An big interview before their big show, free of conflict and full of love
Alt-rock icons The Breeders have been performing in New York City for over 25 years as the classic line-up of Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson. This week, the reunited foursome will be returning to the Metro area in support of their first studio album together since 1993’s universally beloved Last Splash with shows at Brooklyn Steel, Terminal 5 and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester on April 30, May 1 and May 2 respectively.
However, unlike the personal shambles this quartet had been experiencing back when they played Randalls Island at Lollapalooza ’94, The Breeders arrive into the city a united front free of conflict and full of love. And the excellent All Nerve serves as a well-hued middle ground between Last Splash and the great music the Deal twins were making with different variations of the group on 2002’s Title TK and 2008’s Mountain Battles (both of which along with Splash and their enigmatic 1990 debut Pod are being reissued on remastered vinyl by longtime label 4AD Records). Kelley Deal and Josephine Wiggs spoke with the Rock n Roll Globe before their show at Emo’s in Austin, Texas, ahead of their NYC visit.
How has the tour been thus far for you all?
Josephine Wiggs: It’s been fun. I like to go out and get a feel for the places we are scheduled to play. Like we were in Albuquerque the other day, and according to Google Maps it was only a 13 minute walk from the club to the Rio Grande, and I thought it would be something interesting to do. But by the time I got there, it was very hot and windy, so I turned around and walked back. But I love to see how people live in different parts of the country and what their yards look like and how many fierce dogs they have chained up behind fences who try and bite you when you walk past (laughs). I find it very interesting to walk around and check out the towns, and I do try to do that whenever I can.
Kelley Deal: Kim actually said something to me about this the other day. She looked at me and said, ‘Jeez, this has been so easy. Are we doing something wrong? Because the traveling has been so easy!’ For me, it’s because I’m not drinking. I’m not smoking cigarettes and trying to find a way to smoke cigarettes and bum people out. It seems way more relaxed this time.
Would you consider it a nicer experience being on the road this time around?
Kelley: Well, it’s a different experience. I wouldn’t say nicer, just different. It feels more like a vacation. We all get along. We have these bunks, because you sleep on the bus. And if you happen to walk by Jim Macpherson’s bunk at any particular time of the day, out comes his arm like he’s a shark laying in wait (laughs). Just to scare the shit out of us! So we’d be hollering and he’s under the covers giggling. In the morning, Josephine and I would put our heads on her and speak softly to her like, ‘Good morning, Kim’ and wake her up. It’s been fun. We’re having a good time with it. And the crew that we’re traveling with is a group of wonderful, mellow people. It’s been good times.
The Breeders played in October at the Bowery Ballroom. But before that, The Breeders hadn’t played in New York since the Last Splash shows at Webster Hall, which is now closed for renovations for at least a few years. What do you think of all the changes happening to the club landscape over the last five years?
Kelley: I know; I can’t believe it.
Josephine: Is it turning into condos?
Who knows, but it’s been a bit of a shock to the system for people who grew up around here seeing all these places that have been around for decades disappear. But at least there are new venues opening up to replace them, right?
Josephine: We’ve heard nice things about Brooklyn Steel. People that I know who’ve seen shows there say it’s a good space, so we’re excited about that.
Kelley: I was talking to somebody recently about not getting too attached to things and being open and optimistic to change. I have a lot of those same feelings as well, like, ‘Oh nothing is better than it used to be.’ I don’t wanna be like that. I want to be excited and be like too bad about Webster Hall but yay Brooklyn Steel.
Josephine: CBGB’s, though.
Yeah, the Breeders have a history there, right?
Josephine: It was our first show in New York City.
Kelley: That was the first time I ever been to New York.
Josephine: We did two consecutive nights at CBGB’s, I believe, in late ’92.
Kelley: I was so nervous to be in New York. Everybody was so cool, and here I am this girl from Dayton, Ohio—where I still am by the way—at CBGB’s. Such an imposter, like what the hell am I doing sitting here? (laughs)
Do you remember who you were on the bill with?
Josephine: I think it might have been Unrest.
Kelley: We traveled quite a bit with them back then. That’s why we were thinking of them, because we were on tour in ’92 with them.
The Breeders have some pretty cool opening acts playing with you in New York, including the Screaming Females at Terminal 5, Flasher from Washington DC, Post Pink from Baltimore who are incredible, and the noise pop band Cherry Glazerr from Los Angeles among others. As a band who was hand selected by Kurt Cobain to open for Nirvana, how important has this process been for the band through the years?
Kelley: One of the new crew members recently asked us how we pick our opening bands and we told them we do it ourselves. That was one of the things you did back in the day. It was so important to nod to other bands that you like, for instance like Unrest. Nobody told us to take them on tour—we selected them. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion didn’t even have a record out and we picked them to go on tour with us. Luscious Jackson, too. That’s something I feel is a really important thing. We appreciate that, and we want to present a nice evening of music. Actually, we had Elijah Wood make us a mixtape to-go. So when the doors open, it’s this mix he curated for us that you’re hearing and it makes for an awesome night. His collection is crazy.
Speaking of which, who made the call to cover Amon Duul II on All Nerve, by the way?
Josephine: It’s quite a weird choice, isn’t it? (laughs)
Kelley: It’s been kicking around on our own mixtapes for years. We’ve shared “Archangel Thunderbird” with each other for like twenty years now. So the idea was we were thinking of b-sides, and it was actually going to be a b-side. But it turned out so good and so odd and interesting that we wound up wanting to put it on the record. It’s such a cool song.
You produced All Nerve yourselves, but that’s always been the case with the Breeders, right?
Kelley: The idea of production is when you got this pop star and you got somebody who acts like a musical director or liaison between the band itself and the vocalist. We don’t really need to use a producer. We work these songs to death and then we figure it out with the engineer. And the engineer is someone who we trust and we have to trust their ears, which is why Steve Albini has always been our guy.
Josephine, how does it feel to be part of this rhythm section again with Jim?
Josephine: I really love playing with Jim. He’s super fun to play with. I’ve done a lot of different things in music through the years: soundtrack stuff and an album I did with Vivian Campbell of Luscious Jackson called Dusty Trails. I play a lot of instruments and do lots of stuff musically. But there’s something about playing in a rock rhythm section that I really enjoy. And for Jim and I, we didn’t really think about it like that back in the 90s. If you’ve had said something to us in the context of us being a rock ‘n’ roll band, we’d be like, ‘We’re an alternative band.’ But then when we got together again in 2013 and started playing Last Splash again, and also watching clips of us on YouTube from shows back in the day that I’d never seen before, I was like holy shit we were a rock band. We were a really rockin’ hard, tight rock band.
Kelley: It’s so funny to me that she’s just getting that (laughs).
Josephine: But I really enjoy it. I enjoy the power of it. It’s super fun.
As a fan, what makes this particular incarnation of The Breeders so much fun to see live is how in tune the four of you are with one another onstage. The timing is wild. Was it like picking up a bicycle again coming back to that intuitive nature between you all?
Kelley: It really is… that familiarity. I had played the song “Cannonball” with other band members like Jose Medeles and Mando Lopez from the Title TK/Mountain Battles lineup. And those have been great and fun and all that stuff, and nothing against any of that playing or sound, but when I went down into the basement and the four of us got together and did the first song off Last Splash, which is “New Year”, and the familiarity where you just go OMG, it was really incredible. The impact that it had on me, sonically, was amazing. You can put anyone else on the drums and show them Jo’s bass part and they make all their own choices in terms of form and feel—it’s part of the soft white underbelly of music. It’s hard to define. But that’s all the stuff you hear when the four of us come together which makes it so cool.