the breeders are back, and as 90s grunge as ever
With their new album All Nerve featuring the exact same lineup as their legendary 1993 album Last Splash, we asked them if the 90s were actually better.
Image via Beggars Group
“There have been gaps, although they don't seem like gaps to me,” says the humble but actual alt-rock genius Kim Deal, on the lags between The Breeders albums. “Well from 93 was Last Splash and then 95 there was The Amps record and then there was a tiny gap around here, but then 2002 was Title TK and then the Pixies ‘thing’ started and I did that until 2008 with Mountain Battles, then the solo series stuff and then 2013 was the anniversary of Last Splash and now we're doing this…” Just a casual cronologing of 25 years of major music history, with “The Pixies ‘thing’” being her role as the bassist for one of the most influential alt-rock bands ever -- their musical significance being heard all over Nirvana, Radiohead and Blur to name a few.
The Breeders was Kim and her twin sister Kelley’s side project, consisting of a revolving line up that included Tanya Donnelly of Belly. 25 years ago they released their second album, Last Splash, in August 1993. Bill Clinton was halfway through his first year in office, Janet Jackson was dominating the charts and Meat Loaf was about to release I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That). That summer, Last Splash got bigger than anyone could have predicted; the stop-start weirdly catchy Cannonball blasting a path to the mainstream -- the video for which was directed by Kim Gordon and Spike Jonze. The next year the album was certified platinum.
The Last Splash lineup was Kim Deal on lead vocals and guitar with her twin sister Kelley -- older by 11 minutes -- also on guitar, though she’d never played before joining The Breeders the previous year. Rounding out the line-up were British-born Josephine Wiggs on bass and drummer Jim Macpherson. The Breeders was meant to be a side thing for Kim while the Pixies were having a break, and away from the control of frontman Black Francis, she had space to flex her superb songwriting -- which Kurt Cobain had praised the year before, telling Melody Maker, “I wish Kim was allowed to write more songs for the Pixies, because Gigantic is the best Pixies song, and Kim wrote it."
So there was Last Splash success, and then there were falling outs (Kim and Jim didn’t talk for 15 years, but they’re not sure why exactly) and line up changes, there were drug busts (Kelley), a lot of drinking (Kim and Kelley) and rehab (Kelley). The twins are both clean and sober now -- have been for a while -- and are actually having a lot of fun, especially now they’ve got a shiny new album All Nerve out. The band -- the exact lineup from Last Splash -- are in London to promote it. So, let’s talk about the new album, I suggest obviously. “Nooo not that!” Says Kim in protest, but she’s just having a bit of a lol. “Do you like it?” she asks. Of course I do, it’s brilliant. She seems genuinely pleased to hear that. Kim and Kelley in person are, much like the sound of their vocals, warm, spirited, playing off each other. They’re funny and laidback and jokey. Josephine is harder work, she’s more serious and blunt, and Jim is quiet but friendly, only speaking when prompted. They seem a lot like they do in video footage of them in the 90s, showing off hickeys on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, or messing around with L7 and Kelley and Kim’s mum.
The new album happened, Kelley says, because they “made a decision to get together to do the Last Splash tour and… went all the way to 2013 having a great time, really enjoying each other and the music and each other's playing”. Then towards the end of that year they started adding in songs from other albums. “Once we made that decision to continue -- if we were not going to do anything we would not have continued on,” she adds.
Josephine recalls it differently. “The way I remember it is that we'd had such a great time on that tour that we wanted to carry on, and various people said to us, like promoters and booking agents, that in order for me to keep booking you you're going to have to make a new record.” Either way, the good times have given us a brilliant new album.
Bleak, cryptic lyrics mix with anthemic kicks that are jarred at just the right time with moody lulls. It’s got the bittersweet sound of being blissed out and miserable at the same time. Basically it’s what you want from The Breeders, including the cleverly messed up song structures that they’re so known and revered for. This was no bashed out album, it took them three years to finish. They’re all obsessed with getting everything just right. “It's like every beat is scrutinised, ‘Do we need that? No let's take that out,’” says Josephine. “And then it's like, ‘Oh let's put that back in. Take the one right before that out.’ You know, ad nauseum,” agrees Kelley. So, how did they know when they were finally done with All Nerve? “We're not... We don't know that we are done!” she says. Kim for one thinks that there should be a harp on Divine Hammer, and knows exactly where she’d put it.
You might think hitting the road again would feel a bit daunting -- being older and less drunk and all that -- but they all seem really excited to be back out there together. Though Jim admits that it takes more of a toll these days. “We just did this last month, where we didn't have hotel rooms so slept on the bus and showered in venues. I felt like I was going to die,” he says, and the rest of the band laugh at him.
So, what’s different since they last toured a new album together in the 90s? Kelley says iPhones are handy for finding places to eat while on the road, and Josephine likes the lack of smoking, as she never had the habit herself. The more important question though, is was everything really better in the 90s? “Ummm, you know what I think I've noticed, this might not be true, I'm not sure, but there was a live music scene in the 90s that I don't know is the same now,” says Kim. “I have noticed that there was more of a live band social culture in the 90s than there is now. I recognise that when social media took over and people used that to socialise, it used to be if you wanted to socialise you had to go outside of the house and a lot of times that was done at clubs to see bands. I don't know if that's good or bad, it's just different.”