By Mark Guarino
We all know what happens when a band calls it quits. There’s the solo albums, the posthumous collection of unreleased material and, wait long enough, the inevitable reunion tour.
But what about bands that just kind of … disappear? No press release announces it’s over, no last show is booked, no final album is scheduled. Fans look once, the band is alive and well. The next moment, it’s nowhere to be seen.
The Breeders is the quintessential rock band that went AWOL. Originally the side project of Kim Deal of the Pixies and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses, The Breeders morphed into a full-fledged band when both of their former bands split up. Eventually Donelly went on to form Belly and The Breeders then became the namesake of Deal and her twin sister Kelley, who she enlisted to replace Donelly. With that lineup intact — including bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson — the Breeders released “Last Splash” (Elektra/4AD), which featured one of the alternative era’s true original anthems, “Cannonball.” Featuring a fistfight between its snaky guitar line and rumbling bass line as well as both sisters’ laid-back vocals and loopy lyrics, it was the single most unique-sounding song on the radio back in 1993-94.
The fact that the Breeders was three-fourths female also made the band stand out, given the testosterone-heavy impact of the early grunge era. Its credibility was sealed after touring with Nirvana and headlining the 1994 Lollapalooza tour.
After that, brakes slammed. Kelley Deal was arrested for drugs and sent to rehab. The rest of the line-up floated off to side projects. Kim Deal released and toured under the band name the Amps and, after leaving rehab clean, Kelley Deal formed the Kelly Deal 6000. By then, MacPherson joined Guided By Voices. To this day, a Breeders website asks fans to post Wiggs sightings in New York City.
To anyone following the saga, it would seem like the Breeders had broken up, but had just decided not to tell anyone. Then, strangeness: a new Breeders song showed up on the soundtrack to the loser film “The Mod Squad,” of all places. The band was rumored to be recording a new album. In L.A., it played a free, 35-minute set at a club, its first show in six years. The band was also scheduled to play a benefit show there last December, but it had to be cancelled due to ticket demand that went over capacity.
So, what gives with the Breeders?
“I found a band,” reported Kim Deal early last week, in what she said was her first interview in years. “I like bands. I’m not a solo performer. I don’t tour with session people. Sometimes it just takes awhile to get a band.”
Deal spoke from Electrical Audio, the Chicago studio where she is in the midst of recording the band’s forthcoming album with her sister Kelley and new bassist Mando Lopez, guitarist Richard Presley and drummer Jose Medeles. The revamped Breeders plays its first headliner show in years, Saturday at the Congress Theater. It will share the stage with the minimalist Minnesota trio, Low.
After years of personal turmoil, Deal said she simply walked into this latest incarnation of her band. She met Lopez and Presley last year in a bar in New York City, around the corner from the studio where she was recording solo material. Once the bar closed, the group walked over to the studio with a mission to keep drinking. Deal didn’t know it at the time, but the musicians she met were in Fear, the legendary East L.A. punk band from the early ‘80s.
“We played and drank in the studio and they were nice, but when they were about to leave, we asked ‘hey, where do you guys live?’,” Deal said. “In June, I ended up taking a U-Haul to L.A.”
Her sister ended up moving west, too. The group rented a rehearsal space and worked up Deal’s songs which she intended to use for a solo record. She said this new group — which eventually included drummer Medeles, originally from LaSalle, Ill. — worked because of the familiarity among its players.
“(Lopez and Presley) knew each other for years and years and they had grown so close,” she said. “They were so good at their instruments, they didn’t have any trouble.”
The group is working with Chicago producer and engineer Steve Albini, whose credentials working in the mainstream and independent worlds didn’t matter as much as his traditional recording ethics. The new album will be analog instead of digital.
Saturday’s show is the brainchild of Albini’s girlfriend and local show producer Heather Whinna, who also organized the recent Fugazi/Shellac/The Ex bill at the Congress.
“(That show) turned out really good and (Whinna) turned to us and said ‘why don’t you do a Chicago show’ right in front of Fugazi. I said, ‘don’t think we’re going to get this kind of attendance’ and they looked at me as if I head three heads and said ‘of course you are.’,” Deal said. “Why are we playing a 3,500-seater? It’s a beautiful (expletive) place but geez!”
Deal is finishing up lyrics for the new album and is waiting on artwork. Then it’s off to London’s Abbey Road studio in August where it’ll be mastered. 4AD is expected to release it come fall.
And a title? “’Title TK’,” said Deal. “Because it’s taken