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The Breeders' Kelley Deal Doesn't Believe In Rock Stars

We talked with the lead guitarist of the Breeders, and she told us that you might want to reconsider starting a band.

Kelley Deal is making last minute arrangements, trying to figure out who can watch Blackberry, her cat. It's April and the guitarist is preparing to hit the road with her reunited band, the Breeders, who are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Last Splash with a world tour. It's been over a decade since the four piece has played a gig together. At the band's height of popularity in 1995, the Breeders were an indie rock powerhouse. They were also a mess—specifically Kelley, who was addicted to heroin.


On the phone, Deal is calm and sunny. She speaks frankly about her own mistakes. She explains why this tour is so important: It's a chance to bring the Breeders back in a positive way. A sober way. No more youthful drama. After the band broke up in '95, Deal went to rehab, turning to knitting as she moved back in with her parents in Dayton, Ohio (where she still lives with her sister Kim). When she's not touring, Kelley works for various places in her hometown—sometimes for a tax attorney, other times at a funeral parlour. She drives a shitty car. She's having a blast. We caught up with Deal and talked DIY, recovery, and what it means to "make it."

Noisey: The Breeders were at the forefront of the DIY revolution in rock music. Do you worry that new bands are entering an industry where there's almost no money to be made?
I was nodding and nodding with you until you said the words "make it" and then I was like "huh?" It's interesting because this concept of "making it"—let's just take that off the table shall we?

Okay, let's do that.
Yeah, then I can continue to nod along with you because there is no "making it" now. Even bands from where I sit—I see it in magazines or on Leno, or whatever late night show—they have an online presence. Those people also have day jobs or they have jobs they're able to go back to, or they are trust fund kids or whatever. It depends on what you mean by "making it," if you mean that you are able to quit a job and do music full time, I don't know if that's really even [possible].


I guess it depends on your costs, and what it takes for you to live, too. This is not a new concept for me because I have not actually earned a royalty since 1994 or 1995, something like that.

No royalties?
No, none.

For real?
Yeah, so, that has to do with—did you ever read Steve Albini's treatise on record companies and what happens with that?

Yeah, it's been a while, but I've read most of his diatribes.
It's completely out of date now because there really are no record companies now. And the deals that record companies do offer are very different from that. They're like 50/50—let's do this, we'll pay for this, we'll split stock—that kind of thing. I'm not saying that that's bad or good, but far as the bottom line is concerned, it's kind of the same for me as it's been for a while. I'm not hurting as badly because I've been there for a while.

So because you don't earn any royalties and touring full time is unsustainable, what exactly do you do to supplement your income?
Well, I do a lot of things. I work part time jobs. I've worked for my tax attorney in the past.

And you were a programmer too?
I was an assistant analyst, program analyst for a defense contractor for the longest time. [I had] a top-secret clearance. I went to school and was an accounting/finance major for three years until I swapped over to more programming stuff. So I was able to work for my tax attorney. When I get back into town I work for a funeral home in town here. Right now I'm doing this thing with R. Ring where we do shows and I enjoy that. And I also make things and sell them online.


I like your scarves.
Thank you!

So you came to terms with the reality of the music business a long time ago. Many young performers come to that realization late.
Yeah! It's so interesting, I was talking about this R. Ring thing—which is a cat named Mike Montgomery and myself. He owns a studio called "Candyland" in Cincinnati and sometimes we'll get together and we'll be practicing and he'll look at me, or we'll be talking about something and he'll just shake his head and say, "You know, this band came in and they did a record and I mixed it and I mastered it. I gave them the master and then they looked me when I gave them the master and they said, 'Well what do we do with this?'" And then he says, "I just shake my head and told them, 'You press some LPs, you go play shows.'" It's fascinating to me that this has been going on for, what, we're on our second decade of this now? I mean is nobody talking about this? People must know this, right?

There exists this continued idea that something big is going to happen for them overnight. However, you might see a band that's been pole-vaulted into fame because of the blogosphere.
Yeah, like somehow fame or exposure equals money. And yeah, it's doesn't. But you can't really tell people that. It must be hard to believe that, people you see in magazines or on television, don't earn any money from either of those things, or actually anything. You get money from shows and any merchandise, but that's it—unless music gets placed and there's licensing.


I've spoken to several artists from your era and it seems like some of them have lost their way, or are grasping on to how the business used to operate.
Sure. I can see how that would be hard to accept. And truly it's harder as you get older. People don't live with their parents, or in their basement, or share a house with their bandmates. They want an apartment or a house of their own. So now you start clocking in this mortgage. I'm getting up there; I actually need health insurance, okay? Add that to the monthly expenses. And that car, that shitty car—I've been driving shitty cars forever—I'm going to need a car that's actually going to run. It doesn't have to be a Lexus but come on I need a car. Add that to monthly expenses. Then that becomes this decision process that you have to make. Neither decision is wrong, it's only wrong if it's not your truth. If you really need a job for either financial security or you just want a nicer car for yourself, you're just going to do shows on the weekend, and that's so cool. That is so awesome if that's your truth, you know?

I want to know what the summer of 1993 was like.
It was very exciting! One of the things that was so exciting about it—and looking back I didn't really realize this, nor could I have appreciated it until now—but back then this other music was seeping, slowly, heavily into radio, charting commercially, and not just college charts. [Also] this really cool band called Nirvana was the biggest band in the world. Not just hot, but officially like the biggest band in the world. It was super exciting to feel like I was involved in that [scene].


Does rehashing Last Splash live bring up any bad memories?
Well, I mean obviously I think about…gosh it's too bad I was just shitfaced for so much of that period of time. Did I wring all the good out of it that I could have then? Did I get all of the experiences that I feel like I should have that were available or whatever? Sometimes you think about that but it doesn't really help anything to do that because if I had done that then I wouldn't have had these other wonderful memories of other stuff that I can't really talk about that are fantastic memories, you know what I'm saying? [Laughs]

Do you have any hesitations about touring?
No, I've been doing this a while and that's really great but I remember something we were talking about, me and Josephine Wiggs. Things got heated—well not heated, but for three adult, grown women who are all sober standing there—everybody wants their way, everybody's so passionate. [Everyone thinks] "This is the best idea" and I just had this glimpse of "uh oh, is this why we only stayed together for one record? For one album?" I'm still passionate about it but it's recognizing that, "Hey, I can let this go, I know where you're coming from." I just latch on because I like my way and I think my way is the best way, but it isn't necessarily the best way. So, interpersonal relationships, it's very interesting to see how we are navigating them. I think they have gotten so much better it's ridiculous, otherwise we wouldn't even be able to do this.

Any new songs coming out from the rehearsals?
Maybe? I don't know if I should say that or not, it seems like there might be.

It seems like there might be? I think you might be hinting that there might be new songs coming.
Yeah, there's some stuff happening but there's nothing to it at this point. You know? Nothing's done.

Is there such thing as a rock star anymore?
I hope not.

Cameron Matthews loves the '90s more than you do. He's on Twitter — @cmatthewsnyc