Band makes own breed of music

The Breeders' on-again, off-again history keeps things interesting

August 05, 2002|By Joan Anderman | Joan Anderman,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The Breeders released an album, Title TK, in May, and its mere existence is something of a miracle. A brief history, by way of explanation, goes like this:

Beloved and bedeviled alternative rock band releases two discs in the early '90s.

Group achieves unlikely crossover success with warped sonic collage called "Cannonball."

Drug dependencies, courthouse dramas, defections and aborted regroupings ensue.

The long-awaited third Breeders album is finally scheduled for 1999. And 2000. And 2001.

"Well, you know, nothing is really planned with us," says guitarist/singer Kelley Deal. Deal is on the phone from a Toronto hotel room, where she is trying very hard to cancel a pay-per-view movie she's ordered. "I guess with the band, things just kind of ... develop."

Develop, implode, unfold, whatever. The odds that Kim and Kelley Deal - the 40-something twin sisters from Dayton, Ohio, who front the Breeders - would resolve their various issues to the point at which a recording project could be completed had been looking slim. (And what were the odds they would also manage a tour like the one that brings them to the Nation in Washington on Wednesday?) Kelley catalogs the key events of the last seven years in vintage fashion: equal parts lunacy and lucidity.

"I went to rehab in April of 1995. Josephine [Wiggs, the Breeders' original bassist] wanted to take some time off. So Kim was kind of like, `Kelley's busy. Jo's busy. I'm gonna go.' So she went off touring with the Amps. Then I got my [act] together and started writing songs. It was a total revelation.

"So one day Kim said we're moving to the barrio. I couldn't believe it. She just announced it. I said, `Isn't that where the gangs are?' Now we have my house in Dayton and a two-bedroom apartment over a garage in East Los Angeles. It's great: taquerias and kids and dogs and ice cream trucks."

The long version of the Breeders' story is too convoluted to tell here. It involves Kim's first band, the Pixies; a revolving lineup of musicians; side projects and interim bands; different interpretations of the word "hiatus"; Kelley's addictions; and Kim's obsessive perfectionism.

It includes a chance meeting with the punk band Fear at a bar in New York, which inspired Kim to declare that very night that she would move to East Los Angeles to jam with her three new friends: guitarist Richard Presley (distant relative of the King), bassist Mando Lopez and drummer Andrew Jaimez.

She did. Jaimez got busy with other projects, so Jose Medeles was recruited, and the Breeders version 12.9 or thereabouts rolled off the assembly line.

Except there's nothing remotely prefab or factory-fresh about this band or the new album, which was engineered by indie-rock guru Steve Albini along the lines of what the Breeders like to call the "All Wave" philosophy: no computers, no digital equipment, no auto-tuning or any other gadgetry, just good old-fashioned analog sound recordings.

"Everything you hear on the radio these days is a digital re-creation of a sound," says Kelley Deal. "It sounds like the same producer, the same effects, the same session dookies. I want to hear the drummer slow down at the end of a fast song, and I want to hear the singer at the end of a song, if it's a yelling song, get a little hoarse. I don't want to hear polish."

To that end, the Breeders made an album that sounds as if it was just, well, played, not exactly produced. The rhythm section tosses off parts like scraps of meat, and the sisters sound as if they're clawing their way out of a hole: wounded, world-weary and remarkably clear-headed. Their voices move in stripped, spooky counterpoint through a beautiful mess of melodies and feedback like mirrored sonic images.

"Our voices are actually really different, but it's weird: When we sing together, they blend like the Everly Brothers," says Deal. "It's not so much about being twins as it is being sisters who are close in age. We have a similar history of fashion, books, movies, everything. Imagine if your sister were on another line interviewing me at the same time, and then wrote the story side by side with you at the typewriter. It's like a taffy pull."

At this point the Deals have spent more time being a rock 'n' roll story than an actual band. With building anticipation come rising expectations, and one imagines that the prospect of living up to the idea and the image of the Breeders - not to mention jump-starting the proverbial show at a different stage of life - might be daunting.

"I was 31 when I learned to play guitar," Kelley Deal says. "I was already older than anybody else anyway back then. So it's nine years later. So what? And if it's true that the Breeders have this mythology, it's because of the music we made. And that's a great thing, to have to live up to that.

"The way we did it then is the way we do it now. We set out to write some great music."

The Breeders

Where: The Nation, 1015 Half St. S.E., Washington

When: 9 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $17.50

Call: 410-481-SEAT

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