The Breeders have released only four albums in their 22-year career, making them one of alt-rock’s most underachieving bands. During the same period, frontwoman Kim Deal’s Pixies bandmate Black Francis/Frank Black has been ridiculously over-prolific, recording more than a dozen albums. But even with the smaller catalog, Deal and the Breeders are the bigger stars, thanks to one hell of a summer back in 1993.
The band’s distinct take on noise-pop — combined with Deal’s brittle, beatific voice — has inspired countless artists over two decades, even with the sporadic output. It’s a blueprint for success that Deal boils down to a simple sort of discipline: record only good songs.
“I can’t handle being part of a bad song,” she says. “Writing a song is super easy. You can go to the library or bookstore and there’s actually a formula for writing songs. But here’s the hard part — writing a song I’m going to want to sing in front of people five years from now. If other people write bad songs, they just don’t play them, like [fellow Dayton native, Guided by Voices frontman] Bob Pollard — he’s got as many bad songs as he’s got good songs.”
Deal can trace her relationship with good songs back to her days in ’80s indie-rock icons the Pixies. “Gigantic,” one of the few Pixies songs she had a hand in writing, ranks as the group’s most endearing moment on record. Deal wasn’t allowed to pen many songs in the Pixies, so she formed the Breeders in 1988 with Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donelly as a side project and creative outlet. They released a couple of EPs. The same year the Pixies broke up (1993), Deal’s other band unleashed Last Splash, one of alternative nation’s greatest albums. Its first single, “Cannonball” (where Deal traded vocals with her twin sister Kelley, who’s also in the Breeders), became a summer anthem.
But it took the Breeders nearly a decade to make another record. The band was exhausted, Kelly got busted for drugs, and Kim formed another side project, the Amps. In 2002, the Breeders finally released a follow-up, Title TK, a stripped-down garage-rock album that traded the Deal sisters’ sexy indie charm for aggressive and unflattering noise rock. It wasn’t until 2008 that the Breeders got it right again.
That year’s Mountain Battles is as magnificent and epic as its title suggests, full of cosmic auditory assaults (“Overglazed”), brooding sonic sound waves (“Night of Joy”), sweet garage-punk (“Bang On”), and beautiful multi-language pop (“Ragalame Esta Noche”). The band quickly followed up the titanic rocker with last year’s meaty Fate to Fatal EP, four songs that mix classic Breeders, a cover (Bob Marley’s “Chances Are”), and guest Mark Lanegan.
“I’ve got enough songs for an EP, and I’m thinking about doing something like Fate to Fatal again,” says Deal. “If I had a third EP, maybe I could put it all out on a record. I don’t want to wait. It takes me forever to write a record.”
It’s not like Deal hasn’t been busy. Since 2004, she’s been touring with the reunited Pixies. (“As a group that’s reconnected to do live shows, I think the Pixies have actually lasted longer than as a group that recorded,” she says.) She just got back from a series of festival shows in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, and plans to spend part of September down south playing the Pixies’ classic 1989 album Doolittle in its entirety.
Like the seemingly never-ending Pixies reunion tour, the Breeders could spend the rest of their days on the road. Deal often gets invited to perform in side projects like the Long Count, last year’s collaboration with members of the National. The Breeders are also faves at indie-rock fests around the globe.
Even though Deal is alt-rock royalty, she isn’t resting on her laurels. She recently spent some time in Oregon writing and recording with M. Ward, and she’s working with Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers in her home studio in Dayton. And she’s still on the prowl for her next set of perfect songs — no matter how long it takes.
She says it’s an obsession that has its roots — like almost everything in her long career — in the Pixies, when she and drummer David Lovering recorded “Make Believe,” an embarrassing song about ’80s pop star Debbie Gibson. It actually ended up as a Pixies B-side. “It’s horrifying,” laughs Deal. “I think we should all burn in hell for that. It doesn’t matter how many great records we’ve done. For that song alone, I should actually just spontaneously combust.” — Keith Gribbins
THE BREEDERS, WITH TIMES NEW VIKING AND HOT CHA CHA. 8 p.m. at Beachland Ballroom. Tickets: $18, $16 in advance.
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