Since their inception in 1990, The Breeders have gone from side project to main attraction. Conceived as a venture for Pixies bassist Kim Deal and Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donnelly, the band has since evolved to be Kim Deal’s main focus. Their debut album, Pod, stole the thunder from both the Pixies’ Bossa Nova and Throwing Muses’ Hunkpapa (the albums their “main” bands released around the same time). In 1992, the band opened for Nirvana on their tour of Europe.
Since their inception in 1990, The Breeders have gone from side project to main attraction. Conceived as a venture for Pixies bassist Kim Deal and Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donnelly, the band has since evolved to be Kim Deal’s main focus.
Their debut album, Pod, stole the thunder from both the Pixies’ Bossa Nova and Throwing Muses’ Hunkpapa (the albums their “main” bands released around the same time). In 1992, the band opened for Nirvana on their tour of Europe.
Taking their name from the folk group Kim Deal led with her sister Kelley when they were teenagers, The Breeders retain their collaborative beginnings. And although Kim Deal has become the group’s primary songwriter (Tanya Donnelly reportedly formed Belly after fewer of her songs were used on Breeders material than originally intended), she still maintains a great deal of respect for the other members of The Breeders.
The Amps, another Kim Deal side project, was formed during a 1994 Breeders hiatus. Deal decided to “wait” for the other Breeders members and record her work under a different name out of respect for other band members, who were then unable to perform with her.
By many standards, Deal is a bona fide star. She’s produced Guided by Voices and co-written songs with Robert Pollard. Steve Albini has produced her records. The Dandy Warhols and The Flaming Lips have written Kim Deal tribute songs. The Prodigy single “Firestarter” samples one of her songs. She’s sung on Sonic Youth records and, of course, she provided the Pixies with pounding bass lines and the occasional female vocal.
Deal may still be most famous for her role as bassist for indie rock godheads The Pixies. Despite being a prolific songwriter, Deal found herself unable to contribute much to the band’s output. Her lack of creative input became a major source of contention between Deal and frontman Black Francis.
After Francis refused to allow her to sing lead vocals on the final two Pixies albums, the band split acrimoniously. When the Pixies regrouped in 2004, Francis extended the proverbial olive branch and allowed Deal to write and sing the only new Pixies song recorded since their 1993 breakup. Francis, rather symbolically, sang backup vocals. He hoped that this conciliatory gesture would smooth the way for a new Pixies record, but Deal refused to participate.
“There’s a certain period of time when you like the band, and they start to represent that time,” Deal says by way of explanation. “I like The Rolling Stones, but they could have a really good album out right now and I wouldn’t care.”
It seems that Deal finds her current projects more interesting than reliving the past.
Her work with The Breeders is a testament to Deal’s devotion to her craft and the breadth of her ambition. The Breeders’ first album, Pod, includes songs about dead bugs and a fetus that survives an abortion.
Their second full-length album, Last Splash, featured many successful singles (including the song “Cannonball,” which was later sampled by British electronic group Prodigy). Earlier Breeders songs seemed to encapsulate the ’90s alt-rock zeitgeist at its peak, but The Breeders have proved their longevity by continuing to experiment. Their newest album, Mountain Battles, is a timeless rock album, and features some of Deal’s best songwriting to date.
Since 2002, Deal and The Breeders have used the “All Wave” philosophy of recording. Deal intentionally utilizes exclusively analog technology to record her band’s work, from the initial recording, through the production process. Most notably, the band creates an all-analog direct-metal master for their vinyl LPs. Deal commissioned a logo in the hopes that other artists using this approach will label their work, making recordings created in this fashion more easily identifiable.
“When you record a tape, the tape is magnetized, and the ions record the electronic signal you’re making when you play,” Deal says. “When you play the tape back, the magnets in the speaker move and move air pressure, it recreates those same sounds. When you record digitally, it’s like plugging your guitar into a calculator…. I think that nowadays, analog recording sounds old-fashioned or something. People like that one-dimensional sound–I think the sound of a grid, of digital, is a fresher sound to people.”
Talking to Deal, it seems that the point of All Wave is to recreate the experience of occupying the same physical space as The Breeders did when they were recording. Deal agrees with this assessment.
“Everything we do, we recreate live,” she said. “We don’t have a synthesizer up there with us. We’re not a band that just pushes keys to make programmed sounds. The Thompson Twins were doing that in the ’80s, with MIDI!”
Seeing The Breeders live, then, promises an experience very similar to listening to Mountain Battles–sassy, three-minute songs with exquisite vocals that simultaneously defy and define the listener’s expectations of pop music. A tall order to be sure, but also well within the reach of one of indie rock’s reigning priestesses.
The BreedersWonder BallroomNov. 12, 8 p.m.$18, All ages