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Friday, May 9, 2008

The Breeders: 'What took you so long?'


Staff writer

Despite being the indie buff's band of choice for the best part of two decades, you wouldn't call The Breeders prolific. "Mountain Battles," released this month, will be only the band's fourth album since it formed in Dayton, Ohio, in 1988, and its first since 2002's "Title TK." With a history dogged by lineup changes, side bands, drug addiction and arrest (all well-enough documented to not go into here), it's hardly been plain sailing for The Breeders, fronted by twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal. But the music has been solid, flirting with the charts despite its fiercely independent bent.

News photo
The Breeders (Kelley Deal on the right) keep the vinyl spirit alive, pressing the record edition of new album "mountain Battles" from the original analog-tape source, rather than a digital master.

"People go, 'God, what took you so f**king long?' " Kelley tells The Japan Times of the new release. "It's just like, 'God, we're doing the f**king best we can! Jesus!' (laughs) Give us a break." She ponders, adding, "At least on this record. On the other records, have at us."

Asked exactly what did take so long between "Title TK" and "Mountain Battles," Kelley, who joined her sister's band in 1991, replies, "Well, it feels like we worked on it the whole time. We did a demo for 'Regalame Esta Noche' in 2002, and we also did 'Spark' and 'No Way' demos, and those two are actually on the record. And then in 2003, the Pixies stuff happened."

Oh yes, the Pixies stuff. The band that made Kim Deal famous (albeit some years after it broke up acrimoniously in 1993) re-formed for a huge worldwide string of sellout dates that saw recovering-alcoholic Kim take probably the biggest stages of her career. (When asked which band she would most like to see re-formed, Kelley says dryly, "Maybe Nirvana. Put Kurt up there, dead.")

Kelley could have been forgiven if she'd resented Kim's Pixies jaunt for getting in the way of the next Breeders record, but she insists that was not the case.

"I was really excited for her," she says. "The whole thing was super exciting. I did a lot of traveling with her. It was really fun. How can somebody's life get in the way? It's your life, it's not getting in the way of anything."

Indeed, as the Deals traveled across the United States in an RV driven by Kelley's husband during the Pixies tour, they were able to get down to demoing the song "Walk It Off," as seen in the Pixies reunion documentary "loudQUIETloud." (The song features revealing lyrics such as, "Nobody's allowed to fight till the band starts playing tonight.") Written and recorded in this piecemeal fashion, it's a wonder that the album sounds as cohesive as it does.

"Oh totally, it was totally recorded a bit at a time," admits Deal, explaining that the band had trouble finding a studio it was happy with. "And then we went to (Steve) Albini's (studio), which is always great, y'know. He's the go-to guy."

You'd be forgiven for thinking the famously analog-happy band had dabbled in the digital for "Mountain Battles." The drum track on "Bang On," especially, sounds like a sequenced club beat, but in fact it's an analog recording of a live drum kit that had seeped into a mic set up to capture ambient sound and distorted. This sort of organic studio trickery seems to thrill the Deals, and Kelley has little love for shortcutters who rely on fix-all software. "It's a different process that I don't like," she remarks. "You're literally using your eyes and your fingers, and not your ears."

This love for the personal approach permeates The Breeders' music. The title track on "Mountain Battles" is a Kim-only demo that recording sessions with Albini couldn't re-create, so they used the original. Its warm, bare keyboard, haphazard guitar and bruised vocal create an intimate, vulnerable vibe that makes Kelley squirm.

It's also the reason they've stuck with U.K.-based label 4AD since the very start. 4AD has been credited with supporting The Breeders since the very beginning, when Kim was assessing her post-Pixies options.

"You know, 4AD, they're not a major label," says Deal. "A major would never know what to do with us. Ed and Chris from 4AD, we have their cell numbers; when we call them they pick up. Ed came down to Key West (in Florida) and we went fishing. We have a relationship with them. And they put up with Kim, for Christ's sake. There's only a few people that are gonna be able to do that."

The Breeders will be bringing the family vibe east when they play at the Fuji Rock Festival in July.

"I've never done Fuji," says Deal. "We've played Japan, and I hate to say this, but I always spend the entire trip in Starbucks and McDonald's. I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I'm from Dayton, Ohio; I'm landlocked. I don't eat sushi, I don't eat fish, I don't even like the smell of it. I don't like lobster, shrimp; I can barely stomach tuna salad, you know what I mean?"

While Japanese food may not sit well with Kelley, she is interested in the music here, reeling off a short but top-notch list of favorites such as noiseniks Boredoms, indie chicks Noodles and light-speed punks Melt-Banana. Indeed, Kim was responsible for getting New York-based Italian-Japanese band Blonde Redhead signed to 4AD; and while "Mountain Battles" has songs sung in German and Spanish, Deal points out that a 2002 Breeders B-side was partly in Japanese. ("It's called 'Climbing the Sun'; it's a really cool song," she says. "You can probably download it somewhere.")

At least Kelley won't get bored on the long flight over here. She's famously a knitting junkie (it has reportedly helped take her mind off being a junkie of a different kind), and in October, Lark will publish a book of her designs, titled "Bags That Rock: Knitting on the Road With Kelley Deal." It's just another way of getting closer to the fans and keeping things friendly. And of course, friends forgive each other, even when one of them is running a little late.

"Mountain Battles" is released May 14. The Breeders play Fuji Rock Festival, which takes place July 25-27 at Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata Prefecture. Three-day tickets ¥39,800; one- day ticket ¥16,800; fujirockfestival.com


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