By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Given that the Breeders release records less often than February 29 appears on your kitchen calendar (last month's Mountain Battles makes just four albums in the past eighteen years), guitarist Kelley Deal might be better known for playing colleague and caretaker to her twin sister, Pixies bassist and Breeders leader Kim, than for her musical abilities — particularly as portrayed in loudQUIETloud, the stellar documentary of the Pixies' successful 2004 reunion tour.
Kim, who went through drug and alcohol rehab in 2002 (Kelley, as older sister by eleven minutes, served as predecessor following a 1995 heroin bust), agreed to the Pixies' restoration on three conditions: no alcohol in the band's dressing rooms, a separate SUV to travel in, and Kelley coming along for the ride. Between guitarist Joe Santiago, drummer David Lovering and Frank Black, the Pixies' boy/girl ratio was completely out of proportion, which is why Kim wanted to bring Kelley on the road.
"You know, Joe and David and Charles, although each and every one of them is a really cool, interesting, funny person, they're guys," says Kelley of the three Pixies not related to her. "And I don't know if you know this, but guys aren't good at going shopping, having coffee and talking — especially those three guys. There are some that have more female in them than others. Those three have no female in them at all, so my role on that, honestly, I was a companion. That was my 'job.' You know, just hanging out, being a sister."
But with the Breeders — Kim's band since its 1988 inception, while Kelley joined after the recording of 1990's Pod — responsibilities become a little more defined. "If Kim is the quarterback," says Kelley, "I'm the center and the coach. Can I be both?"
Absolutely. Such is the honest, open and unabashed charm of the Deal sisters. Besides, the job of the offensive lineman is a noble one, the human equivalent of a well-trained watchdog. Faceguarded in relative anonymity, those hefty protectors of the so-called skill positions (in other words, the quarterback making all the money) are loyal to a fault. Underappreciated and underrated, all.
Evidently, this notion strikes a nerve, because caretaker Kelley changes her mind. "One of the other guys can have that, then," she says. "I don't want to be underrated.
"There is a symbiotic relationship," she adds, speaking of her interdependence with Kim, "where I take care of her, she takes care of me, I take care of her, she takes care of me. It depends on that day who needs taking care of."
And perhaps because they are sisters, ever-present for one another, Kelley insists that the rock-and-roll road offers no greater temptations than those found in the Deals' home town of Dayton, Ohio.
"When I was doing the Kelley Deal 6000," she says of her 1996 post-rehab band, "I had just gotten sober, so it was a pretty precarious feeling. And this girl came up to me, and she had a couple bags of heroin, powder heroin in her hand, and she started to give it to me, and I just turned away and fled. But you know what? I wasn't tempted. It kind of freaked me out, but at no point was I ever tempted to take it.
"However," she continues, "let me tell you, when I go to what I like to call civilian's homes, and I go to their bathroom and I open their medicine cabinet — because that's what I do — and I see Vicodin there, I tell you, over the years I have popped in there and I have taken Vicodin out of people's medicine chests. And I find that is more of a slippery slope. In my parents' house, in my brother's house, in my friend's house, in this stranger that I don't know's house. I find that way more precarious than being handed a bag of smack at a concert.
"Isn't that strange? Because somehow it's not real. It's medicine. So if I were going to relapse, it's not going to be on heroin on the road, it's going to be in your medicine cabinet." Kelley pauses, either to let the effect of her words hit or boomerang back onto herself. But then she laughs. "That's so depressing," she says, between chuckles. "When I talk about shit like that, it's like, 'What is wrong with me?'"
Yes, a conversation with one of the Deal sisters, like the music of the Breeders, is wild, wacky, waggish and more than a touch whimsical. Mountain Battles offers an especially idiosyncratic, intoxicating mix of melodic innocence: single-finger guitar parts (another reason Kelley may be better known as a caretaker) over schoolyard rhythms with matching messages of guilelessness. Kelley sings a song in Spanish (though she doesn't speak Spanish). Likewise, Kim sings a song in German (though she doesn't speak German). "Istanbul" follows phrasing presumptively purloined from a jump-rope session ("Where ya going?/To the city/Where ya going?/To the city/Where ya going?/Is-tan-bul!"), and Battles begins with "Overglazed," an infectious calling card in which the words "I can feel it" represent the lyrics in their entirety.