“It really does feel like I’ve had a stroke,” Kim Deal announces with a cackle. “Like I had a TIA or something a couple of months ago and I’m recovering slowly from it. I just have these big word gaps. I’m sorry! Oh my god!”
More laughter. Listening back to the recording of our phonecall, it seems that we spent a big chunk of it just laughing. Kim Deal is one funny lady. Our conversation goes all over the map, from her approval of Prince (“I was never a club girl but I always liked him”) to teaming up with Nina Nastasia* to annihilate some country standards at Steve Albini’s wedding in Hawaii (“We introduced ourselves as The Easy Lay”, “Will Oldham said it was one of the most painful experiences he’d ever had!”) and hanging out with former Hole drummer Patty Schemel in Los Angeles (“She has a lot of funny stories about Courtney…”). She’s sweetly attentive to her father as he wanders in and out of the conversation (“Dad, I’m on the phone! I’m being interviewed by a guy from England… England, yeah”, “Are you looking for the Christmas tree?”), and is generally in a really good mood.
“Here’s the part I don’t get,” she says when we’re discussing the matter of this coming weekend’s solo slot at All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Nightmare Before Christmas. “Why would anyone even want to come and see me! I’m not being self-deprecating or anything, I think I sound alright – I like listening to myself – but I can’t imagine why anyone else would want to sit through that.”
Let’s reflect on that for a minute. Kim’s association with ATP dates back a decade to 2002 when, just three weeks away from releasing their first new material in eight long years (the Steve Albini-produced Title TK), The Breeders made the trip to Camber Sands to play alongside old friends and contemporaries like Wire, Shellac, Will Oldham, Melt Banana and Low. Reviews were positive (“Kim Deal is a fucking rock star!” is one typical, and not inaccurate, example), but behind the scenes it was turning out to be quite a messy, memorable couple of weekends.
“I honestly did think I was going to die,” Kim says dryly. “The weather was rough. Very, very wet and rainy. And the wind! And I was drinking too much. I had the shakes, I felt sick. But I remember ATP 2002 very well. Kelley burned down one of the chalets – it was pretty intense! We talk about that sometimes and she’s like, ‘Actually, I gotta give it to Barry [Hogan, ATP co-founder] because he never gave me shit for that.’”
It’s been well documented that by the end of the year Kim had checked herself into rehab for a drinking problem, but that’s just a footnote in this story. It certainly didn’t dissuade Barry Hogan from offering The Breeders a chance to curate their own version of the festival the next year – an offer that Kim refused more than once. “It just felt like it was so far beyond my capabilities so I was like, ‘Oh-ho noooo! If I could do that I’d have a full-time job working somewhere!’.
“I think what put me off was seeing how involved Shellac got in curating ATP in 2002. They were so involved in everything: the scheduling, the programme, the merch, the posters. They’re very hands-on people. I think they even got involved in deciding how much people got paid. Except for Cheap Trick, who probably got paid whatever they asked for! But they wanted to make sure people were all going to get the same fee, that sort of thing. It was very socialist.”
Barry remained undeterred, however, and after the release of Mountain Battles in 2008 he ventured the topic once more. Kim says she was hedging at first, but relented as soon as she realised that all she had to do was pick the bands – and she could write down any name she wanted. “It was a bit like saying, ‘What’s your favourite movie of all time? Go!’…It was like, ‘Shiiiiiit!’. It was so exciting! I wrote down something ridiculous like Doris Day, and Jose [Medeles, drummer for The Breeders] had Paul Motian on there I think. Jose had a lot of picks in there actually.”
As with any list, there’s always going to be things that you accidentally miss off, and Kim admits to kicking herself since that she forgot some people. Not that it matters, because what seemed to her at first “like doing a semester at school” turned out to be brilliant fun. Taking place over a weekend in May 2009, The Breeders put their own stamp on the festival with a triumphant performance and impromptu on-stage collaborations. Holding knitting workshops went down a treat, too. “Did you see the cake we got made for Barry and his wife, Deborah, who helps run ATP? We had a local bakery recreate the white dome of Butlins in cake and had little figurines of them climbing over it. It was really cute.”
Another perk of curating the festival was, obviously, having lots of old friends around them, like Kristin Hersh and Dave Narcizo of Throwing Muses, who Kim became firm friends with during the Pixies’ first ever UK tour. The two bands had been acquaintances before that on the Boston music scene, but sharing a van together on that tour brought them much closer. “They were the funniest band I’ve ever met, so fucking witty and so funny,” Kim recalls. “Kristin is absolutely on it, all the time. And Tanya [Donelly, with whom Kim later formed The Breeders]… fuck! I was like every other guy and girl, ready to write her off because she was this really pretty blonde girl, gorgeous and so childlike with those big eyes, but she is hilarious and so smart.”
Still, as anyone who’s been to an ATP weekend will tell you, it’s really the people who make the experience what it is. Maybe it’s got something to with the fact that fans and artists remain in close proximity for a three-day stretch that there’s a certain respect that’s paid. People are rarely disruptive or rude to a performer, because they know that they could easily bump into them an hour or so later in the queue for fish and chips. “I’ve noticed that,” says Kim. “At other festivals a lot of the people who come up to you are all nervous and shaking, like they want something, or you’ll get someone come up and say, ‘Dude, I’m your biggest fan. I love that song about the bowling ball’ [as opposed to ‘Cannonball’, The Breeders’ biggest hit] – and I’m like, ‘Waiiiiit a minute!’
“I’m a big fan of music. And, you know, if I saw someone I really loved, if it was someone who I knew every song by, I would actually never go up to them. So it’s funny, because I think the people who go to ATP are like me. They’re my version of normal – they actually like music – so they’re easy to hang out with for a weekend. Easy, because they’re like everyone else I know – just losers who like music, basically. You know what I’m saying.”
Breeders bassist Mando Lopez still has some footage of that ATP that the band were planning to make into a documentary of their year. It’s pretty much just sitting on a shelf for now, but Kim still thinks they’ll do it at some point (“Know any good editors?” she jokes). If it’s anything like their first film, ‘The Real Deal’, which was made for Dutch TV in 2002, look out for lots of frank and funny moments between Kim and Kelley. And a bit of good old sisterly bickering, too.
There’s a moment in the film where Kelley is reflecting on their childhood in Dayton, Ohio, and sums it all up in three words: “We were weird.” And that’s how Kim remembers it being even into their late teens at the end of the ‘70s, when they would play around the local area as an acoustic duo, Kim & Kelley, playing covers as well as a few original songs. She ticks off a list of local dive bars. A fish restaurant. A truck stop. “That’s Dayton, Ohio right there. And you know, we did that because no bands would play with us. Guys were not gonna play with a fucking girl in their band. No way! I could maybe have been in there as a tambourine player or whatever, but this was a real blue-collar rock sort of thing and there’s not usually a lot of room for women in that scenario.”
Asked whether she was tempted to just form her own all-girl rock band instead, Kim laughs: “I would never ask someone to play in a band based on whether they were a boy or a girl. I’m sure a lot of women in all-girl bands would say the same thing, but, to me, when I see an all-girl band that’s playing up to being an all-girl band – you know, like Girl Power – I immediately think it’s a gimmick, something that’s put together. I’m not saying that’s always the case, but I am bad when it comes to that. I do typically have that reaction. What can I say? I’m suspicious. I don’t wanna raise my fist and say Girl Power, I just wanna raise it and go, Good Music Power!”
Sounds like a Shonen Knife song title (not a bad thing), but the spirit is there. And it’s a spirit that ATP shares. In a dozen years of ATP, very few women have been involved in the curation of the festivals from the artists’ side (Kim and Kelley, Karen O, Kim Gordon, Sleater-Kinney, Beth Gibbons of Portishead) but, as Deborah from ATP put it in an interview with Wears The Trousers last year, “There are amazing artists out there who happen to be female, but first and foremost are amazing artists.”
Through her own hard work and a happy decision of nature, Kim Deal is both.
All photos by Chris Glass, taken at ATP curated by The Breeders, May 15–17, 2009.
*They have done some recording together but Kim’s not sure if it will ever get released.