, they would be in the import section. So that was the way Come On Pilgrimand Surfer Rosawere released. Then, people began to notice us a little bit more, and that’s when 4AD decided to do a licensing deal with Elektra. Because if you remember, at the time all the separate countries, Polygram was in Canada and Virgin in France and the Flying Nun label in New Zealand, and Rough Trade in Germany, so the fact that it was Elektra in the states ... it didn’t matter. It was just a licensing deal. So I’ve never really known a big label like Elektra, and the Breeders were never signed to Elektra ... it was only a licensing deal and it was the same continuation of the Pixies contract.

So they pretty much just let you do your own thing?
Oh, God, yeah! There was no way anyone could have reigned us in ... I mean what are you gonna do?

What influences Breeders records? Do you get inspired by a new band or a genre that you’re into? What shapes the records?
You know, I try to make sure that I don’t listen to too much stuff when we’re making a record. You probably do this too, when you’re writing, and you’re finishing off a piece, you know when your brain begins to bend in a way where it’s like, “Wait a minute, what am I doing?” But sometimes that’s a good thing. We’ve something, in the middle of “Saints” there’s a high hat, the song is off Last Splash, and there’s a section where Jim MacPherson was keeping time on the ride, and Kelley was doing a lead and we needed to keep time on the ride while the song broke down to a lead, and of course we all started to look at it and say, “Do it, do it,” and of course, we realized it was the “War Pigs” Black Sabbath thing; it’s like the Pixies thing, which is all about segments where it all breaks down and there’s this kind of really spare lead, and the drummer is just keeping time on the ride, so in that way, yeah. But that’s more of an homage. I don’t know, dude! I mean, I think about that a lot, where the ideas and sounds are coming from. I think, “Golly, I should get into electro pop!” It’s so fresh-sounding and everybody seems happy who’s doing it, and everybody seems successful and young, and everybody seems to love it when bands are doing electro pop nowadays, and I just think, “Golly, I should do that.” But it just doesn’t really work for me. Because you’ve got to remember, the freshness of a gritted sound happened already in the ‘80s for me. The MIDI instrumentation, remember? The arpeggios? (singing) “I am emotion, I am emotion … remember Animotion? Remember that band? And the Thompson Twins and all that, remember all that?

I’m a young guy, but I know it.
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about ... exactly. It’s like I didn’t do it then and I ain’t gonna do it now. It looks like fun, and it looked like fun then. It’s all gay nightclubs and cruel behavior towards each other ... I love it! It looked really nice, and all the cleanly shaven bodies. But, you know, I was never gorgeous enough for the party the first time around, and I’m certainly not this time around either.

C’mon Kim. You’re beautiful.
Well, thanks Drew, but it’s true. It was in the ‘80s. I remember it. It was great and really fun. Hey! There’s that satellite station that I know a lot of people are listening to, and I just found it, it’s called First Wave. Oh, it’s great! And of course they’re playing everything that sounds really good from the ‘80s. But I loved that stuff. I loved Bronski Beat ... have you ever heard of them?

I’m trying to think of their big hit.
(singing) “Tell Me Whyyyyyy” Remember that one? “Smalltown Boy?”

Oh, yeah. I always loved the Psychedelic Furs and New Order.
Oh, yeah yeah. Yeah! Totally!

For Fate to Fatal, doing it all yourself and silk-screening the covers, you were kind of left without a safety net. Did that leave you emotionally vulnerable to criticism when the record came out?
Um, not really. Actually, we did it that way because in a sense, it was the only way we knew how to do it. Say me and you are going to put out a record, and we had to get some jackets made, you with me? It’s like ok, what’s the first thing we’re going to do? Well, we have to find the paper, right? Exactly, you see where I’m coming from? That’s where I’m coming from. So it’s like wait a minute, I don’t know how, what are we doing to put on it? Luckily I knew this guy, and instead of sending it someplace to get made, because I wouldn’t know where that is. I mean I heard this place called Erica out in Cali, but I got my vinyl made in a place called Texas, and they just do vinyl and the spinners. I don’t think they do jackets, so I know people who had octopus, octopi, you know that thing to silkscreen? So I just figured I’ll get the paper sent to me and we can hand silkscreen. So instead of seeming like it was the hard thing for us to do it ourselves, we just thought of it as the only way we know how. So we gotta load the jackets up, and the guy said we can put them on the octopus today. Otherwise I don’t know where to send the jackets. I mean, do you know a place? But I’m sure there’s printing companies all over.

I wouldn’t know where to start.
But I do know people I could probably call to ask. But then I don’t know what kind of paper I would need, it might be cheap and it might turn out bad. Glossy or mat, I mean I don’t know. Where are they going to get the paper? Certainly they’re going to have to send us testers or something, right? Doesn’t it seem super complicated to have somebody else do it?

You’ve got a pretty busy summer. How do you handle traveling and a busy schedule. Do you prefer your downtime more?
I’m like everybody I guess. I like a little of each. I just got back from L.A. yesterday. I was out there with David [Lovering] and Joe [Santiago] from the Pixies and I was playing bass guitar because I need a separate set of calluses. Me and David were at Joe’s studio going through the set. I landed there on Monday and we went through the stuff that night, and I flew back today, and now I’m setting up for Breeders stuff, so pretty much it’s the same thing, except for different instruments and different band members and different songs. But it’s pretty much the same thing for me as I’m getting gear together ... it’s always about getting fucking gear together.

You should try and make Kelly do it…
Well, fuck I swear! When you think about it, that’s all you’re gonna end up doing. All you’re gonna end up doing is dealing with your fucking amplifier and lugging your instrument around.

Is it hard to shift into Pixies mode?

Is it hard to shift into Pixies mode?
No! Because it’s all just amplifiers and gear! One thing that’s kind of irritating is that [Breeders bassist] Mando Lopez plays my bass, and he’s left-handed, so he actually took the strap/hooker thing, I don’t know what you call it, there’s a bolt on your guitar where the strap goes around to hold it up, so he fucked with it so the bolt is on the bottom of the guitar, so he can spin it around because he plays like a poor man. He wasn’t rich enough to get a left handed bass, so he spins a right handed guitar so all the low strings are at the bottom of the fretboard. And the bolt has to be on the bottom of the bass ... it’s confusing. So now I have to go in and undo the bolt, which I haven’t done yet. I’m cussing at him ... it’s fun. I don’t care. I like cussing at him. Goddam Mando, you left-handed bastard! (laughs)

What was the selection process like for the ATP party? That must have been fun to do.
Yeah, it was fun. You know, it’s weird, because when you’re not asked the question, you can think a million bands who would be great. It’s like when somebody asks, “What’s your all time favorite movie?“and I absolutely freeze up. Same thing with ATP. I couldn’t think of anybody. Because literally, no band came to mind at all. I froze. Because I could sorta pick anybody. So I had no place to start. But when I saw other people’s lists coming in, the gears began to turn. I was like, “That’s not who I would have picked, blah blah blah.”

Teenage Fanclub and The Frogs. Were those your picks?
The Frogs was Kelley’s. Fanclub’s mine.

Nice! I love Fanclub.
Yeah! Me too.

And then you’ve got the Isle of Wight with the Pixies.
Yeah, that’s going to be exciting. Breeders played Bestival last year, which was on the island of the Isle of Wight, but it was a different concert. It was like a war scene though. It was pouring rain, and it was like crab fishing style rain, and I felt like I was on a boat, that’s what it felt like being on that island. With the wind, I swear the island was rocking.

Deadliest Catch style?
Exactly. That’s what it felt like. It rained the entire time. But they say the weather is usually really nice on the island, and that’s why they have these festivals because the weather tends to hold out. But what’s really cool this year is that it’s going to be band, band, band, band and then Pixies and then right after—boom! Neil Young!

Wow.
I’ve never played on a festival where he’s been in the state or in the area. I mean I’m sure I won’t be able to get on stage or anything, because they probably don’t like that. But, oh, man ... I hope.

Is Neil one of your idols?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. I was listening to a lot of Harvestlast year, now that you mention it. Because my Volvo only has a cassette player, so I listened to that tape constantly. And I was listening to that a lot when I was writing Fate to Fatal. And Cheryl started making fun of me. She heard an early version of “Pinnacle Hollow”, a song on the EP, and started going, “Oh, there you go. There’s the Neil influence!” And I was like shit!

It crept in there somehow?
I know. I was like, “What, you think I listened to Neil and fucking tried to make a song like him? Fuck you!” (laughs)
What about the Bob Marley cover of “Chances Are” on the EP? Who’s idea was that?
I’d had a cassette of that, that I’d bought someplace. It’s on Mellow Moods? I don’t even know if it was on a record that was an official release. You know because Marley is like the Frank Sinatra of reggae. There’s so many different reissues and re-releases. But it was our cassette called Mellow Moods and that song always ended up on my mixtape. I love that song, “Chances Are” by Bob Marley and also “For All We Know”, a Billie Holiday song, and some songs by the band Free always ended up on there. And a Hank Williams song, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” always ended up on the mixtape. And what else ... all sorts of stuff. And that Marley song always ended up on the tape.

I dig the way it turned out ... very stripped down.
Yeah, yeah! Me and Kelly drove up to Chicago in the Volvo and drove to Albini’s studio to record it.

Here is a serious question. You’ve said that you’d never do a Pixies reunion album. Does sobriety act as a barrier to that? Like you were a different person when you were recording and creating with them?
Well, you would be thinking that I was always high when I was in the Pixies and that I was only high when I was with the Pixies. Because that’s not true. At first I didn’t do anything, and I certainly have used drugs outside of the Pixies, and that would mean that I couldn’t do any music at all. That question is very, very suspect. I mean, I know what you’re trying to get at, an idea of…

I didn’t mean for that to be insulting.
Oh, God, no, it’s fine. I’m trying to think of somebody who used and then reunited clean, like Sammy Hagar, he’s straight now, but was he always straight in Van Halen? Was he drinking when he was a solo act?

We can move on… With Mando’s upcoming documentary, and the loudQUIETloud documentary, your life is a pretty open book. Is it hard to watch this stuff documented?
You know, that’s funny. Some scenes, I might be like, “Oh, I said something funny there.” or “Oh, I like the shape of my shirt there.” But other scenes, I think, “Oh God, I didn’t look that bad in that shot. Why are they showing that?” Just stupid stuff that you think I’d be over now. You know like whenever somebody is filming you and you think, “I look like an asshole,” and sometimes you say funny things and you’re glad they caught it on camera. And sometimes your sister has a fucking picture of you and you look like a fucking idiot and you’re like, “God, why does she fucking show people that picture?” Of course, she thinks it’s cute.

In this Facebook age, no one has a private life anymore.
Yeah, I guess so. Exactly.

Does life get more interesting being sober?
When I first got sober, one thing I noticed was how fucking long the day is man! Oh, my God, it was incredible. The first year I would just sit there and go, “Oh my God, this day lasts for fucking ever. It’s still not over!” And of course I could barely move out of the room, not because I was sick or anything, but because I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I used to think I have to drink and I have to smoke this pot and take these pills or I won’t be able to sleep. I really did think I had a sleeping problem (laughs). And then I quit using and I would take these long, luxurious naps and I was exhausted by the time the day would end after doing nothing. Oh, I remember that. But around after two years it does get better, like you never know what’s going to happen. Right at the two year point. I mean sometimes I think, “Man, it would be great if I was drinking,” but then I play it through and go, “Oh, no, because I’d be on the same barstool for like eight hours, like it was my job.” The same stool.

Was it always the same haunts and bars and in Dayton?
At the very end I was in East L.A., and then towards the end I wouldn’t even go the bar anymore, I would just drink at home.

What is happiness to you, and have you found it at this stage in your life?
What is happiness? Oh that’s a good question. Um, I think I read it in some book that happiness is contment, or happiness is the desire for nothing. Isn’t that Buddhist? I think that’s the goal is to have no desires, and that’s where happiness lies.

Are you religious?
Well, I’m watching Battlestar Galactica a lot right now, so I want to believe in the Gods. All of them. (laughs)

I love it. It’s been great talking to you.
Oh, it was great talking to you. Hold on, before you go, when you asked me about music and getting sober, I remember somebody telling me that just because you smoke pot, doesn’t mean you can write reggae. And it’s like, yeah, that’s true. Just because somebody smokes pot doesn’t mean that they’re good at being a reggae person. The two have nothing to do with each other. You just have to feel it.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/108149-feel-it-an-interview-with-kim-deal/