The Breeders – Last Splash
“I know I come off lookin’ like a fuckin’ haggy housewife compared to all these other women in rock, and that’s fine with me, man. So, I don’t wanna wash my hair, fuck you, this is how I look.”
Kim Deal wasn’t in the best mood when she gave a 1995 cover story interview to SPIN.
As a female musician in a then very male-centric domain, she had to contend with an industry geared toward generating ridiculous hype and was patently frustrated by its emphasis on image and appearance before the thing she cared about the most, her music.
Her profile meant she regularly had to field the oft repeated question ‘Is there a resurgence of women in rock?’ Bored, she opted to tell journalists, ‘There is no resurgence, they’re [women] just in it.’
True to her words, Kim Deal had well and truly been amongst it. She had started The Breeders as a side project and their debut album Pod, released in 1990, was greeted with critical acclaim.
By early 1993, creative tensions within her other group Pixies had escalated to an intolerable and unworkable point. Black Francis, legend has it, informed Deal that the band was over via fax. Her sister Kelly was the one to pass on the news during the Last Splash recording sessions.
In 1994, she spoke to Richard Kingsmill about being ‘the centre of attention’, as journalists had put it, in her own band.
“If I was a guy, I don’t think you’d be asking ‘how does it feel to be the centre of attention?’ That kind of desire is only given to women, because only women want to be the centre of attention. Men, they have a stronger purpose, more of a reason to be out there.”
Deal’s purpose and broader ambitions were for her band’s songs.
“I hope the band gets attention though. I hope people go to our shows and like the music.”
Her hopes for The Breeders were more than realised with the unexpected success of ‘Cannonball’, with its curious air raid siren start, bubbling bass hook and its strange lyrics about being ‘the bong in this reggae song.’
Deal told Kingsmill that the song was Inspired by a combination of Willy Wonka’s Oompah Loompahs, a Marquis de Sade biography, dive bombing and an accidental bass line that Josephine Wiggs devised.
“We were on [British independent record label] 4AD, so if we made a single, it was a promotional single,” she told SPIN in 2013.
“It wasn’t like a Mariah Carey single. The label would service radio stations with it — college radio. It wasn’t ever thought that it would be out as a single, it would just be serviced as a single. It starts with that incredible vocal feedback through the Marshall — of course, it’s not meant for radio.”
But radio and television audiences embraced it enthusiastically, and with the song’s video – directed by Kim Gordon and Spike Jonze – on high rotation on MTV, success was pretty much assured. But it caught the band by surprise.
“We never thought about the charts,” Kelley Deal told SPIN. “Paula Abdul was on the charts. That was what was on the radio.”
“We had a bunch of songs that Kim had written, and we had worked on them quite a bit, playing them live before we went in to record them,” Josephine Wiggs added. “And I think there wasn’t any sort of portentousness about what might happen or what kind of an album we were making. We were just making an album. Because we had no idea — no one had any idea what was gonna happen.”
“Kim composes with air and electricity as much as with a guitar,” Violinist Carrie Bradley recalled. “The whole band was constantly engaged in discussing ideas on arrangements, dynamics, room sounds, string sounds, effects, amp choice, nuance, and energy. If something wasn’t working, they turned the lights off, or changed rooms, or ran a lap.
“I remember trying to get the right take for ‘Drivin’ On 9’. It didn’t come together until we were all kind of sweating, crowing here and there, dancing in place, pinned to our live stations like marionettes, our own little bittersweet concert. There was inclusiveness, a family spirit, even when the going got tough or frustrating.”
Inspiration came from other unusual, crafty sources too. Kelley, a keen knitter, often brought a sewing machine to the studio.
“There’s a lot of dead time in the studio and she’d spend that time working on this quilt for my mom,” Kim told MOJO in 2013, ‘so I listened to her sewing and I thought, we should mike that up.”
The sound made its way through an amp and onto the instrumental ‘S.O.S.’
What’s most evident on Last Splash is Kim Deal’s love of big riffs (‘Saints’, ‘Invisible Man’), sound textures (‘Roi’, ‘Mad Lucas’) and her range as a songwriter.
Her lyrics could be spiteful and bitingly humorous (‘I Just Wanna Get Along’’s ‘If you’re so special why aren’t you dead?!’), flout social expectations (‘No Aloha’’s ‘Motherhood means mental freeze’) as well as be quietly tender (‘Invisible Man’, ‘Do You Love Me Now?’).
Deal was also pondering themes of faith, desire and self-fulfilment in ‘Divine Hammer’ as she explained to Kingsmill in 1994.
“It’s about existential angst,” she said. “I’m just looking for some divinity to come down and you know what, I don’t think there is anything, so I think I can find my divinity in different ways. Drugs, sex…”
Pressed further on what she was looking for, Deal replied, “With all the Christian songs they use all these things like ‘if you go around the mountain, if you work hard with the hammer and you meet a carpenter called Jesus Christ and you travel miles and miles’ all this stupid symbolism that Christian groups will use. I don’t know what I’m looking for. But everybody tells me if I keep looking I’m going to find divinity one day or faith or something, and you know what? I ain’t found shit!”
Kim Deal is just as puzzled as to how and why Last Splash has proven to be an album that has endured in the way that it has. In 2013, it was re-issued as part of seven-disc vinyl box set complete with re-imagined artwork and an eight month tour that took the band around the world to play the album in full.
However, she has one mystery worked out. Asked how she feels about playing songs like ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Divine Hammer’ over and over again, Deal told the Denver Post, “I still enjoy playing them. Writing something that matters to me in the first place is a good way to make sure of that.”