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Breeders

Breeders

Rock group

Guitar Player proclaimed that Ohio's Breeders, "create one of the most wonderfully unpredictable sounds in rock." The band was born from the ashes of two seminal alternative rock bands, The Pixies and Throwing Muses. After various personnel changes, the band had a mainstream hit with "Cannonball," a rambunctious blast of the group's off-kilter rock sensibility, in 1993. Yet the group soon seemed to split off in different directions, with singer-guitarist sisters Kim and Kelley Deal pursuing different projects (the latter hampered by drug problems).

The identical twin Deals grew up in Huber Heights, a suburban community near Dayton. Their father was a physicist who worked at nearby Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and they grew up adoring hard rock by the likes of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. Even so, they would one day form an acoustic duo and perform country songs at truck stops. The strong bond between the sisters was established at an early age; when asked by Entertainment Weekly about "the best birthday present [she] ever received," Kim replied, "Kelley." The two failed to live up to the alternative-rock stereotype of tortured adolescence, as well. "Yeah, we were popular girls," Kelley quipped in Spin. "We got good grades and played sports. You got a problem with that?" Kim attended seven colleges, including Ohio State University, but never graduated from any of them. During the late 1980s, she hooked up with the alternative rock band the Pixies, playing bass and singing backup; over the course of several albums, however, the band recorded only a couple of her songs.

Formed as a Side Project

In 1989, she formed the Breeders with Tanya Donelly—herself a second banana in the similarly influential Throwing Muses—as a side project. Bassist Josephine Wiggs was drafted into the group, as much for her attitude as her chops. "I just thought she was cool," Kim told Michael Azerrad of Rolling Stone. "She looked like [TV horror movie hostess] Vampira." With drummer Britt Walford (skinsman for the band Slint) operating under the pseudonym Shannon Doughton, the Breeders ventured into the studio to record an album with esteemed producer Steve Albini. The result was 1990's Pod, which Azerrad called, "starkly beautiful," and Alternative Press eventually included in its "Top 99 of '85-'95."

After being fired from the Pixies in 1992, Kim focused her energy on the Breeders. She brought Kelley into the band despite the latter's lack of musical experience. "I couldn't make chords," Kelley recalled in Guitar Player. The Breeders released another record, the EP Safari, before undergoing more personnel changes. Donelly left to form her own band, Belly, and Jim MacPherson replaced Walford on drums. "I grew up with three sisters," the new drummer pointed out in Request, "so joining this band wasn't that big an adjustment for me."

Last Splash Made an Impact

The Breeders made their first definitive statement with the 1993 album Last Splash. Co-produced by Kim and engineer Mark Freegard, the album most clearly defined the band's oddball sensibility. Reviewer Ned Rust of Rolling Stone praised the record's "fresh and vital sounds," which, "are not those of painstaking musical craftspeople but the raw progeny of an unabashed, unconventional creativity." Melding noisy but joyful guitar rock, pop melodies, surf music, country and a variety of other styles, Last Splash caught the alternative audience's imagination. This was helped in large part by the video for the first single, the irrepressible and strange rocker "Cannonball," which was directed by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Spike Jonze; the latter would eventually become one of the hottest names in the music video world.

The success of the album led to an appearance on the heralded alternative rock festival Lollapalooza and a European tour with the band Luscious Jackson, among other adventures. Wiggs and Luscious Jackson drummer Kate Schellenbach eventually became romantically involved. Kim, meanwhile, began a seemingly permanent engagement to Spin writer and musician Jim Greer, who played bass for a while in the Ohio band Guided By Voices, for whom Deal did some producing. The Breeders also covered some GBV songs on an EP release.

Drugs, Amps, and Uncertainty

Kelley Deal, meanwhile, got hooked on heroin; in 1995, she was arrested for accepting a parcel that contained the drug. "She has no life right now," Kim lamented in a Spin interview, "she has heroin." Kelley's difficulties—following on the heels of several other high profile addictions and overdoses in the rock world—got substantial media attention, but Kim emphasized the personal cost. "You don't know what it feels like," she asserted, "it's so horrible to have to watch your twin sister, your best friend in the whole world, lose her self-worth, lose her self-esteem, lose all sense of who she is, lose everything. It's the worst f**king feeling in the world." During the unfolding of this crisis the Breeders were, of necessity, put on hold.

Kim released an album, Pacer, in 1995 under the name the Amps; her touring lineup for the group included MacPherson, guitarist Nathan Farley, and bassist Luis Lerma. "When I first wanted to do the album, it was going to be a solo album," she told John Chandler of the Rocket. "I was going to play all the instruments. I recorded six songs in my basement on a four-track [tape machine]. That's a new thing. I'd never started a record that way before. I'd learned to play the drums recently and really had fun with it." She added that her sister had taken to calling her "The Artist Formerly Known as Kim," in a joking reference to the moniker-shifting pop star Prince.

For the Record . . .

Members include Kim Deal , guitar, vocals; Kelley Deal (joined group, 1992), guitar, vocals; Tanya Donelly (left group, 1992), guitar, vocals; Mando Lopez (joined group, 2000), bass; Jim MacPherson (group member, 1993-94), drums; Jose Medeles (joined group, 2000), drums; Richard Presley (joined group, 2000), guitar; Britt Walford (left group, 1993), drums; Josephine Wiggs (left group, 1994), bass, vocals.

Band formed c. 1989, Dayton, OH; released debut album, Pod, on 4AD label, 1990; contributed song to No Alternative benefit compilation, 1993; appeared on Lollapalooza tour, 1994; Kelley Deal arrested for heroin possession, 1994; Kim Deal released album Pacer with band the Amps, appeared on Sonic Youth album Washing Machine and produced material by band Guided by Voices, 1995; Wiggs formed band the Josephine Wiggs Experience, c. 1995, and released album, Bon Bon Lifestyle, 1996; Kelley Deal released album Go to the Sugar Altar with band the Kelley Deal 5000, 1996; group reformed with new members, 2000; released Title TK, 2002.

Awards: Single of the Year honors from both NME and Melody Maker magazines for "Cannonball," 1993.

Addresses: Record companies—Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019; 4AD Records, 17-19 Alma Rd., London SW18 1AA, England, website: http://www.4ad.com.

Wiggs, newly ensconced in New York, formed her own side project, the Josephine Wiggs Experience, and released an album on Grand Royal, Luscious Jackson's label. Kelley eventually entered a rehab program in Minnesota, played in an ad hoc ensemble that featured metal bad boy Sebastian Bach, and released an album on her own in 1996 as the Kelley Deal 5000. The record, Go to the Sugar Altar, earned some fine reviews; Entertainment Weekly deemed it, "an uneven effort, but in the best sense: Kelley takes chances musically and lyrically, and comes up with something raw, off-kilter, and unexpected. Nothing saccharine about it."

What did leave an unpleasant flavor in fans' mouths, however, was the uncertain future of the Breeders. Were they only on hiatus, or had they broken up without a formal declaration? Rumors of a new EP and album as well as a pair of concerts were reported at the end of 1996 by Addicted to Noise, but the lineup for the two Northern California shows in question led ATN reporter Gil Kaufman to wonder, "Is it the Breeders if Kelley's not there? Sure, we guess. But is it the Breeders if Josephine Wiggs isn't there either? Um, maybe. But is it the Breeders if, it's, uh, the Amps?" Kim's pronouncements on the subject were vague, at best. Asked by Tweak if there would ever be another Breeders album, she replied, "If none of us are in jail we're going to do one soon, yeah."

In 2002, however, fans received the answer to all of the questions posed by Addicted to Noise, and even the pseudo-humorous prediction of Kim herself, when the Breeders released their long awaited follow up to Last Splash, Title TK (Elektra/4AD). After touring in 1997 with a Kelley-less Breeders lineup that included former drummer Macpherson, Amps member Nate Farley and violinist Carrie Bradley, Kim simply couldn't carry on with the Breeders without her sister. The idea for the new Breeders project started when Kim and Kelley worked on some recordings in Austin, Texas, but decided to put a hold on the sessions and move to Chicago in 1999. In Chicago, Deal hooked up with producer Steve Albini to record some music herself. Talking to MTV, Kim said, "I couldn't find a band. I thought, OK, I'll learn to play all the instruments." It was there that she set to tape future Title TK tracks "Too Alive," "Forced to Drive," and "The She."

The Long-Awaited Return

It wasn't until she found herself in New York City, however, that she got the inspiration to make the Breeders a full-fledged band, instead of just the recording project that it was previously. According to an article published in Billboard in May of 2002, Deal had become tired of New York musicians who requested to be paid to practice. A chance meeting with Richard Presley and Mando Lopez of Los Angeles punk group Fear one night in New York led to an impromptu all-night jam session. With Presley on guitar and Lopez on bass, the combination worked so well that Kim decided to take a chance and move to Los Angeles to continue playing with the two musicians. Presley told Billboard, "Afterwards, she said, 'I'd like to come to LA, and maybe we could jam together and see what happens.' And, we were like, 'Yeah, whatever, sure.' It's Kim Deal you know? But, sure enough, we kept up correspondence over the next few months, and she came out here in June 2000 and we started jamming."

After lulling sister Kelley out to Los Angeles and drafting drummer Jose Medeles a month after the move to Los Angeles, the band's initial resurgence was complete. However, before recording any of the new songs that the band was by now hard at work on, the first order of business was to play a show. Talking to Billboard, Kim recalled the band's first show back, saying, "We wanted to go out and play, but we didn't want to charge anybody, because we only had, like, a half-hour set, and we were playing a lot of new stuff. But we wanted to try our new stuff out. We just wanted to play!" The band booked a show late in February of 2000 at Mr. T's Bowl in Los Angeles's Highland Park area. Deal said, "So [on Tuesday] we unload our gear and we go to play, and the ... place is packed! We thought we'd be playing in front of six people, all our friends."

The success of their initial gig, as well as the additional dates booked across the United States and Europe, was the impetus for the Breeders recorded return with Title TK. Of the Steve Albini-produced album, Mando told CMJ that Title TK is a "completely different record" from Pod or Last Splash. He said that, "There are different players, different moods; there was no agenda going in. We didn't go in thinking 'this is what we want the album to sound like.' It just was and is what it is." Pitchfork Media said, "Title TK picks up where Pod left off in 1989, with a jagged sound nowhere near as tight as the Pixies' but a heartfelt enthusiasm for creating music."

In 2004, Deal put her Breeders project on hold, and rejoined a reassembled Pixies for a number of tour dates that lasted most of the year.

Selected discography

Pod, 4AD/Rough Trade, 1990.

Safari (EP), 4AD/Elektra, 1992.

Last Splash, 4AD/Elektra, 1993.

"Head to Toe" b/w "Shocker in Gloomtown" and "The Freed Pig," 4AD/Elektra, 1994.

Title TK, 4AD/Elektra, 2002.

Sources

Periodicals

Addicted to Noise, December 23, 1996.

Billboard, May 25, 2002.

Dayton Daily News (Dayton, OH), May 20, 2002.

Entertainment Weekly, October 1, 1993; July 12, 1996.

Guitar Player, November 1993.

Request, October 1993.

Rocket, April 24, 1996; July 10, 1996.

Rolling Stone, October 14, 1993; October 28, 1993; January 26, 1995; June 1, 1995.

Spin, September 1993; December 1993; March 1994; July 1995.

Tweak, 1996.

Online

"Breeders," CMJ.com,http://www.cmj.com/articles/display_article.php?id=34161 (January 20, 2005).

"Breeders Shout Out Tater Holler, Truck-Stop Knives, Beer Class On New LP," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1453881/20020510/story.jhtml (January 20, 2005).

"Breeders: Title TK Review," Pitchforkmedia.com, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/b/breeders/title-tk.shtml (January 20, 2005).

—Simon Glickman andRyan Allen

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