The Breeders Are 'All Nerve' After A Long Hiatus

Mar 11, 2018
Originally published on March 11, 2018 7:15 am

All Nerve is an apt title from a band that's survived as much as the members of The Breeders have. Addiction and infighting broke up the four musicians responsible for the 1993's alternative staple Last Splash. Though the group has returned in various incarnations since then, it would be 25 years before the classic lineup — twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson — would record together again.

Last week, The Breeders released All Nerve, the band's fifth album and first since 2008's Mountain Battles. Kelley Deal says that despite the time and distance (Kim and Macpherson hadn't spoken for 15 years), reuniting was easy.

"Somehow, between the four of us getting in the basement [and] playing together again, it all just felt exactly the same as the good times before everything," she says. "It was just really fun."

Kim says she remembers waking up one morning with the song that would be come the title track in her head. Its lyrics read like a letter to the Deals' former selves: "I wanna see you / Especially you," Kim sings. "I may be high, I may hide and run out at you / You don't know how much I miss you."

Both sisters struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and Kelley was arrested for heroin possession in 1994. "It's really important for me that people know that I drank alcoholically and used drugs addictively," Kelley says. "Music and being in a band and that lifestyle had absolutely nothing to do with it."


The sisters have since moved back to their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, which they elegize in the song "Walking with a Killer." "I'm walking with a killer and I'm gonna need that ride / We walked through the night / Through the cornfields of East 35," Kim sings of the two-lane highway near her home. She calls the song her "shame opus."

"The corn comes up to the side of the road, it's tall in the summer, so it feels isolated, no lights, cars go zipping by," she says. "I think a lot of towns have that gothic, eerie feeling."

But while the Deals don't shy from darkness, there are moments of light on All Nerve, too. The sparse "Dawn: Making an Effort" is a note to self, to walk into the daylight — and to keep making music.

"When I listen to that, it makes me rally — like, come on, you can do it," Kim says. "Just put your feet on the floor, avoid the news channel for five minutes, get out of bed, show up and have a good day."

All Nerve is out now on 4AD. Hear more of Kim and Kelley Deal's conversation with NPR's Renee Montagne at the audio link.

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The Breeders - twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson - hit it big on the radio in the summer of '93 with this song "Cannonball."


THE BREEDERS: (Singing) Spitting in a wishing well blown to hell. Crash. I'm the last splash.

MONTAGNE: After the album "Last Splash" went platinum, there were tours, MTV interviews. They opened for Nirvana. Kurt Cobain was among their many passionate fans. Then, too soon, heroin, alcohol, infighting entered the mix. And the kind of excess not unknown in the world of alt rock tore them apart. The Breeders continued with the Deal twins and other musicians. But it would take 25 years for this beloved foursome to get back together and make another album called "All Nerve." It's out now.


THE BREEDERS: (Singing) Ha, ha. I may be high. I may hide and run out at you. You don't know how much I miss you.

MONTAGNE: Kim Deal writes, plays guitar and sings for The Breeders. Welcome to the program.

KIM DEAL: Hello, nice to be here. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: And Kelley Deal plays guitar and sings. Kelley joins us now, too.


MONTAGNE: Welcome. You call the album "All Nerve." The title song is really great. It might be my favorite on the whole album. Kim, where did this come from?

KIM DEAL: I actually woke up one morning. And I had that first verse in my head. Now, it didn't sound like that. It sounded like sort of like a fey (ph) English song, like, from the '80s, like...

KELLEY DEAL: "Tainted Love."


KIM DEAL: Oh, "Tainted Love."

KELLEY DEAL: Who - Soft Cell.

KIM DEAL: That sort of thing - in my head, I heard it. You know, the snare was very thin and just shimmery and keyboard bass and stuff - I heard it in my head. Do you want me to sing it?


KELLEY DEAL: (Laughter).

KIM DEAL: Oh, you do?

MONTAGNE: Why not?

KIM DEAL: (Singing) I want to see you. I'm - now...


KIM DEAL: I sound like I'm in "Oliver!"

MONTAGNE: Or - yeah, or "Mary Poppins."



THE BREEDERS: (Singing) I won't stop. I will run you down. I'm all nerve. I'm all nerve.

MONTAGNE: Well, what's different? It has to be - it's 25 years. I'm talking about the album. I know you've played together. There's been a reunion of sorts, if you want to call it that.


MONTAGNE: But what's the good different part?

KELLEY DEAL: Somehow, between the four of us, getting in the basement, playing together again...


THE BREEDERS: (Singing) Good morning.

KELLEY DEAL: ...It all just felt exactly the same as the good times before everything kind of - I don't know. It just - it was just really fun.

KIM DEAL: Josephine has a philosophy - this is Kim. Josephine...

KELLEY DEAL: Oh, what is it?

KIM DEAL: ...Has a philosophy that, you know that thing where you think, like, you only remember the good things? Her philosophy is that, you know, that's why the brain does that - because if everybody brought their baggage that they've done every day of their lives and have to remember the most horrible things when the first - when they wake up in the morning 50 years on, everybody commits suicide.

MONTAGNE: Oh, my gosh. Well, thanks for sharing.


MONTAGNE: Josephine's British.

KIM DEAL: That's just...


KIM DEAL: Oh, yeah. She is. She's extremely British.

MONTAGNE: For those who are wondering why Kim's voice just changed like that...


MONTAGNE: Well, I would, though, say - we're talking here - heroin and alcohol having a massive effect on both of you at different times...

KELLEY DEAL: I do want to have a caveat about that. I really want it to be known - I know this sounds really dumb.

KIM DEAL: This is Kelley saying this by the way...

KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, it's really important for me that people know that I drank alcoholically and used drugs addictively. Music and being in a band and that lifestyle had absolutely nothing to do with it. I really think this cliche of she joined a rock band, that rocker - there are so many stockbrokers and doctors and lawyers who are out drinking their lunches. And I think it's really important that we identify.

KIM DEAL: I think we're all...


KIM DEAL: ...Living a behind-the-music experience - aren't we? - every day.

KELLEY DEAL: (Laughter).

MONTAGNE: Let's play another song from the album just for a moment. And I'll - now, this is one that I desperately need you to sort out for me.


THE BREEDERS: (Singing) I'm walking with a killer. And I'm going to need a ride. We rolled through the night, through the cornfields of East 35.

MONTAGNE: OK. I don't want to give anything away. But is there any - can you give us a hint as to who's the killer?

KIM DEAL: Can I say it's a shame opus?


KIM DEAL: Does that give it away too much?

MONTAGNE: No. No, it's lovely.

KELLEY DEAL: Just ask.

KIM DEAL: Opus of shame.

MONTAGNE: I'll take that. It did have a sense that there was a mystery going on.


KELLEY DEAL: It's a - what is it? Find your own adventure?

KIM DEAL: It is interesting that...


KELLEY DEAL: It's children's books.


KIM DEAL: This is Kim. There is an East 35 in Dayton, Ohio - two-lane highway, you know, state route. You know, the corn comes up to the side of the road. It's tall in the summer. So it feels isolated. No lights. Cars go zipping by and stuff like - it can, you know, I think a lot of towns have that creepy gothic...

KELLEY DEAL: And East...

KIM DEAL: ...It's, like, a really gothic, eerie feeling.

KELLEY DEAL: And East 35 - I mean, it's a spooky road, man.

MONTAGNE: Now, this is your part of the country. It's where you were raised.


KIM DEAL: Huber Heights. It was very small.

MONTAGNE: Huber Heights is your neighborhood?


MONTAGNE: What's it like?


KIM DEAL: It's basically an enclave or whatever of - for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

KELLEY DEAL: Tract housing where the...


KELLEY DEAL: ...The houses are - every fifth one is the same one.

KIM DEAL: Hangar 18.

KELLEY DEAL: And my dad used to work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He's a physicist. And he used to head this lab over there. And he - every so often, he would get these reporters...


KELLEY DEAL: ...Come knocking and saying, yeah, we'd like to tour Hangar, you know - Hangar 18 in Area B. And then he would have to give tours...

MONTAGNE: Was that the big mystery?

KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, that after Roswell...

MONTAGNE: Yeah (laughter).

KELLEY DEAL: ...All of that was sent and stored...


KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

MONTAGNE: Where your dad worked.


MONTAGNE: (Laughter).

KELLEY DEAL: And that's all true, by the way. I've seen the aliens.

MONTAGNE: (Laughter) I was wondering, were there little round pods that go...


MONTAGNE: Is there any song, if we were going to go out on one of the songs that you - would be a favorite?

KELLEY DEAL: You know, there's another song called "Dawn: Making An Effort."

MONTAGNE: I'm just looking at it.

KELLEY DEAL: And it's...

MONTAGNE: Three stars in my world.

KELLEY DEAL: When I listen to that, it makes me, you know, rally. Come on, you can do it. Just, like, just get - put your feet on the floor. OK. Avoid news...

KIM DEAL: (Laughter).

KELLEY DEAL: ...The news channel for five minutes. And just get out of bed, you know? And just show up and have a good day kind of thing. So I really liked that idea.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Kim and Kelley Deal of The Breeders. Their new album is called "All Nerve." And it's out now. It's been a pleasure.

KIM DEAL: Such a pleasure talking with you.

KELLEY DEAL: So nice talking with you. Thank you.


THE BREEDERS: (Singing) Smiling skulls. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.