Almost two years after Kim Deal quit the Pixies, no-one’s any the wiser as to why she walked out. But when there’s a new Breeders record and regular seven-inches from Deal on the horizon, why dwell on the past? She tells Emily Mackay about keeping it cottage industry…
A few days after I speak to Kim Deal, I get an envelope in the post. From Kim Deal. It’s full of seven-inches. From Kim Deal. Not from Kim Deal’s PR, manager or agent, but addressed from Kim Deal, Dayton, Ohio.
This is how the alternative rock darling of the 1990s rolls nowadays. In June 2013, she left the Pixies some nine years after they first got back together. The band’s reunion had become, relative to their success in their own lifetime, a very big deal, and interest in any new material was intense. Kim had in fact written the first new Pixies song, ‘Bam Thwok’, in 2004, but just before they began working on their fifth album ‘Indie Cindy’, she bowed out, without offering any explanation. Now she’s happy to be keeping it cottage industry with her seven-inch solo series.
“There’s a lot of work in it,” says Deal. “Getting people together in the same room to play a song. Like [Slint drummer] Britt Walford, he’s coming up again in a week to play the drums on the next solo A-side… We’re doing it ourselves, and we don’t have a team of people making the product, and there’s not a perfume coming with it, it’s not a lifestyle brand. So even though it reads as low-key, it’s really actually just regular. We’re just like anybody who is in a band who plays music with people and then they go and record it and they put it out.”
She’s been putting out these records independently since January 2013, paying for the recording and pressing herself. In the case of ‘The Root’, she even made the video herself, in the car park of her local grocery store, singing the lyrics into the reversing camera of her friend’s car.
“…And I’m kneeling behind the car, singing along to the track, singing really loud. The people from the grocery store came out and were like ‘Are you OK?’” Kim recalls enthusiastically. (Everything Kim says is enthused; even when she says that in Dayton, “it’s grey, and winter’s coming, and it’s just shitty” it’s with the same fizzy brio that she confides “All I know… is that there were RUMOURS…” at the start of the Pixies ‘I’m Amazed’, on their 1988 debut ‘Surfer Rosa’.) You can see, I tell her, why they’d be concerned about a woman apparently serenading an exhaust pipe.
But Kim Deal really is OK. She’s chirpy, warm, and curious, asking almost as many questions as she answers. There’s still been no word from her, though, about why she left the Pixies. When she announced her departure, the band said her place would always be open. In a subsequent interview with The Guardian, Black Francis claimed she had in fact offered to play for the band again, but just not in a firm enough way that they’d been confident to accept. “She’s been reticent for a very long time to make a new [Pixies] record,” he said. “She was unhappy with the situation, or unhappy with her life or whatever, just not happy.” Kim has politely but firmly declined to comment in her rare interviews since then, and indeed, does not fall for my cunning ‘perhaps you’d like to put your side of the story?’ tactic either, responding with a warm, “I’m goooood, thank you,” and nearly hanging up in the politest, most Kim Deal way possible: “It was really nice talking to you though!”
Kim’s twin sister Kelley, her lifelong musical sounding board and collaborator in Kim’s other ‘90s-shaping band, The Breeders (always the Pixies’ cooler sisters, knocking out weird, haunting, fun and oddly intimate indie-pop classics in their own idiosyncratic way), has revealed a sliver more, telling one website that she didn’t think Kim left the Pixies to focus on The Breeders, but that she thought it “was just one of those things where people grew apart. I think they wanted different things from music, y’know?”
In the absence of any word from Kim, there’s little point in speculating. And why worry? We now have new Breeders material on the way from the line-up that recorded their 1993 classic ‘Last Splash’ and reunited to tour it on its 20th anniversary (backed with a mouth-watering reissue, ‘LSX’), as well as the seven-inches, a gift in themselves. Kim is still pondering whether to collect those into an album or box set, but doesn’t want to make people buy them again. Maybe she could just sell the last one with a box. “I dunno. Do you have any suggestions? Seriously.”
You get the impression that not really having any fixed plans, schedules or firm commitments is something that suits Kim just fine. At the moment, she’s unsigned, and is putting the seven-inches out through Kim Deal Music. She’s become one of those artists, like Thom Yorke, who, with an established reputation and enough money to pay for recording, can exist in their own little world alongside an industry struggling to find the best way forward.
Of course, a new Breeders album is not the same as a solo seven-inch, and might entail a return to 4AD to follow the reissue of ‘Last Splash’. Revisiting that album is what’s made a new one possible, says Kim. While Kelley and British bassist Josephine Wiggs have been a constant “good, funny, eccentric” presence in her life, prior to the reunion, she and drummer Jim Macpherson had been estranged since 1995, when they recorded their side-project The Amps’ album, ‘Pacer’. “We were drinking a lot, and I think he got mad at me,” she recalls. (She nixed her alcohol and drug addictions with a 2002 spell in rehab.) “And then he left my basement and took his drums and I never saw him again. E-ver. And it hurt my heart, cos he’s such a great guy and I felt dumb and I’m sure he did too, whatever, we don’t even know. So Kelley said, ‘hey, y’know, next year is the 20th. Should we do some shows, do you think they would be into it?’ And it’s like, ‘I’ll text Josephine, you ask Jim.’ So Josephine said, ‘Yeah, sounds fucking fun’ and Jim said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do it’. It’s like, ‘Oh, thank god!’”
They’re working towards a new album, “if we can get the songs together,” says Kim, raving about the first two songs, provisionally titled ‘All Nerve’ and ‘Skinhead #2’, which they recorded with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. (Albini recorded The Breeders’ 1990 debut, ‘Pod’, with the band’s first lineup – Kim, Wiggs, Britt Walford and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses/Belly – and regarded it as the best sound and performance he ever got from a band.) Beyond that, The Breeders have been doing one of her solo songs, ‘Walking With A Killer’, live, and she has a couple more. Though “Josephine doesn’t like one of them. Kelley actually doesn’t really like that one either… I don’t know.”
Clearly The Breeders are going to be working at their own pace, resolutely live and on tape as ever – Deal’s always been a studio scholar, proud of making her own cables, though unlike many fans of keeping-it-real, she retains a sense of humour about it. “You know what, I really like analogue. And at times I’ll be down in the basement, just like ‘Fuck it, let’s just go fucking digital, fuck this, man…”
In the meantime, Kim’s close to completing her sixth solo seven-inch – the B-side was also recorded with Albini, while the A-side is written, she says. “It’s so romantic and so sweet. Hopefully it’ll be this year sometime. Right now it’s called ‘Nobody Loves You More’. See how sweet that is, right? I know. Love in the title. I’m calling it that now, maybe it’ll gross me out and I’ll change my mind…”
All of the solo seven-inches have a personal, intimate nature. ‘Biker Gone’ is about being “disillusioned with life”, ‘Range’ recounts a date she had at the Miami Valley Shooting Grounds, while ‘Beautiful Moon’ was “inspired by an incredibly annoying nightingale in California.” The eerie, tense ‘Walking With A Killer’, “stemmed from being in high school and walking from my house to the store and fucking assholes yelling out the window. ‘RAPE VICTIM!’ It was fucking raw around here. I think it’s cos there’s Wright-Patterson Air Force base, a military base and shit… Dudes can really be not very cool sometimes. You know what I always used to hate, was ‘Smile!’ ‘SMILE!’ Fucking guys telling me to fucking smile. Fucking assholes. Like I have to have a good day to put a little light in their life. ‘Come on, girl, give me a smile!’ Fuuuuck yooouuu.”
Kim’s still at home in Dayton, where she lives with her parents. Her mother suffers from Alzheimer’s, something that the third single in her series, ‘Are You Mine’, reflects on in an oblique, beautiful way. “She would just walk about the house saying ‘Are you mine?’ Now she doesn’t even say that any more. She doesn’t, y’know, talk. But at the time she was still struggling with some thoughts and… it was more than I was familiar – she thought maybe I was her baby. Y’know, like, are you mine? And I thought, god, that’s so fucking adorable, man. Yeah, it was just like, ‘Yeah, I’m yours, mama.’ Oh good lord, it was so sweet. But now she doesn’t say that any more.”
It sounds incredibly hard to deal with. ”Yeah. Yeah. My dad just now said to me today, ‘I really miss your mom’. And of course, she’s alive, sitting in a room next door. It’s sad.”
Her father also inspired a track, in perhaps a slightly less conventionally sweet way. The vamping ‘Hot Shot’ – with its references to deadly nightshade and Kim’s witch’s hat – comes from a strange sense of daughterly duty. “My dad wants me to kill him. When I get too old, kill him. He said, ‘gimme a Hot Shot [a strychnine-based poison]. I want you to kill me’. I told him I’d do it, but it’s illegal, y’know.” She hisses conspiratorially. “And frankly, I think now he’s changed his mind. So could you imagine me doing it cos I really thought he meant it? But now it’s been a couple of years, and it’s like, ‘No, I’m good now, Kimmeh…’”
Sure, she finds it upsetting when her parents joke and talk about their death, “but I’ve lived with them since 2003,” she says. “So sometimes I’m like, listen old man, I don’t care if you want me to kill you, I’m gonna kill you right now.”
She laughs. She is joking. But still… I’m definitely not going to attempt to ask her anything else about what happened with the Pixies.