Any music fan worth her salt has a well-worn copy of the Breeders' Last Splash on her shelf. It defies classification--not quite punk, not quite riot grrrl--but it is, without question, iconic.
Packed with delightfully off-kilter noise pop gems, it's an all-time classic of alternative rock. Even the notoriously picky taste arbiters at Pitchfork agree--it's ranked (a shockingly low) 64 on their list of Top 100 Albums of the 1990s.
For the 20th anniversary of the LP's release, the Breeders have reunited the original Last Splash lineup for a tour celebrating their platinum-selling album. But this isn't your typical reunion tour--as guitarist Kelley Deal describes it, it's a celebration. The band has been playing the record start to finish each night of the tour, plus covers and rarities from that era, and they've just released an absolutely stacked reissue called LSXX that should satisfy even the most obsessive fan's craving for comprehensiveness. Just before the band's show in Nashville, BUST got the chance to chat with Kelley (far left in the above photo) about how the tour came about, and how things are different now that everyone's (allegedly) a grown-up.
The Breeders in 1993
BUST: How long has the Last Splash anniversary tour been in the works?
KD: Well, I remember sometime last year, Kim [Deal] and I were sitting on the couch in my house, and it occurred to us that it was going to be the 20-year anniversary this year. We were like, Should we do some shows? Okay, let's do some shows! Well, who would we have play with us? I don't know, do you think Jo [Josephine Wiggs, the band's original bassist] would want to? It was that kind of thing. Kim and I just started talking to each other about it. And then we checked with them and they were way into it, which was great. We have seen them on and off through the years, and we even played with Josephine a couple times, so it wasn't like we thought they would hang up on us or anything like that. But we just didn't know…where is everybody in their life right now? Can you take a year off and come and play some shows?
B: So the idea for the tour came before the reissue?
KD: We thought about the tour first. I remember there was somebody we were working with, an English fella, and Kim said, "Do you think we should let 4AD know we're planning on doing shows, because they might want to reissue the record or something?" So it was mentioned to 4AD and they were super stoked about it. That's when it became more than just a reissue. It became this kind of celebration of that time period, with the Safari EP, outtakes, live shows, and stuff like that, and this wonderful artwork. We got our hands on the CD box set in Canada. It's just beautiful, it's gorgeous. So that was nice, to see the final product. A CD is kind of like an old-fashioned item now. I don't even have a CD player anymore, but it made me want one!
B: Did you have a lot of input about what would go into the reissue?
KD: Absolutely. Everything. We listened to tons and tons of archives. 4AD were so helpful and really worked with us. "Okay, we did a radio show in Nantes, France in March of 1993, do you guys have a copy of that?" So we'd listen to it, and if we liked it we'd say, Well let's see if we can get the licenses. Can you imagine saying to 4AD, "We wanna include every single single that was released in conjunction with Last Splash, every 10-inch and single, as a piece of vinyl, plus we wanna do this live album as a piece of vinyl, plus we wanna do the Safari EP as a piece of vinyl, and a bunch of B-sides and stuff as a piece of vinyl, and Last Splash as a piece of vinyl. And we wanna put all that in a box set. Pleeeease. Please please please!" I think they said no to us like twice as we were putting all this together.
B: Was it cool with Mando Lopez and Jose Medeles [the band's bassist and drummer for their past two albums] that you were using the original Last Splash lineup?
KD: Yes. Once we texted Josephine and Jim [Macpherson, the Last Splash drummer] to see if they were even interested in doing it, and they said, "Yeah! That sounds great," then Kim and I thought that before we can take this anywhere else, we need to let Jose and Mando know. If we're gonna go ahead and go down this road, and try to make something like this happen, we need to let them know, and they were both so cool about it. They have busy, busy lives themselves. Jose has an amazing drum store called Revival. If you ask any drummer they know it. It’s that kind of famous in the drum world. He lives in Portland with his family. Mando lives in Los Angeles and he does film work.
B: What’s it like to be back with Josephine and Jim again after all this time?
KD: It feels like no time has gone by at all, and I don’t know if that's a good thing or bad thing. Part of me thinks that's really delightful and kind of sweet and fun, but there's this kind of weird adult in my head, this parental figure with their hands on their hips and their finger pointed, saying, "Has nobody grown up yet? What's wrong with you people? Has nobody changed? Come on!" Obviously, I'm sure we've all changed, but it feels the same. It feels effortless, and really fun and sweet. We can all talk constantly. We can just talk with each other forever, so we do a lot of talking. It's thrilling to the convenience store and find out what Josephine’s getting and why.
B: What’s the biggest difference between touring now and touring back then?
KD: Well for me, and I think for a lot of people in the band, for me it's the dry backstage. I haven't had a drink since 1995 anyway, no drugs or alcohol, and I don't even smoke cigarettes now. I chew the hell out of some nicotine gum, though. That's the biggest difference, I think. And there are also ice buckets, where people have to ice down a tennis elbow here or carpal tunnel, somebody's got carpal in that hand. I think a lot of young people have that, too, but when you're not drunk or using drugs, then you actually feel those things, and I think that's a good thing. I'm not swallowing a bunch of Vicodin and masking some kind of pain that I legitimately might have and need to ice. There's always something about actually being present for it all.
B: Do you have any favorite memories from recording the album?
KD: When we mixed the record, we mixed it at a place called the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, which is across the San Francisco Bay, so you have to take a bridge out of San Francisco to get to Sausalito. At the time, it was cheaper to stay on houseboats there than it was to stay in a hotel, so we all stayed on houseboats. It's kind of crazy: the album is called Last Splash, and there are so many water references, and then we're staying on these houseboats, by the bay. It's really interesting. I really enjoyed staying on those houseboats. That was really fun. Very surreal.
B: Did you realize at the time that you had made something so special?
KD: No, Lord no. When you're really busy doing something, you don't really think about that. Obviously, you try to be a good cheerleader, and you're obviously into what you're doing, but you don't think about it down the road, like, "Oh, people are gonna love this!" That's weird. Especially like "Cannonball," it's such a quirky song. The arrangement is not a standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus kind of thing that you hear on the radio. The whole thing opens up with this crazy, distorted vocal feedback that you just don't hear, back then especially. It was kind of surprising.
B: What are your favorite songs to revisit on this tour?
KD: I've really been enjoying playing "Roi" and "Mad Lucas." The ones that are a little more difficult. We've really worked them up to try to replicate the sounds that are on the record. So that's been really fun, getting knee deep in the songs and figuring it out. Like for "Mad Lucas," instead of having my guitar going through my regular Marshall amp, I have it going through this little battery-powered amp that looks and sounds awesome. It's very thin and very tiny to make the sound very small, to try to reproduce it. I didn’t use that in the studio, but it's the best way to reproduce that sound live, so that's been really fun. We have this great excuse to celebrate this record and try to get these sounds and the sonics just so. We even brought the wind chimes that we used in 1993, we brought those on tour with us, so Jim hits them in between "Invisible Man" and "No Aloha." They're hung up on a mike stand next to his drums, so at the end of "Invisible Man" he hits those, and they chime just like the record.
B: What are other kinds of changes have you made to the songs to play them live?
KD: Every challenge that's come up, we've actually been able to meet. We've had to do a couple of different things. For instance, there's a cello part in "Roi." During the middle section you'll hear this pulsing. Josephine played that in the studio, because she plays cello as well as bass guitar. But live, Josephine's actually playing the drums on that song, so we happen to have Carrie Bradley with us, she plays violin. So we took her violin and put it through an octave pedal, and hit the sub-octave on it, so even though she's playing her violin, you hear the lower sound. It's been fun figuring out, "What can we do to make that happen?"
B: What's the crowd like? Have you gotten a lot of fans who were there the first time around?
KD: Oh, yeah. It does feel like when we do these shows, that we are hosting, that we are there to enable other people to celebrate that record. Everybody talks about how it feels like they're all celebrating. Not just the record, but where they were, what they were wearing. The music scene in general was pretty badass during that time, so also celebrating the music of that time.
B: Is it true that when you joined the band you couldn't really play the guitar?
KD: When I started, it must have been 1990, 1991. Kim had invited me to go to the recordings for [the Breeders' debut album] Pod, but I couldn't get off work, so I skipped that. For the recording of the Safari EP, we knew Tanya [Donelly] was leaving to start Belly, but Kim wanted to do some more recording. So no, I couldn't play, to make a long story short. I had played some bass.
B: So how did you learn so fast?
KD: Well, I just…I don't know. In the recording studio, you can do a lot of studio magic, to make it sound like, "Oh, that sounds really good." I remember for "Cannonball," for that part [hums opening riff], I had to take strings down because they didn't ring. But to be fair, I would still have to do that, because it's a very strange part. It's a very slide-y part. I guess I had a good teacher.
B: Have you thought about working on any new stuff during the tour? Has that come up at all?
KD: As a matter of fact, it has come up. Just because people have been asking about it and of course I would be like, "No no no, we're just doing this, this is enough." But now that we're actually successfully learning the songs and recreating them in a live capacity, now we're kind of like, "What else are we doing? Let's see." Kim's got some really cool songs that she's been writing. So we have been kind of poking around, but that doesn’t mean anything, you know? We don't know. We are poking around at it.
When she's not working with the Breeders, Kelley plays in R.Ring with pal Mike Montgomery (check out their stuff here). LSXXis out now on CD from 4AD, with a seven-LP vinyl box set to follow later this month. The Breeders will return to the US later this summer. Click here for dates!
2013 photo: Chris Glass; 1993 photo: Kevin Westenberg