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Interview with Kelley Deal of the Breeders

May 7, 2008

She’s Crafty: The Breeders’ Kelley Deal talks knitting, nudity and Steve Albini’s bodily functions
By Jaime Lees
Published on May 07, 2008

Kelley Deal co-leads the Breeders with her sister Kim, who’s best known for being a member of the Pixies (and later, the Amps). The Dayton, Ohio, quartet first found fame in the early ’90s with songs such as “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer” and is in the midst of a most welcome comeback thanks to a new album, Mountain Battles.

Its first release since 2002’s Title TK, Battles displays all of the familiar Breeders qualities — i.e., sugary vocals and inventive songwriting — while highlighting genre experimentation and improved instrumentation. Written and recorded over years with quite a few influences (most notably, engineer Steve Albini), Battles is an album that becomes more accessible with each spin, as its dazzling subtleties grow more prominent.

The sisters’ voices together are as striking as ever, producing Phil Spector-worthy harmonies that sound angelic in any language. (No, really: The Deals sing one song in Spanish and another in German.) Other album highlights include “Here No More,” a simple, prairie-style folk song and “We’re Gonna Rise,” which is a shifting and hopeful ballad. “It’s the Love” sounds the most like a classic Breeders pop tune, and seems to be a crowd favorite.

We caught up with Kelley last week while she was on a tour stop in Las Vegas.

Jaime Lees: Tell me about when you were recording your album. I love Steve Albini and obviously you like him, ’cause this is the third Breeders album you did with him.

Kelley Deal: Well, here’s the thing: We did not do that much of this record with him. But people read his name and just go [with it] because he’s such an interesting character, and he has such an interesting history with the Breeders. The thing is, on the album credits, we don’t go through everything, ’cause we went to a lot of places and worked with several different people.

The guy we worked with most on this record? His name is Manny Nieto. We met him in East Los Angeles. He had a studio there and his people call him “Albiner” ’cause he’s a huge Albini fan. He knows Steve, he talks to Steve. Now, we did go to Albini’s and we recorded. “Here No More” and “Walk it Off” were recorded and mixed by Steve. He recorded “Overglazed” and “It’s the Love” and he mixed “Regalame Esta Noche” and he did some other stuff. But “Overglazed” was mixed by Manny, “Bang On” was recorded and mixed by Manny. “German Studies” was recorded and mixed by Manny. So he actually did most of the work.

And there’s this other woman, her name is Erika Larson, she recorded “We’re Gonna Rise” and “Regalame Esta Noche.” But it’s interesting, I’ve noticed when I talk to people they say, “So you worked with Steve Albini again on the record.” And I explain it, but a lot of times they just say “worked with Steve Albini” and I don’t blame them, ’cause Steve Albini is a freak, basically. He’s a wonderful character to talk about.

Yeah! I always wanna know if he’s as serious as he leads on. I’ll watch him in interviews, and he’s just so serious.

Oh, totally. You know, in the middle of a serious discussion, he’ll lean over a cheek and fart without blinking an eye. And it’s not like he’s doing it to get a reaction, and it’s not like this huge stinky thing. [He'll say] something about, “It’s a natural bodily function.” He’s just gonna give it a poot! If you did the same thing, he wouldn’t blink an eye. He’s just the weirdest guy. He’s so smart, too. He’s so smart it’s weird.

All of the records he makes always sound really good in my car. Does that make any sense?

Absolutely! That’s the mark of a great engineer.

OK, so, tell me about your knitting book. [the forthcoming Bags that Rock: Knitting on the Road with Kelley Deal]

[Laughs] Yes, you know, I like to knit. I did an interview with somebody in San Francisco, and when we got there I saw the interview [in print] and the caption said “Kelley Deal knits up a new record.” And I started blushing. ‘Cause, you know, it’s so uncool. But on the other hand I’m like, fuck that, man. I’m not gonna be embarrassed by it. You know, I’m gonna let my freak flag fly. You know, I like to knit, fuck everybody else. But just the word “craft.” “I craft.” It’s so lame. But anyway, yes, I like to knit. And I have a book coming out in October. Enough said about that.

What else are you doing on tour to just, like, chill?

Let’s see, what else are we doing on tour? What do I like to do? You know, I do a lot of reading. When you’re on a bus with a lot of people, when you get some time, you kind of just want to have “me time,” whatever that is. Also, I’m in Las Vegas, I’d really like to hit up a meeting, as they say. A twelve-step meeting. I’ve been to a meeting before here in Vegas, and there’s nothing cooler than that, go to an AA meeting in Vegas. You can bet it’s raw, you know? [Laughs] Like, “Oh, look at that guy. He sold his car. He gave his baby away.” But I want to go, even though I feel like I’m just an observer. I mean, and I need to go, I think it’s a good idea.

I think it’s great that you talk about stuff like that.

I never… everything is kind of open, it’s all up for grabs. I’m totally, I’m so Midwest, you know? Like, Chatty Cathy. I don’t feel like people hold back or, like [whispers], can’t ask me something because it’s inappropriate.

I’m glad the tour is going well. When I saw you guys in Austin in March you seemed kind of nervous. Oh man, but the audience was freaking out. They were really stoked to see you.

Oh good. Damn! Good! You know when we play the new songs, people love ‘em. They fit right in. It’s not like people are just sitting there looking at us.

So you’re gonna come here to St. Louis. Do you know about the place you’re playing? It’s kind of like that place you’d go to see a Journey cover band.

Ha! The place that we’re playing there? Really? Oh God, I hate when you tell me shit like that, it’s so weird!

No, it’s a fun place, but it’s in East St. Louis, and it’s sort of like, you have to stay on that street or you die.

[Laughs]

So don’t go roamin’ around there.

OK. I mean, will people not come because of the location?

No, you can totally go there, you just have to go straight there and then leave. Its like, in the middle of a couple of strip clubs.

I can take my clothes off, that’s what you’re saying?

Well, uh, next door at least. Or, uh, probably there, too. It’s your show.

I’ll just take ‘em off there, too.

8 p.m. Saturday, May 10. Pop’s, 1403 Mississippi Avenue, Sauget, Illinois. $17 in advance, $18 at the door. 618-274-6720.

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