Kim Deal: The Breeders frontwoman on their fifth album, Pixies and touring with Nirvana

As The Breeders release their fifth album, frontwoman and estranged Pixies bassist Kim Deal talks Kevin EG Perry through her rock’n’roll life

1. Joining Pixies (because they made her laugh)

In January 1986, a week after moving to Boston from Dayton, Ohio, Kim spotted an ad in the Boston Phoenix placed by future Pixies bandmates Charles Thompson (AKA Black Francis) and Joey Santiago. “Most of those adverts were guys going, ‘Looking for blonde singer aged 19-22. Hair must be between shoulder length and mid-back,’ or, ‘Looking for drummer with a PROFESSIONAL ATTITUDE’,” she explains. “So, ‘Looking for someone into Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü. No chops’ caught my eye. I thought it was funny.”

2. Her ironic pseudonym

On the first two Pixies releases, ‘Come On Pilgrim’ and ‘Surfer Rosa’, Kim was credited as Mrs John Murphy, taking her then husband’s name as an arch feminist joke. “Somebody said that when I worked in a doctor’s office,” she explains. “‘My name is not Ethel. My name is Mrs Howard Rosenstein.’ Holy s**t! I need to show her respect by calling her by somebody else’s name!”

3. Writing the best Pixies song (at least according to Kurt) 

‘Surfer Rosa’ only featured one song with lyrics by Kim – ‘Gigantic’, a voyeuristic ode to a well-endowed man – but it made such an impression on Kurt Cobain that in 1992 he said, “I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for the Pixies, because ‘Gigantic’ is the best Pixies song and Kim wrote it.” Kim reacts modestly, “Well, it’s better than somebody saying, ‘Oh God, you suck.’”

4. Forming The Breeders

Kim formed The Breeders with Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donelly, and their debut 1990 album ‘Pod’ was hugely influential – not least on Nirvana. “I think they got Steve Albini to record ‘In Utero’ because they really liked ‘Pod’,” says Kim. “I remember Dave Grohl saying he really liked the drum sound, but I always felt bad for Dave because the drum sound for ‘Pod’ sounds huge because there’s so much empty space for the drums to ring out. Poor Dave had all these guitars and bass playing all the way through.”

5. Touring with Nirvana

In 1992, following the success of ‘Nevermind’, Nirvana invited The Breeders to join their tour. It was eye-opening for Kim’s twin sister Kelley, who had joined on guitar, and new drummer Jim Macpherson. “The first show with Nirvana was one of Macpherson’s first shows out of Dayton, Ohio ever,” laughs Kim. “He asked Dave Grohl, ‘What are those big black boxes?’ Dave is like, ‘You idiot, they’re monitors. You listen to the band through them!’ I think that’s why Nirvana enjoyed touring with us so much: to see it through other people’s eyes.”

6. Recording ‘Cannonball’ the moment Pixies split 

Black Francis unilaterally disbanded Pixies in 1993, but Kim had the perfect riposte. “I was in the studio literally recording ‘Cannonball’ when Kelley came down the hallway and said, ‘Pixies broke up’. I said, ‘OK, get out of my way,’” remembers Kim. The song was NME’s Single of the Year and 25 years on remains an indie rock staple. “I don’t think anyone thought it would get played on the radio,” says Kim. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘This is it! This is my ticket!’”

7. Becoming an indie icon

The success of second Breeders album ‘Last Splash’ helped seal Kim’s image as the embodiment of rock-star cool. During the ’90s she was the subject of tribute songs from the Dandy Warhols (‘Cool As Kim Deal’) and Japanese rockers The Pillows (‘Kim Deal’). “I loved it but was kind of horrified at the same time,” says Kim. “I’ve never heard the Dandy Warhols one. Are they actually saying I’m cool or are they being facetious? I’ve listened to The Pillows because I can’t understand what they’re saying. They’re probably singing about their cat called Kim Deal.”

8. Getting the band back together

In 2013, Kim reunited with Kelley, Jim and bassist Josephine Wiggs to play shows marking the 20th anniversary of ‘Last Splash’. At the end of the year, they were offered more gigs. “That’s when my OCD kicked in: ‘Wait, that’s not the 20th anniversary anymore,’” says Kim. “Our friends told us we should release another album. We kept adding stuff to our setlist and that started the recording of the album.”

9. Teaming up with the generation she inspired

The result is ‘All Nerve’ – a strange and visceral rock album which features, among many other things, a Courtney Barnett guest spot on ‘Howl At The Summit’. For Kim, it was a chance to collaborate with someone she’d first heard of as a fan. “She’d covered ‘Cannonball’,” explains Kim. “They did a pretty good version: shambolic and kind of casual.”

10. Never stopping

While it’s been 10 years since last Breeders album ‘Mountain Battles’, Kim says she hopes there’ll be another sooner and bristles against the suggestion she’s not prolific – pointing to her solo seven-inch series and busy touring schedule. “I want to defend myself. I do music constantly but sure, I’m ‘not prolific’,” she says, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Let’s go with that.”