BACK IN THE DEEP END: The Breeders

the Breeders Touring Band - 2013

Currently on tour to celebrate the deluxe, expanded reissue of Last Splash – including a stop at this weekend’s Hopscotch Festival in Raleigh, NC – the alt-rock legends are picking up where they left off. That includes the knitting….

 BY RON HART

 “It’s a great song,” explains Kelley Deal in reference to The Breeders’ wild cover of Sebadoh’s “The Freed  Pig,” just one of the many treats to be discovered on the celebrated and recently reunited Dayton, Ohio group’s 20th Anniversary edition of their seminal 1993 4AD Records’ classic Last Splash.  

 Continues Deal, “I think Kim [Deal, her twin sister] was intrigued because there was maybe some issue that people thought it was her message to Charles [Thompson aka Black Francis of The Pixies]. It wasn’t that at all.  What it was is that here’s Lou [Barlow], who had such an issue with J. [Mascis] at the time, I’ll be damned if he just put that right out in front of everybody. The lyrics are just scathing. That was set, we were doing that song. And then came the opportunity that J. was interested in producing and engineering this whole single (the Head to Toe EP) so we were like, ‘Uh, okayyy.’ [laughs] And we got there and had the song worked out and we did talk to him and say, ‘You know, I don’t know if you heard this song, but it’s kinda raw and it might be about you.’ I think he probably just replied with, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ Nobody knew if he had ever listened to it or not.”

 The Breeders 1993, "Last Splash" project

The classic line-up of The Breeders, which includes guitarist Kelley, her sister Kim on bass and most of the lead vocals, second guitarist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson (violinist Carrie Bradley rounds out the touring ensemble), has reunited and is currently on the road in support of LSXX, a masterfully produced four-disc set that includes material from all three of the album’s subsequent EPs (rounded out by Safari and Divine Hammer), a live show culled from a popular soundboard boot from a 1994 gig in Stockholm, and a grab bag of previously unreleased demos and BBC sessions. But perhaps most entertaining about the set is the cast of characters who signed on to help pen the liner notes for the box, particularly the input of Mascis, a man of very few words whose rather funny and poignant recollections of his contributions to the Last Splash sessions both surprised and impressed the band.

 “When Josephine read what he had written she was really impressed that he was so spot-on and cool about what he was doing and where he was at,” Deal said of the Dinosaur Jr. guitar hero’s prose. “Shit, when I read the thing about him walking around with his mini-Marshall playing Dickey Betts leads, oh my God that’s really what he did. [laughs] He had such a great sense of insight into his own behavior during that time as well.”

Live, the group has never sounded better than they have this year on the LSXX tour, thanks largely to Kelley’s voracious guitar playing that has gotten so much better than the days when her sister was teaching her on the fly, when they used to play around Dayton as a duo.

 “She taught me how to play barre chords and that’s kinda all I’ve been playing since,” she giggles. “When we were rolling around town as a two-piece, I did play some bass. And it’s funny, because the first bass that Kim used in The Pixies is my Aria Pro II.”

 What’s more, Kelley believes her newness as a guitar player has helped lend a hand to the technique that’s grown to become uniquely her own.

 “I think I’m more like vocal-and-song oriented. The songs will move me. As a guitarist, I’m inspired by a song like ‘Sycamore Trees’ by Little Jimmy Scott. It’s the most beautiful song ever. My goal is to try and create a guitar sound that made me feel like that song makes me feel.” 

 As the Breeders wind down their whirlwind victory lap across the nation, Deal reflects on how surprisingly smooth it went given this line-up’s lengthy time apart from one another from 20 years ago. Perhaps the only downside to the tour was the fact that the twins’ father, a retired laser physicist at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, wasn’t driving the tour bus this time around.

 “My dad’s actually the guy in the Amps’ “Pacer” video who is waving the checkered flag in the white jacket,” Kelley smiles. “We were pretty well behaved on the bus too with Dad around.” [The Amps were the band that Kim Deal formed after the Breeders went on “hiatus” circa 1995.]

 And what ever became of that quilt that she knitted on the road twenty years ago?

 “I finished it and it’s gorgeous,” Kelley laughs. “It’s at my mom and dad’s house. They have two cats and the cats love it. So every time I come over I pick it up and put it away so the cats don’t get at it and lay down on it with their nasty bodies.”

The Breeders are in Raleigh at the Hopscotch Festival this weekend, with selected dates to follow, including treks to Mexico and Australia. Dates at the band’s website.

[Photos credit: current lineup by Chris Glass; ‘90s era by Kevin Westenberg]

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