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A pretty big Deal: in conversation with The Breeders’ Kim Deal

“Courtney (Barnett) sounds quite normal to me, being from Melbourne, unlike our band manager (from Brisbane) who has to practise her ‘r’s in the states.” The Breeders’ singer-guitarist and co-leader Kim Deal playfully mimics the Australian accent and expresses her excitement at coming to a warmer climate after touring “the cold Eastern Bloc parts” of Europe. Her career has been long, beginning with the Pixies in the 1980s and then onto The Breeders, who continue to release records and amongst other notable claims are said to have changed music for a young Kurt Cobain. Her enthusiasm has not faded through the years but rather has become studded with accolades and determination. Ahead of their show on November 30 at the Opera House, we talk with Deal about female collaboration, analogue gear and being “a studio rat”.

“With Tanya, the way I met her was in Boston when she was playing with the Throwing Muses who were signed to 4AD.” Kim attributes the Pixies, her first and seminal band, getting signed through the Muses’ people coming to see them play. 4AD later went on to put on a co-headline tour for the Pixies and the Throwing Muses, suggesting that even before joining the band, the bond between Tanya Donnelly of the Muses and Deal was going to be powerful. “That first tour was the most fun I’d had, the Muses were so self deprecating and funny. Honestly, the funniest people I know.” So when one band member fell pregnant and other went on a solo Pixies tour, Kim just said; ‘Hey Tanya, do you want to come and play?” As naturally cool as that, and, after a “wicked cool” night in Berlin, Josephine Wiggs was recruited on bass. Listening to Deal explain the history of her music with a dry, effervescent humour makes you wish you were there, dirty converse sticking to the floor, a political change in the air and undoubtably, slept-in eye liner.

“Since I grew up with a twin sister, working with another female is always what I did. It’s very intuitive for me, working with other women. I enjoy it immensely. I don’t know any other way.” Deal speaks highly of her twin sister Kelley (who is now also in the band), but not unrealistically saying, “she is so talented, she is so musical, and says such insightful things and then other times, I want to gauge her eyes out. I’m never like that with other women and men, just my siblings.”

As well as working with other women, Deal talks about her love of recording with a four track and making something more organic. She notes that if you work with a computer “you can come away with 67 tracks in a session”. She is not a fan of plugins or pre-made sounds, particularly keyboard pads: “It just creates this din, and it the noise and it just softens the sound I think.” Deal’s methodology is authentic and raw which is why there is such a tangibility and vulnerable power to her records. “Working to analogue tape, and there are four instruments … and there is no off button,” with her players organically dropping in and out she speculates that “maybe that’s what makes us dynamic?”

Although Deal doesn’t like to listen to music whilst creating a record, she tells me that before writing and releasing The Breeder’s latest record, All Nerve, she was listening to Elizabeth Cotton and her Dad’s old cassette of 70s hits which he kept in the Cadillac. The daughter of a physicist, Deal applies some scientific methods to her creativity, “I think there is a lot of science in music. I mean all the analogue stuff that [producer Steve] Albini uses, it is laboratory level stuff, people come and set the zeros almost every day.” When she isn’t working with Albini, “who goes wide and who goes deep”, Kim makes her own cables in the studio and is a self titled “studio rat”, who loves trouble shooting. She’s always looking for “3D depth”, in her records and much prefers the presence of analogue equipment.

It’s not just Deal’s sister, but also her mother and father who provide support to Kim’s creativity: her mother’s fragile condition was the catalyst behind the song Are You Mine?, and her father used to drive her when she was on tour with Nirvana, albeit with a walkman playing Ray Charles over the distorted guitars. Aside from acquiring a bout of whooping cough in Salem, Deal tells us that her manager relayed that Cobain “got down on his hands and knees for an early copy of Safari, or was it Last Splash? I can’t remember.” What she can remember is Nirvana coming to their studio whilst The Breeders recorded Safari, and that being pretty ‘normal’. However Deal’s normal is the stuff of art, her life has been shared with great musicians in incredible cities and times. With her experience, her dedication, knowledge and perseverance, she makes for one of the strongest voices in music today.