On the surface, Kim and Kelley Deal — a.k.a. 50 percent of the Breeders — don’t have much in common with, say, Britney Spears. Or maybe they do. And they’ll be the first ones to tell you about it.
Similarity number one: decidedly rural roots.
“My mom and dad, they were both born and raised in West Virginia. … They’re both hillbillies in the Appalachians with the coal mining and stuff,” Kim explains. “My mom, she has Alzheimer’s, and she’s always pulling out these photographic books and pointing out this stuff. She’ll start going on about the big sand — because you needed sand for the rails for the friction for the coal cars — and how they used to jump into the big sand pile, and how there was soot everywhere all the time, so nothing ever kept clean. … You know, stuff like that.”
Similarity number two: rehab .
“I was in rehab! If I hadn’t gone to rehab, I would be either dead or in jail or — where do the prostitutes hang out? Santa Monica [Boulevard]? I would be there,” Kelley adds. “I think it’s very beneficial. … You can talk about, ’Oh, the clarity has helped the music,’ but it gets to a point where those are bonuses, but you have to cut to the chase and say, ’Are you alive still? Did you OD? Are you dead because you went to get drugs in the dark without any weaponry?’ It’s really dangerous, that whole lifestyle.”
OK, so that’s about the only two things they share with the erstwhile pop princess, and while lumping the two together might seem like a cheap ploy to work Britney Spears into a story about the Breeders (and, hey, it sort of is), there’s actually some merit to the comparison. Sort of. Because if anything, the Breeders’ new album, Mountain Battles, tries very hard over the course of its 37 minutes to undo pretty much every bit of shiny, mechanical, overproduced pop that Britney and her ilk have foisted on us over the past decade. Full of snarling, toe-curling guitars, fuzzy, blown-out bass and boozy, howled vocals, Battles (due April 8) is lo-fi to the bone, a record so brimming with amateurish attitude and crackling, DIY production that it sounds positively not of this era. And we mean that in the best possible way.
Following in the hissy footsteps of 2002’s Title TK (which, like this one, was produced by Steve Albini) and the record Kim cut in 1995 with her side project the Amps , Battles kicks off with “Overglazed,” a clarion call that sounds like it was recorded in a thrift store. It ends with the title track, which features Kim’s mush-mouthed vocals floating over — and under — a barely there bass-and-organ line. In between, there’s somber, dreamy pop (“We’re Gonna Rise”), breakneck Germanic stompers (“German Studies”), Spanish love songs (“Regalme Esta Noche”) and dubby, trance-inducing exercises in call-and-response (“Istanbul”). It’s sad in parts, blissful in others … and sometimes both at the same time. It’s an album of highs and lows that mirrors the past five years of the Deals’ life: from Kim’s world-crossing tour with the Pixies to the sisters’ return to their native Dayton, Ohio, to care for their ailing mother.
“In 2002, we released Title TK, and then we started working on demos. We demoed stuff that year, then in 2003, and we did some on the RV while on tour with the Pixies in 2005,” Kim says. “So the whole time we’ve been working. We never actually broke up and then thought, ’We’ll get back together.’ We never did that. Basically, we just changed the base of operations from East Los Angeles to Dayton.
“And this T-shirt [she points to the black shirt she is wearing] is their death certificate, the people who [raised] my mother in West Virginia. … They died in the 1930s. They were born in the 1800s. I guess they used to do death certificates, and this is it, but we put it on a T-shirt,” she continued. “On top it says, ’Not lost, but gone before,’ and I thought, ’Well that’s nice, that would be a pretty song,’ and I asked my mom, ’Mom, what would happen if I did a song, and I started it out and I said, ’Not lost but gone before’? And she said, ’Here no more, here no more.’ And that’s the second line of the song.”
It bears mentioning that Kim punctuates the story about her mother with a devilish, somewhat questionable cackle (you can watch it in our Newsroom blog), which is sort of the tone she set for the duration of MTV News’ interview with her and her sister. It’s debatable whether she’s kidding, or if she’s simply beyond the point of caring about decorum any more. And that’s a pretty apt way of describing Mountain Battles too. After all, Kim has been doing this for a long time now — earning the respect of rock critics and snotty indie-rock fans worldwide — and she’s done it on her own terms, at her own pace, with two different bands. She’s obviously proud of what the Breeders have accomplished on Battles, but she’s in no rush to do it again anytime soon.
So, Deal fans, savor the album for all it’s worth. Because in keeping with her languid recording pace, it might be awhile before we get another effort from the Breeders. Which, we guess, makes three things they have in common with Britney.
“I have a good idea for a song, but that’s about as far as it’s gotten. Maybe some people go, ’Today I will start the process of the new record,’ but I don’t,” Kim laughed. “I’ve heard that Nick Cave goes somewhere every morning and works like he’s going to the office. And if he does it, you know it must work. I don’t know if that would work for me though. I’m not a morning person.”