An Interview with Kim Deal
"Do you want another beer?" Kim Deal asks me. Sure, why not? It's a weeknight, but it's early and the Bud is cold and Kim Deal, the common thread between the Pixies, the Breeders and now the Amps, is in a talkative mood. She lights cigarette number 432 of the conversation, grabs a fresh cocktail napkin and starts drawing a diagram of Steve Albini's studio. Who am I to refuse?
Actually, Albini's Chicago studio was only one of seven studios where Kim and Co. found themselves setting up shop during the recording of the Amps' 4AD/Elektra debut, Pacer. "I've never recorded an album like this, doing different songs in different studios," Kim explains as she scribbles. "The last Breeders record turned out OK, but I thought there had to be a better way to do it. I don't know if this was it... either way, I'd definitely do it like this again. Wait, no, next time, I'll do it six in one place, six in another, six somewhere else-- hey, I'll release a boxed set!"
Kim had initially thought Pacer would be a solo album: "Yeah, I went around Lollapalooza telling everyone it was going to be a solo record-- the artist formerly known as Kim!" This idea gained further momentum in November, 1994, when a much-reported drug bust of Kim's twin sister (and bandmate) Kelley put the Breeders on premature hiatus. Living in Dayton between tours, Kim learned drums and readied six demo songs while also lending production talents to Guided by Voices. She went to Memphis and Easley Studios to record GBV's album, but when they pulled out early, she took advantage of the extra studio time to record some of her demos.
"Then, you know what I did?" Kim asks. "I called Kelley, because, you know, she was having this drug problem, and I thought, well, it's one bust and one family intervention later--I thought it would be really good to distract her. But it doesn't work... Anyway, she played bass on a couple of songs, lead guitar on another, then I headed back to Dayton and then to Albini's."
The cocktail napkin is folded open to illustrate the full effect of Albini's house/studio, with drums in the basement, studio in the attic. Kim recorded "Tipp City" and "Hoverin'" there, but she says she feels she didn't "communicate" too well during this process. "I think there are mixes of "Tipp City" that Steve labeled 'drunk,' 'drunker,' and 'loopy!' The Easley version made it on to the record, but Steve wants to use the ones we did for something-- it's pathetic, that's why he thinks it's so funny! You can imagine if he likes it how pathetic I must sound!"
The Easley version that did make it on to Pacer sounds anything but pathetic and has in fact garnered the Amps a significant amount of radio attention. It does have a loopy, almost fuzzy, quality that goes hand in hand with an alcohol haze (the band has dubbed this "medium-fi"), but its forthright, power-pop sensibility shines through. The sing-song intro, "Cottonhead, cottonhead..." and my favorite phrase, the sarcastic sneer of "Internet nation," immediately set this track apart from more identifiably "alternative" fare and put some necessary distance between the Amps and the Breeders' hook-laden signature, "Cannonball."
However, it is the melodic title track, "Pacer," that best captures the overall tone of the album. Wistful and tinged with sadness, this track anchors the others that follow in a somewhat somber context and perhaps serves as a reflection of Kim's mood during the various recording sessions. In fact, the first time I heard it, on Conan O'Brian of all places (Kim says she hid in the bathroom when the show aired), I thought it was a cover of an Ed's Redeeming Qualities song. (The Breeders had strong ties to Ed's-- they recorded an Ed's classic, "Driving on 9," and that band's violinist Carrie toured with the Breeders at one point.)
As the album that would become Pacer started to come together over the course of various studios, the band that would become the Amps began to coalesce, as well. Kim's Dayton contemporaries Nate Farley and Luis Lerma took up residence on guitar and bass, respectively, and former Breeder Jim Macpherson reprised his role as drummer. "When we got ready to finish the album," Kim explains, "these guys just knew the songs. They were so much fun to hang out with, so we just asked them to be on tour as well. Not only is Pacer not a solo record, but there's four people that would be in the regular touring band that were on the record. In a way, I liked that much better."
To date, the Amps have toured with Guided by Voices, Sonic Youth and Brainiac, and their most recent tour with more Dayton natives, the Tasties, brought Kim back to her old Boston stomping ground and a packed show at the Paradise. Having just spent a friendly chunk of time with Kim, it was slightly odd to hear members of the audience screaming out her name-- she is just about the farthest thing from an overblown, pompous rock idol I could imagine. But hey, if people must have their idols, they could do much worse! (Hint: next time the band comes through town, keep an eye out in the audience for a diminutive figure swathed in scarf and big coat attentively watching the opening bands and chain smoking-- that'll be Kim!)
The show this night was predictably sloppy-- I say predictably because it's really hard to imagine a band involving Kim Deal and large quantities of beer being any other way. But that's all part of the charm. Slick riffs and on-target chord changes aren't the goal, but somehow it all comes together, hanging loosely off Kim's gruff vocals and ebullient personality.
In fact, Kim's distinctive voice and her slightly skewed notion of a pop song are what provide a common thread between her different bands. And yet, it is these various projects that sometimes causes confusion in the press, especially in Europe. "I had an interviewer in Ireland tell me 'You can't possibly be in the Pixies and the Breeders.' He threw his notebook down and I just laughed at him," she says. "Maybe this makes me sound like some sort of careerist rocker because I'm trying to make sure I don't put all my eggs in one basket. But it would never occur to me! It certainly isn't a calculated thing-- 'Think I'll start a new band every time the band I'm in starts to get unpopular!' I'm not doing that, am I?
"When I start a new band, I don't approach it with that national rock mentality-- I don't think, 'Well, how is someone in Miami, Fl. going to take this?' I think, 'How is someone in Dayton going to take this?'" Judging by Kim's track record so far, careerist or not, people in Dayton and Miami alike are taking it just fine. But hey, it's three a.m. and I'm out of beer and cigarettes, and I think I'd better quit before I start getting 'loopy.'
Originally appeared in
Boston Rock, issue 158, March, 1996