How cool is Kim Deal? She's so cool that she has been in not one, but two of the coolest rock bands of the last 30 years – The Pixies and The Breeders. She's so cool that The Dandy Warhols, who tried their hardest to be the coolest band on the planet, wrote a song called Cool As Kim Deal. She's so cool that most people in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio don't even know who she is, including the girl who has just this moment made her coffee at Starbucks. And Kim Deal is totally cool with that.
The last time we spoke was 1993, when The Breeders released Last Splash, which is considered one of the greatest albums of that decade. Deal and her twin sister Kelley, who played guitar in the band, were in the backseat of a car in LA and the conversation was freewheeling, manic and hilarious. Occasionally it even made sense.
"Oh my God," says Deal. "I bet the whole thing was a mess. I actually wasn't too bad with my drinking then. I got much worse later. Certainly it was a challenging time for Kelley back then."
Kelley's challenge was heroin addiction. She kicked the habit in 1995 after being arrested for possession. Kim, meanwhile, was drowning herself in beer. Her last drink was on Pearl Harbor Day, 2002.
"I just got to the point where it didn't matter how many beers I drank, I wasn't getting drunk anymore," she says. "That's a good time to stop."
The "classic" line-up of the band – Kim on guitar and lead vocals, Kelley on guitar, Josephine Wiggs on bass and Jim Macpherson on drums – imploded soon after Kelley's arrest. Deal continued to make music, both with a new group called The Amps, which included Macpherson, and then under The Breeders name, but with different musicians.
To say the relationships got weird is an understatement. Deal and Macpherson didn't speak for 15 years, despite both living in Dayton.
"In 1997, when we were dong The Amps, both Jim and I were drinking really bad," she says. "After a tour I got back home and went to my basement in Dayton and Jim's drums, which were always set up, were cleared out of there. I thought, 'Oh, shit. What did I say to Jim?' Like the mature, adult, emotionally stable people that we are, we stopped talking."
Fast forward to 2012 and Kelley suggested they approach Wiggs and Macpherson to get the band back together to play some shows to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Last Splash.
"The minute I saw Jim, I said 'Jim, I'm so sorry' and he said, 'No, Kim, I'm so sorry.' And to this day we still don't know what happened. Everybody loves Jim. I do yard work with him and his kids and I walk his dog. His son will come over when it snows and shovel the driveway. One of the joys of getting back together is rekindling my relationship with Jim Macpherson."
The anniversary shows went so well that the band decided to record a new album, All Nerve, which pretty much takes off where Last Splash left off. Deal's songs are no less strange and seductive, full of whiplash-inducing stops and starts, with loud and quiet passages butted up against each other and lyrics that are twisted and intriguing. What is it about the combination of those four people that creates such an individual and immediately recognisable sound?
"I don't know exactly, but it sure is different, isn't it? Jim's a big guy and he hits the drums hard. The first time we played together again I had to turn around and crank up my amp a couple of notches. Also I just find his drumming really joyful.
It didn't matter how many beers I drank, I wasn't getting drunk any more. That's a good time to stop.
"Josephine thinks there's a positive friction in the band, that I'm pushing things forward and she's slowing things down. She thinks that's a positive, that it's got this energy that is palpable and exciting."
Of course, before The Breeders, Deal was the bass player in another mercurial group with communication problems. The Pixies infamously came to an end when frontman Charles Thompson, who goes under the stage names Black Francis and Frank Black, informed the other members by fax in 1993. Deal agreed to rejoin the band in 2004 to play shows, but left again in 2013. A documentary about the reunion, loudQUIETloud, contains powerful, celebratory live sequences punctuated with tense, awkward offstage scenes where the band members seemingly have nothing to say to each other.
The Pixies have gone on to make two albums without Deal, but the reviews have not been kind, with many critics pointing out Deal's absence as one of the main problems. In interviews for the last record, Thompson claimed the song All I Think About Is Now was a thank you to Deal. The fact that it was sung by her replacement Paz Lenchantin and shamelessly ripped off the classic Pixies' song Where Is My Mind right down to Deal's trademark high-pitched "oo-oo" refrain, made it sound more like a rip-off than a tribute. Not that you'll hear a bad word from Deal on the matter, who instead chooses to make a joke of it.
"I don't know the song, although I do know there's a story that they wrote a song about me. The Dandy Warhols wrote a song about me and I heard a Japanese band wrote a song about me too. I think that every band should write a song about me. I love it. It doesn't have to be nice. It can be a mean song. It can be a bad song. I don't even care."
In the end, the coolest person in Dayton shrugs it off, sips her coffee and seems content to still be around.
"I'm just happy I'm alive 30 years later," she says. "But on top of that, to still be playing music with Kelley, who is family, and Josephine and Jim, who are like family, is just a really beautiful thing. It really is."
The Breeders' All Nerve is out now.
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