No mountain high enough

All throughout my sophomore year in high school, I had The Breeders. Their loopy, lighthearted-but-slightly-weird-around-the-edges alterna-pop seemed to relax my often-frustrated teenage mind.

Keeping it together: The Breeders, fronted by ex(ish)-Pixies bassist Kim Deal (pictured) and her twin sister Kelley, have survived everything from the highs of mainstream success to the lows of drug conviction and rehab in their two-decade history. Photo By Chris Glass

What’s more, the leaders of the band—twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal—were the ideal women: tough but sweet and with awesome taste in music. While Kim always emitted the tough part in spades, it was guitar player Kelley who tickled my fancy. So deep was this admiration that at the beginning of the interview with my biggest unrequited love from high school, I told her that speaking with her was a dream come true and preemptively apologized for my voice, which was cracking with nervousness.

“Nice!” she said with a laugh.

And off we went.

Kelley’s conversational style is a lot like her band’s songwriting: warm and endearing, but prone to going off on a whimsical tangent before returning to the original thought. But The Breeders’ new album, Mountain Battles (4AD Records), concentrates less on the band’s quirky aspects and more on tight songwriting. For those expecting an album full of reprises of their biggest hit, “Cannonball” (from their 1993 album Last Splash) Kelley says they are in for disappointment.

“If you compare this record to the song ‘Cannonball,’ it might seem more quiet,” she says. “But if you compare it to other things we’ve done, it’s right in line with our entire catalog.”

She has a point. Mountain Battles isn’t the stuff of mainstream radio—which “Cannonball” could certainly be accused of—but it does have the recognizable sinister-yet-summery pop feel that has been the group’s trademark since the early 1990s.

It’s been six years since the last Breeders recording (2002’s Title TK). Mountain Battles was delayed, at least in part, due to Kim’s dabblings in the reunion of her previous band, The Pixies. Mountain Battles’ relatively quiet tone seems like something of a reaction to Kim’s time on tour with the more sonically overwhelming Pixies in 2004 and 2005.

But Kelley disagrees.

“It has nothing to do with the Pixies,” she says. “We started writing this album in 2002, after Title TK came out.”

If anything, it seems like Kelley sees the Pixies’ reunion as butting in on the Breeders’ work. Already working on what would eventually become Mountain Battles, the sisters uprooted themselves from Los Angeles to move to Dayton, Ohio, to be closer to their mother, who had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In the middle of this stressful and confusing time, the Pixies decided to reunite.

“Kim would be away for a month [on tour], and she’d come back and we’d work in the basement on arrangements,” Kelley recalls, adding that the recording process “took some time.”

But, for all the stress of the recording process, the resulting album is surprisingly cohesive, not relying on the quiet-loud dynamic of Kim’s other band.

“As far as the quietness or the loudness, you know if you’re 12 years old then the loud ones were …” says Kelley, taking a long pause to remember the name of a particularly loud song, before giving up and going off on a tangent. “I’m trying to think of that Mötley Crüe song, but I don’t know which one it was because I didn’t like them because I wasn’t 12. It was the really loud song that they sang. It was about how they were really badass.”

After another pause, she laughs: “The moment you start singing about how badass you are, you’re not badass at all.”

But Kelley says that “badass” isn’t exactly what the Breeders were going for. Instead, they were going for scary.

“The idea that this is a quieter record means that we are in a better headspace is wrong,” Kelley explains. “The song ‘Mountain Battles’ sounds like an insane person is singing it—like some schizophrenic person—and I find that really creepy.”

But Mountain Battles isn’t just a collection of dark pop oddities. Never ones for issuing homogenous sounding albums, the Breeders have packed the recording full of interesting twists and turns—from the Spanish-language song “Regalame Esta Noche” to the slightly old-time feel of “Here No More.”

Two decades into their history, the Breeders have found a remarkably simple mechanism for creating music.

“The way we work is that we put together 40 minutes of good music, we release it and we tour it,” Kelley says. “Then we start the next 40 minutes of music. It’s not brain surgery or anything.”

That’s all anyone can ask of a rock ‘n’ roll band. Well, they could ask for a date to the prom, but it probably wouldn’t go over that well.

[Jason Bugg is a freelance writer based in Asheville. He didn’t ask Kelley Deal out on a date, although he wanted to.]

who: The Breeders plus Magic Wands
what: Quirky pop
where: Orange Peel
when: Thursday, June 12. 9 p.m. ($22. or 225-5851)

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