How cool is Kim Deal? Well, when The Dandy Warhols, a band who tried very hard to be the coolest band on the planet, wanted to record a song about the coolest person they could think of, they wrote Cool As Kim Deal.
The former Pixies’ bass player and leader of The Breeders is too cool to get a big head about such things. In 2013 she reformed the “classic line-up” of The Breeders to play 20th anniversary shows for their iconic album, Last Splash. With Deal on lead vocals and guitar, her twin sister Kelley on guitar, Josephine Wiggs on bass and Jim Macpherson on drums, it all went so well that they’ve recorded a new album, All Nerve. Anyone expecting a slump akin to the recent albums from the Deal-less Pixies will be disappointed. Not that Deal will say a bad word about her former band. She’s just happy to be alive, sober and making music with her sister and old bandmates again...
Barry Divola: I interviewed you a long, long time ago. You were in the back of a car in L.A. with Kelley. I was in Sydney on the phone. It was, I can safely say, one of the funniest and most nonsensical interviews I've ever done.
Kim Deal: (Laughs) Oh, my God. I bet it was a mess. What year was it?
It would have been just after Last Splash came out in 1993.
Oh, my goodness. That's a long time ago. Wow.
I'm guessing they were your bad old drinking days?
Actually, that wasn't a real bad time for me. I got worse later. Certainly, it was a challenging time for Kelley. (Kelley was later arrested for heroin possession in 1995, bringing The Breeders Mk 1 to an end.)
I guess so much has changed since then. The fact that you're both sober now must be a huge difference to what it was like back in the '90s.
Kelley's last drink was 1995. She didn't last long after you talked with us. My last drink was 2002.
Do you remember the exact date? Was there a line in the sand?
I went to rehab around Pearl Harbour Day. I think it was December 9.
What gets you to that point where you're like, ‘That's it, this is the day’?
People have different things. Some people get numerous DUIs and run into people, and they get court ordered and go to jail. Some people just wake up with a headache one too many times and that's enough of a problem for them, and they say, ‘No more for me’. It's the spectrum. For me, I just wasn't getting drunk anymore from it, basically. I was a beer drinker and it didn't matter how many beers I drank, I wasn't getting drunk.
I was going to ask what was your poison, but it was purely beer?
I liked red wine too. But, yeah, mainly beer.
Between you and Robert Pollard from Guided By Voices, you must have drunk Ohio pretty much dry.
(Laughs) Oh, my goodness. Yes. It is a beer drinking state, that's for sure. But so is Australia, right?
True. I remember once you said you actually blacked out during a song on stage and you came back out of it and you were in a middle of another song. Is that true or is that just a good line?
There is a piece of it that's true. I never smoked pot before I played and I never drank before I played. I can't play high or drunk. Towards the end of 1997 I was playing in my band The Amps. This was in Austin, Texas. Me and Jim MacPherson (Breeders and Amps drummer) were drinking a lot then. I remember coming to. We weren't in another song or anything, but I remember I glitched out. It was weird.
You and Jim are back together now, along with Kelley and Josephine, the classic line-up of The Breeders that made Last Splash. But you and Jim didn’t speak for 15 years. What happened?
In The Amps, like I said, me and Jim were drinking really bad then. It was '97. I went home after an Amps tour and I went to my basement and his drums were cleared out of there. I thought, ‘Oh, shit. What did I say to Jim?’ Like the mature, adult, emotionally stable people that we are, me and Jim didn’t talk for the next 15 years. I was on Kelley's couch in 2012, and she said, ‘Next year is the 20th anniversary for Last Splash. Wouldn't it be cool if we did a handful of shows with Josephine and Jim? Do you think they'd do it?’ I said, ‘Let's ask. You call Jim’. Of course, the minute I see him, I'm like, ‘Jim, I'm so sorry’. He goes, ‘Kim, I'm sorry’. We still literally don't know exactly what happened.
So you both lived in Dayton and never talked to each other in all that time?
He had actually moved out of town a little bit. But only about 20 miles out of town. I love him so much. Everybody loves Jim. He's friends with my mum and dad. I do yard work with him and his kids and walk his dog. His son will come over now and shovel the driveway when it snows. One of the joys of getting the band back together is rekindling my relationship with Jim MacPherson.
What do you think it is about the combination of you, Kelley, Josephine and Jim that makes that line-up of The Breeders so different?
I don't know what it is, but it sure is different, isn’t it? When Jim came in this time and set up his drums and we started playing together, I had to turn around to my amplifier and crank it up a couple of notches. He's kind of a big guy and he hits the drums hard. Also, what I notice about him is that his playing is really joyful. It's happy drumming. You know what I mean?
Yeah. I guess he's a carpenter too, right? So he's got big, strong arms from swinging hammers and mallets and things.
Yes! Absolutely! Exactly! And then with Josephine, she thinks there's a positive friction that happens in the band, that I'm pushing things forward and she's slowing things down. She thinks that's a positive, and she thinks that friction, that energy is palpable and exciting. I think that she's just slowing things down. (Laughs) I'm kidding.
What about those albums you made as The Breeders without them? Are you happy you did that? Do you wish you'd used a different name, or made them solo records?
They came out as The Breeders because I never thought that we would've gotten back together with Josephine and Jim. A lot of people really loved Title TK. It has a song on it that's really beautiful, Off You. That doesn't even have any drumming on it. The album's not very well-known, but some people like that one the best and think that's the best song on it. And other people think that the lineup with Tanya (Donnelly, from Throwing Muses and Belly) is best and that Pod (1990) is the best album and Last Splash (1994) is too poppy. Everybody's got their own thing.
Talking about lineups, I can't help thinking of The Pixies as they are now, without Kim Deal. Obviously, old fans like myself have opinions on that. What do you think of them?
I live in Dayton, so it's a really small place and they don’t play here. I haven't been to any of the shows, but I'm sure they’re fantastic and people have a fantastic time.
That sounds like a very diplomatic response. What do you think of the song, All I Think About Now, on their most recent album, which they said was written as a tribute to you?
I don't know the song, although I do know that there's a story that there's a song about me. I think it's good they wrote a song about me. The Dandy Warhols wrote a song about me and a Japanese band did too. I think every band should write a song about me. Even bad ones. It can be a mean song. I don't even care if it's nice. I love it. I absolutely love it.
Do you get recognised around Dayton? Do people come up to you, or are you just Kim from down the road?
Very few of the people here know the Pixies. Very few of the people know The Breeders. Even in the '90s, really. We weren’t that popular.
With everything you and Kelley have been through personally since then, do you sometimes look at each other on stage and think, ‘How great is it to still be around?’
I'm just happy I'm alive 30 years later. But on top of that, to still be playing music with Kelley, who is family, and Josephine and Jim, who are like family, is just a really beautiful thing. It really is.