The New Deal: Kim Deal's Life After The Pixies

The first time I saw Kim Deal was seven years ago, when the Pixies ruled the universe and she was "Mrs. John Murphy" in Pixies' album credits. Maybe it was in keeping with that frumpy title that she showed up on stage dressed like a trip to the typists' pool: long-sleeved blouse, wool skirt, and high-heeled pumps. But she was not behaving like a trip to the typists' pool; she was whopping at her bass and grinning like a nut. It was just too weird to be a simple anti-fashion statement. It could've meant anything or nothing, same as all those splintered bones (early on) and interplanetary launches (later on) that defined the world of the Pixies. Deal's next band, the Breeders, carried on that same sort of random loopiness. Put it down to her voice -- cornball sentiment like "Does love ever end when two hearts are torn away?" became something creepy and ominous when filtered through Deal's lungs. You could never be sure she wasn't pulling your leg. Or put it down to the way she could be slurring through the preternatural strangeness of something like "Mad Lucas" when all of a sudden in she'd pop to announce, "And I don't like dirt!" Like her old Pixies mate Black Francis -- a/k/a Charles Francis, a/k/a Frank Black -- Deal has fun inventing new names for herself. And like Black, she enjoys toying with semantics. For the Amps, her new band, she's identified in album credits by the euphonious "Tammy Ampersand." Based in Dayton, the outfit includes Nathan Farley on guitar, Luis Lerma on bass, and Jim Macpherson on drums. A glance at some of the song titles on Pacer (Elektra), the Amps' debut , suggests Deal still takes a Pixies-like delight in bending concepts just enough to encourage a doubletake: "Breaking the Split Screen Barrier," "Full on Idle," "She's a Girl." Pacer succeeds for a couple of reasons. First, it'd be difficult to put Deal's voice centerstage without turning out something at least halfway compelling. Even the dullest numbers on Pod (4AD), the Breeders' first album, had the benefit of her husky-sweet delivery. She's always wedged just enough coyness between the lines of her songs to make you wonder whether she isn't goofing. On Pacer she ties that entertaining puzzle to music that has enough momentum to recall the stop-start dynamics of vintage Pixies. Pacer comes from a blueprint similar to the Breeders' Last Splash (4AD/Elektra). It bares Deal's continuing love for pop bonbons that float on air while showcasing her need to stir up dissonance. The title track is all lilting dreaminess and fuzzy sweetness, with Deal gliding along, sounding like an angel. She comes as close to genuine tenderness as she ever has, singing, "My wheels are off the ground, they keep spinning around/Just to think you were just passing by." One number that directly recalls the scattershot jumpiness of Pixies is "Full on Idle." This one's got a hyperactive beat not far removed from Doolittle's "Crackedy Jones." It's also got one phrase that sticks out of the squall. "Your violence is kinda late!" yelps Deal, sounding a little disappointed. She's a master of the non-sequitur. In the midst of the one-two punch of "Empty Glasses," for instance, she's demanding, "Where's my other shoe?" Yep, this must be the same "Mad Lucas" ex-Breeder who "[doesn't] like dirt!" Without a lyric sheet handy, most of Pacer is pretty opaque. "Bragging Party," with its subdued throb and Deal's pleasant voice, has a surface innocuousness that gives way to something darker when you strain to hear the words: "ChloroformÊ.Ê.Ê.ÊacetoneÊ.Ê.Ê.Êyou are what I need. . . fuck their daughtersÊ.Ê.Ê.Ê" Or something like that. Also ambiguous -- albeit less stubbornly so -- is "She's a Girl," which seems to have something to do with a same-sex fling. Or maybe not. In any case, Deal is "enriched in ways I can't describeÊ.Ê.Ê.ÊOnce you got it, once is all the time." Deal's teasing way with words and attitude gives the Amps' music a peculiar charm. "Hoverin'" is a grinding number with a lumbering, heavy-duty feel and words that say something about floating down the street high on something or other. For a moment, Her real-life experiences seem to feed straight into her lyrics. Given that her twin, ex-Breeder Kelley, has had heroin problems, it's safe to guess that the undercurrent of "Hoverin'" is cautionary. Drugs are poison "if you plan to stick around." But then Deal intones, "Straight. Yeah, we're straight. We get high on our music." And the smirk on her face comes blazing through the stereo speakers. SIDEBAR: The Year In Kim DealIt's been a tough year for Kim Deal and a confusing one for Breeders fans. First came reports that Kim's twin sister, Breeders guitarist Kelley Deal, had been arrested for receiving a package of heroin in the mail last winter. Then came a round of conflicting reports about the future of the Breeders and the follow-up to the group's platinum-selling Last Splash (4AD/Elektra): bassist Josephine Wiggs had come out of the closet and was on the road with her girlfriend, Luscious Jackson's Kate Schellenbach; Kelley was on board and working with Kim and drummer Jim Macpherson on the new disc, or else she was back on smack and out of the picture; Kim was either making a new Breeders album or launching a solo career as Tammy and the Amps. It would have been a tabloid reporter's wet dream if Kim hadn't been stuck out in the middle of nowhere -- her native Dayton -- recording demos in her basement studio, far from the prying lights of New York and Hollywood. And if the Breeders, in all their angular, oblique, and unkempt glory, weren't such a difficult band to get a handle on. It's three o'clock on a Monday afternoon and Kim is busy in the kitchen of her home, fielding phone calls while her new band, the Amps, practice in the basement below. With two weeks to go before the release of Pacer (4AD/Elektra), the new Deal is very much like the old Deal -- a charming, reckless, strong-willed bundle of raw, bristling energy on a strange mission of her own devising. With a few minor exceptions, Pacer > sounds like a new Breeders disc. And it's hard not to get the impression that Kim's changed the name of the band as much to piss off the powers that be as to protect her sister, who's reportedly recovering well after a few months in a clinic. "It's weird," Kim begins. "I mean, what am I doing making my own record? I was in this band, the Pixies, that wasn't really popular over here, but in England and Europe we were big and it was cool. Then I started the Breeders -- ÔNo big deal, Kim's got this stupid thing on the side.' And then Last Splash happened and all of a sudden everything is different. But just because one of my records sold millions, why should that mean I have to change the way that I do things?" "I know what they're saying," she continues, working up her first head of steam. "First of all they'd tell me not to touch the name. ÔYou've got to keep the name the Breeders because it's a marketing term.' And they'd also tell me that I'm going to have to go through the momentum-building process that all alternative-rock bands doÊ.Ê.Ê.Êyou know, put out a video before the CD, play showcases, etc. The marketing plan for an alternative-rock band nowadays is the same marketing plan they used for heavy-metal bands in the '80s. That's fine. But it doesn't mean that I have to buy into it. So this is what's going to happen: I'm not going to have a name association with the Breeders, we haven't done a video, and we'll just see what happens. To me it's weird that people were thinking I would act any other way. I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm just doing things the way I always have." Pacer was recorded in a half-dozen different locations, including Steve Albini's place in Chicago and the Easley studios in Memphis, the locale favored by the indie-rock lo-fi elite of Pavement, the Grifters, and Dayton's Guided by Voices, an outfit that now features Kim's boyfriend, Spin writer Jim Greer, on bass. Deal originally intended the disc to be a solo effort, a way to get through the winter while the rest of the Breeders relaxed after a long year-plus of touring. But the project gradually snowballed into something that resembled a new band, with former Guided by Voices guitar-tech Nathan Farley on guitar, Luis Lerma on bass, and Macpherson on drums. "After the Breeders played Lollapalooza [in '94], everybody wanted to rest. I knew I'd go right into the basement and do demos. I thought, 'If I'm going to be an asshole and do a solo record, then I'm going to play drums.' So many people do solo records where they do everything except play drums. To me that's not being an asshole enough. You got to play everything. So I taught myself how to play drums, made demos of six songs, and sent them off to Ivo at 4AD. People were calling me ÔThe Artist Formerly Known As Kim.'Ê" In the end, Kim played drums and everything else on Pacer's "Tip City." Macpherson handled drum duties on the rest. And Kelley made a few cameos on bass and guitar. "I was all set to do a solo album," Kim explains, "but I decided to make it a Breeders record because Kelley was having so much trouble with drugs. I thought making a record would distract her -- stupid thinking, huh? Obviously it didn't distract her and she had to go back to rehab. So it went back to being a solo record. But Jim was already on the drum tracks and I couldn't just erase that. So now it's just a record with a bunch of people on it, Kelley's doing much better, and I don't have to think about the Breeders, so I choose not to."-- Matt Ashare

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