Deal With It

For Kelley Deal, a drug bust wasn't the end, but a new beginning.

Kelley Deal and her twin sister, ex-Pixie-turned-head-Breeder Kim Deal, are anomalies among alternative-rock royalty: They enjoyed popularity in high school and positive relationships with their parents. So why would the lesser-known of the sisters be the focus of one of the past year's more publicized descents into drug abuse--a slide that culminated in a felony charge and a deliberate intervention? In an effort to dismantle a particularly popular stereotype, Deal asserts, "Addiction has no demographic. So-called well-adjusted people just try harder to keep up the facade."

Stories of musicians staggering into and out of rehab have become redundant in light of heroin's current vogue and ubiquity. The details, though, float in a realm of rumor, lending said performers an aura of torment and fragility. Few choose absolute sobriety as an ending for this well-worn rock-and-roll script, and fewer still attempt to demystify the process. Kelley Deal represents a different breed; she lacks the vanity that leads others to glamorize narcotic oblivion. But there's a price to pay for her approach. The monkey on her back has received more attention than Deal's current band, the Kelley Deal 6000.

"Isn't it awful?" she winces when asked about the horse ballyhoo. "What's weird about the drug publicity is that I didn't do any of it. I didn't orchestrate anything--nothing was premeditated. So I'll do what I want when it comes to answering questions about it.

"People know me from the heroin arrest and from playing in the Breeders," she continues. "That's all they know me from, just like people knew Kim from the Pixies. What else are we going to talk about? My tennis abilities? They don't exist. Drugs were a big part of my life, and recovery is a huge part of my life right now, so you couldn't get more relative."

The same can be said of Go to the Sugar Altar, the Kelley Deal 6000's debut--and fortunately, the sheer quality of the album (it surpasses the recent platter by the Amps, Kim's side project, in terms of scope and strangeness) should give people something else to talk about with Kelley. In a strange twist on the myth that drugs open the gates to creativity, Deal's residency at Minneapolis's acclaimed Hazelden rehabilitation clinic furnished the stimulus for the project. The combination of sobriety and isolation there proved providential, for once Deal's chemical and psychological fog cleared, she says she discovered a wellspring of verve and the focus to channel it.

After Hazelden, Deal moved to a halfway house in St. Paul, where she met drummer and guitarist Jesse Colin Roff and shared with him the songs she'd written in the privacy of her clinic room. Shortly thereafter, she joined Roff, the Grifters' David Shouse and Jimmy Flemion of the Frogs in Minneapolis's Terrarium recording studio. Sugar Altar was consummated within the month, and Deal followed up its completion by touring in her dad's RV with the Grifters and Red Red Meat and recording "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" with Kris Kristofferson for a Willie Nelson tribute album, Twisted Willie. As a kid, Deal thought Kristofferson "was cute, but he was too old for us even at the time. But my mom--oh, my God, she thought my singing with Kris was the best thing in the world. We were doing it in L.A., and she lives in Dayton. But I remember telling her, and I remember her seriously saying, 'Oh, you know, maybe I could go to L.A....' This from a woman who hates to fly."

Although Deal is an avowed fan of Nelson's, she musters just as much enthusiasm for the Frogs, whose music she characterizes as "beautiful songs, beautiful instruments, songs dealing with prejudice and stereotypes." She concedes that the band is an acquired taste; for example, the tune "Hot Cock Annie," from the Frogs' first disc, It's Only Right and Natural, features the lines, "She's the one with the cock and vagina combined/Get her from behind." Still, she's so committed to the combo's vision that she plans to issue Racially Yours, a CD that gives racism the same controversial treatment that homosexuality received throughout Natural, on her own Nice Records imprint. (Nice is also putting out Sugar Altar; Deal opted to handle it herself, even though Warner Bros., Rykodisc and Sub Pop each offered her a contract.) "I want to be your tour guide when you go check them out," Deal begs. "You have to take the Frogs gently and keep an open mind."

A friend of Flemion's for years, Deal recounts their initial meeting in a club. "This guy--I offered him a drink, and he said he didn't drink. So I started talking to him about the fact that he didn't smoke pot, drink or do drugs, because at the time that just blew my mind. I was like, 'What do you do?' Especially to find out that there was this underground of people who didn't do drugs--are you kidding me? That's not possible. You do drugs to be wild and crazy, and here are these people who are totally sober and they're still insane: talented, off-the-wall, creative, and did what they wanted."

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