Interview with Kelley Deal of the Breeders
This one is personal, darlings. As a Breeders fan and a native St. Louisan, I was beyond stoked to learn that the band would be shooting a video in my city with our roller derby team, the Arch Rival Roller Girls.
The event was whispered about for months, but nobody was sure if it would really happen until about a week before the video date. There were no contracts involved, just people getting together to make something cool, completely D.I.Y. style.
So imagine our excitement when it actually happened. Right on time, Kelley Deal arrived in town with video directors Mando Lopez (Breeders bassist) and James Ford. Suddenly, we were superstars. And it was all set up by my friend, Amy Whited.
Whited is a lovable little spaz with a brain that moves lightning fast (and a mouth to match). I’ve known her since I was about 17 years old and she was a cool older sister type who had a band and hosted riotgrrrl concerts in the basement of her ramshackle house.
As far back as I can remember, Whited’s true love had always been music- specifically the Breeders. She’d met the band, seen them play countless times and she has artwork from a Breeders record tattooed prominently on her upper arm. She even adopted two little mixed Dachshund puppies and named them Kim Dog and Kelley Dog.
Whited explains, “They were my most favorite band. I loved the Pixies before them. I was on a mission to meet them cause I saw them in Columbia, Missouri in April 1994, and I was thinking that I must speak to Breeders at Lollapalooza. And they were nice!”
Her dedication all of these years resulted in a spectacular success: arranging for the Breeders to record the bands latest video in St. Louis with her roller derby team and newest obsession, the Arch Rival Roller Girls.
The shoot was scheduled for early on Valentine’s Day and despite the drizzle, the roller girls turned up en masse. During the eight hour video shoot they had to skate pretty much constantly, but they hardly even took breaks. In fact, the rollers seemed to rally near the end of the day.
“We kind of got delirious around hour number six, ” explains Arch Rival Roller Girl Lauren Busiere, “We had to keep skating all day and we were all exhausted. We were completely bonkers. It was like a child’s slumber party in the middle of the day- except Kelley Deal was there. It was really awesome, but completely crazy.”
The spirit of the day was greatly helped along by Deal, who has endless enthusiasm and a contagious smile. She trotted around the rink, sprinkling encouraging words, heartfelt ‘thank you’s and pats on the back wherever needed. Her main role of the day, however, seemed to be to coach the performers with the song lyrics. She wanted the derby players to be the ones singing the song in the video, so she spent much of her time standing behind the camera, holding up a lyric sheet and singing along.
I talked to Kelley yesterday and asked her about Whited, roller derby, the video, her new EP and the Breeders’ future plans. The interview is below.
— Jaime Lees
JAIME LEES: Ok, so let me just say, I’ve known Amy Whited for about a million years.
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, me too. Do you know the story of how we met her?
Yes, but please tell me all of it.
Ok, the Breeders- this was in 1994, the Breeders were on Lollapalooza and we were in Chicago. And my mom and dad had gone to that show ’cause they live in Dayton. So, of course they have all the backstage passes and all that stuff. So we were out walking around and stuff and then we go back to say hi to my mom and dad and they have this, like, 16 or 17 year old little blond-headed girl with them. And they introduced us to her and we were like “Hey, well Hi, how are you?” and my mom is like “This is Amy. She’s joining us back here.”
I guess they started talking to her and they discovered she’d hitchhiked from St. Louis, Missouri to Chicago to go to Lollpalooza. So, of course, my mother and father were just appalled at that idea. So they kind of adopted her that day. So we said hi to her and got her a pass and we hung out back there. And I know before the end of the day my mom and dad gave her money and made her promise to take a bus home back to St. Louis.
You know, I never did ask her how she got home. I need to ask her that. Cause if it were me, I’d have spent it on drugs, you know? Wouldn’t you? But, so after that, years would go by. And any time the Breeders went out, any time we were close to St. Louis like Chicago or Cincinnati we’d be like “Hey, there’s Amy!”And eventually we exchanged phone numbers and then when the email came along we exchanged email.
And the last time I saw Amy was back in the summer when the Breeders came to St. Louis and we met up and we were talking to her and her and some of her friends and roller girl friends came on to the tour bus and we hung out there and stuff after the show. And Amy and I were just talking about how cool it would be to do a video with the derby involved in it somehow. Like the Breeders could play in the middle of the rink or something and we both thought it would be a great idea but then we just kind of forgot about it.
So we left and then the Breeders did this Vote Early, Rock Late rally. It wasn’t for Obama but it kind of ended up being for Obama, if you know what I mean. And it was in Cincinnati and we’re hanging out after our show and we’re talking to these girls and one of them had a derby shirt on for the Cincinnati roller derby and I’m like “Oh my god, are you guys in derby, too? Oh, do you know Amy?” Thinking that everybody knows everybody, you know how that is. So then… That was in October and in November, you know, I had my knitting book out.
So there’s this thing called the No Coast Craft Fair in Minneapolis in November and they invited me to go out there to do a book signing and to
judge craft contests. It was really fun. There was five teams and it was me and several other judges. And one of the teams was the Minnesota roller girls. And they actually won the contest. But they actually deserved to win. It wasn’t just that I liked roller derby and so they won. (laughs) Yeah, so I was like “What is going on with this derby stuff? This is crazy! Ok, I can take a hint.” And so I called Amy up and I said, “Amy, listen, we’ve gotta do this.” And since then we had a new song we had done. And I was like “That new song, ‘Fate to Fatal’ would be perfect for this.” But then the idea of us all getting together… We were taking a break, the band was taking a break and two of the people live in Los Angeles.
And Kim and I are in Dayton and I’m like “How are we going to get all of our people down there to do a live show?” And at the same time, I was thinking about how cool it would be if the [roller] girls would do the lip-synching. That’s way more interesting to me, to have them do the lip-synching. So we started thinking, how could that work? Cause there’s not any real narrative to it. It’s not like there’s really a story, and I never really wanted there to be a story, I really just wanted it to be about their derby and how fun it is and how rad it is, you know? And that’s it. I don’t think it needs any story. It’s a fantastic visual. And it’s a great song. So it just worked out perfect.
So how did you decide to do it here [in St. Louis]? Are the Dayton/Cincinnati roller girls pissed?
Good point, good point. At one time, Amy and I were talking and we had talked about all of this a lot. And we’re like, what we could do- I was calling them away games but they’re not they’re called “road derby” or something. And they were going to be going through Detroit and I was like “Well, you guys could come through Dayton, and you could, like, play against the Dayton derby.” And that would have been cool. But the thing is, logistically, where are we gonna set all the girls up? And they’d have to come through here, we’d have to get hotels or find houses for people to stay in- it just made more sense [to film in STL], because there’s so many derby girls there in St. Louis. I mean, there’s the whole league, and it’s not just Amy’s team. And it took me a while to put that together. I was like “Oh, so there’s not just 13 of you rolling around.” “Oh no, there’s tons of us, and we could actually play against ourselves on our teams.” And I’m like, “You know what, Amy, it will just be easier.” And I drove down from Dayton in my car. And then Mando [Lopez] and [James] Ford, they flew out to St. Louis. And you know, cameras are so good now, and Mando- he’s the bass player in the Breeders- he actually does it for a living. He does camera work for a living.
So you were like, “Well, we don’t have to get a camera guy…”
Exactly. So then it was like, how is this gonna work? Cause I’d never been to the Skatium before. And I’m like what about drinks? Cause people are going to be thirsty. And what about food? And I’m just… all of these are question marks, cause we were in the middle of doing something else right then.
Kim and I were driving to Chicago to do this benefit we do with Second City, it’s like a 24 hour comedy and music thing. We’ve been doing that for a few years and it’s really fun, so we were rehearsing for that cause you’ve gotta kind of tear all the songs apart and make them interesting for just two people to play. And we had to figure it out. Kim would be like, “We could do Pacer, Kelley, if you play the bass part.” And I’d be, “OK, well how does the bass part go?” [Kim,] “Well, wait, I don’t remember. So I’ll play the bass part and sing.” So we were kind of re-learning that. So it was really busy, and Christmas was coming up, and it just seemed really busy so I was so worried it wouldn’t come together. That I was just going to drive into the Skatium and I was just going to go “Uh… here’s the lyrics. Go! Make magic!” So I get there, Amy has it completely— I don’t know what she does for a living. I think it has something to do with, like, organization and shit, doesn’t it?
Yeah, it’s some kind of office something right now.
Yeah, exactly. You can tell. Everything was completely mapped out.
Dude, if Amy wants to get something done, she just gets it done.
Oh my god! And gets it done well. Yeah. It ran like clockwork. I mean, I was so fuckin’ impressed, man. Yeah, I was really impressed.
She has some kind of weird motivating skills, do you know what I’m saying? She got all of those chicks to show up and skate for eight hours straight…
Oh my god! They skated like dogs for eight hours. Without drinking. No beers.
They really did.
I’m impressed with that. They’re really good about not drinking and skating. At least, they seem to be. Maybe somebody is there with a flask takin’ a nip, but I was pretty impressed with that. There’s a lot of socialization there, too. You wanna talk with your friends and you wanna have fun, so the idea of not drinking when you’re doing it for eight hours and it’s on a Saturday…
Well, what’s kind of great about that derby is that most of those girls didn’t know each other before they got involved in it. They all just kind of made their own family and it’s kind of sweet to watch. Cause they wouldn’t really know each other otherwise.
Oh, I know. It’s so cool. And, you know, when you get older you have all of your high school friends and all your neighborhood friends and then you have your work friends but as you get older you kind of start losing the number of friends somehow. I think, I don’t know what it is, how that works and shit, but something like derby, having those relationships with girls- it’s so good. And it’s not work relationships. I used to work in an office, you know, and everybody in the office goes out to dinner afterward, you go to a bar, meet up or something like that, but then you invariably start talking about work, or people at work. But the derby it just so great cause it’s something other than work.
I mean, I was shocked by how much they just- they just skated for eight hours straight and then all of those tricks at the end? I had no idea they could do that stuff.
Oh I know, oh my god. I don’t know if it’s out right now, or if it’s going to be out in the next couple of days. Have you seen the video? Mando called it- he titled the making of “Skate to Fatal.”
Yeah, I saw the clip on Rolling Stone.
They were really cute talking about- I mean, you see all of these wipe-out shots- it was pretty bad at the beginning there.
I watched saw James [Ford] take a serious fall. I wasn’t sure if he was going to be OK there for a minute!
Ha! Oh my god! Yeah! Mando was talking to me, about an hour into it, and he’s like “Man, I’m telling them to slow down but they can’t slow down. Listen I don’t know how this is going to work, but it’s not going to work how I thought it was. They can’t slow down. They’re unable to.”
Yeah, you just have to get out the way!
Yeah! So the video is cool. It’s awesome. There’s so many wipe out shots that look really bad ass. I don’t know all the girls and stuff, but there’s this one girl that’s got long hair and she’s doing push-ups. As a chick, I just really love it. And there’s at the very end, the whole thing ends with Grave Danger absolutely wiping out and she’s just laughing- it shows her laughing on the rink. It’s so cute. And they were all so patient! And they were willing just to try everything and they had enthusiasm and they looked great and the shots were amazing.
And they were doing those jumps and spins and shit. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of games, but I didn’t know they could do stuff like that.
So were you technically a director?
No, I was the… how do you say… I was the idea person.
Well, it was hard to tell, cause it seemed like you had some stuff planned out. But then it would be like “OK, wait, now to this.”
Right. I mean, I had a vision. And Mando respected that.
And I appreciate that he let me, you know, work on it.
So tell me about the EP that “Fate to Fatal” is going on. With Mark Lanegan and all… I love him.
Oh my god, his voice…
It’s so soothing!
You know, he sings like… (long pause) he sings like an old black man. He has that resonance of life, love, love lost, dreams smashed, forlorn- you know what I mean?
It’s like he sings like a serial killer would.
It’s kind of really spooky and eerie and kind of dangerous but soothing, too, in a really weird way.
It’s half soothing, half really sexy and I’m always confused about how to react when I hear it.
(laughs) Yeah, right, exactly. Like, “Should I be afraid of that voice?”
Yeah, am I scared or am I turned on or what?
Totally. Yeah, should I be turned on or not?
So why did you put out an EP and not a full album? Are you going to make another one?
Well what happened was last summer Kim got into a little writing frenzy. So we were doing some songs and we decided to record one of the songs, Fate to Fatal, in England at the very tail-end of the tour. And then we came home until, like, November. And we had a month, month and a half break there. And then we worked some more. And we worked some more. And we knew we were going to do All Tomorrows Parties, do you know about that?
Yeah, we’re curating and we’ve got really good bands. X is doing our party. Gang of Four is doing our party. Wire is doing our party.
I know, it’s so awesome. And Teenage Fanclub…
(gasps) Don’t even talk about Teenage Fanclub. Love them!
Yeah! I like to call it “my party.” (laughs) And so we were going ATP and we’re going, “Geez, we’ve got these songs, we should release, like, an EP around that time. It’s be fun. It would give us new songs to play- cause we just did Europe- we were just there. So we can do some new songs and people would actually know the new songs cause they’d have been released.” So that’s what we decided to do- put out an EP. And then we were talking about how we should release it, and we talked to 4AD a little bit and it was, like, overkill, so we thought “we should just do it ourselves” so we did.
And now it’s going to be on vinyl and digital download?
Well that’s the best way to do it now.
I think so, yeah. It just so happens that we were doing this the same time that Record Store Day was coming up. It’s this Saturday, so we were like, if we wanted to, we could just make the release date Record Store Day. So we just did that and it will be available for download on iTunes the following Tuesday. We’re doing the in-store at Shake It Records and that’s this Saturday. Shake It Records is a local vinyl store in Cincinnati, and Kim and I are going to drive down there with some guitars and play for like a half an hour or 40 minutes and I think we’re going to sign some records, too.
Everything just seems to keep lining up in the right way. And when I was looking up the release info it said that Pod and Last Splash were being re-released on vinyl, too. Is that true?
Well, we’ve never had a release that has not been on vinyl. So yeah, it’s all coming out on vinyl and I think it’s great.
So are you gonna summer tour? Are you coming here? What up?
That’s a good question. I know we’re doing… we’ve already… dates are already starting to get confirmed for August in Los Angeles. We’ll start working that out then. We’ll start moving out from there. I think we might do this San Diego street fair- Street Scene or something like that. Then opening for Elvis Costello who is doing something with Jenny Lewis at some bluegrass thing. He’s doing something with her and some other people. I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s a bluegrass kind of thing. I think it would be awesome. Whatever Elvis Costello does- I’m so happy to open for him. Oh my god. So yeah, some more touring. I don’t know exactly where or when we’re coming.
Well, that’s nice. But when you do the midwest again you know you’ve got to come here cause you know about a million more people want to come.
Oh my god, I’d love to. I can’t wait for those guys- and for you, too, cause you were there during it- to see the video.
Oh my god, I stayed the whole time, it was so long.
They skated like dogs!