Originally starting out as a side project of Pixies’ Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses, The Breeders went through several lineup changes before releasing their seminal album Last Splash in 1993. Despite receiving widespread acclaim and commercial success, Deal sent the band into indefinite hiatus in 1995. With Deal and her sister Kelly being the only constant members, several albums were released with other personnel until in 2012, it was announced that Deal was reforming the 1993 lineup to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the release of Last Splash and the band embarked on a world tour. Fast forward another five years and The Breeders have released a new album, All Nerve, and are set to return to Australia for the first time since 2013, kicking off their tour in Perth on November 28. Bass player Josephine Wiggs took some time out recently to talk to HURB JEPHASUN about reformations, recording and being back on the road.
Congratulations on the new album. I’ve really been enjoying it and it seems to have been very well receive across the board…
How did it feel getting back with the band after such a long break? Did you find it difficult or was it like putting on a comfy old pair of slippers?
It was actually surprisingly easy. We got back together again to do the 20th anniversary of the Last Splash record. So, when we were meeting to get ready for that tour and playing the songs from that record, I think everybody was struck by how much it sounded like a record just because of it being the same people that had made the record. So musically it went very smoothly and it was a lot of fun to do… for me anyway, to have a chance to play those songs again after a break of twenty years. Some of them are super fun to play. Cannonball, especially, is probably the one that’s the most fun of that age of songs.
And personally, it was very easy as well because we were all so familiar with each other from having spent such a lot of time together in the early 90s. It was very enjoyable and very easy and a very fun thing to do.
When it came to the new album, how did you find recording that? How does it work? Do you all get together or are the songs already formed before you get to hear them?
It varies a lot. There were a couple of songs that Kim (Deal) had, one in particular (Walking With A Killer) was already pretty fully formed and she’d actually released it as a solo track. So we were just playing the parts that she’d already laid down. But other songs, she’d arrive with a riff or a couple of chords and we spent a long time in rehearsal working on stuff. I would go out to Dayton (Ohio) where the other three of them live, at the time I was living in New York, and once every six weeks or so I would go out and spend a week or two there rehearsing with them. We put in many, many hundreds of hours of working on those songs and examining every note and every chord change. Everything was under scrutiny and it was very much a group effort in terms of how it came out.
Was the actual recording process easy and how was it working with Steve Albini again?
I recorded the first Breeders album Pod with Steve Albini. It was fun to see him and be in the studio with him again after all that time. But, I have to tell you, the bulk of the album was not done with Steve Albini. It was done with a guy called Mike Montgomery in Dayton, Kentucky, which is about an hour away from Dayton, Ohio. For the Last Splash anniversary tour Mike Montgomery was our stage tech and he’s also bandmates with Kelley. He’s an all-round great musician and great guy, and he has a recording studio that we went to in 2015 with a view to making some demos and checking out the studio. We were there for a week or 10 days and at the end of the session we were listening back to what we had done and we felt like the sounds we were getting were really great, so we just carried on working in his studio. I would say 80% of All Nerve was recorded at Mike’s studio in Kentucky. There were only two backing tracks that were recorded at Albini’s and Kim did some overdubbing of guitars and vocals with him.
Once you’d finished recording I imagine there would have been some trepidation releasing a new album after so long. Now that it’s out and has been so well received, do you feel a sense of relief?
In a way, part of the reason why I liked the title of All Nerve was that I did think that it was kind of a nervy thing to do; to get back together and release a new record after all that time, without any idea if people were interested or whether it would be any good or not. When we were making it, for me I was mainly interested in making the best songs we could possibly make and having the best time that we could have doing it, and if the result was a record that people liked, then that would be a bonus. But I kind of felt that we made it because we wanted to make it. It wasn’t like we had a record company asking us to make a record. We’d finished the record by the time we got into discussions with 4AD about them putting it out. So I feel like it was a project for us. We wanted to make a record in order to be able to carry on playing and keep touring and playing in front of people because it had been so nice to be playing those songs and seeing how much it means to people. Not only people that remember it from the early ’90s but people who know the records and had never seen us play; who were too young to have seen us play, actually. Literally every night we play someone comes up to me and says “I really love this record and never thought I’d get the chance to see them played live”. It’s like being Led Zeppelin or something like that (laughs).
You’re coming back to Australia, kicking off here in Perth on November 28. It’s been a while since you were last here so are you all looking forward to it and do you have many memories of playing over here?
The first time that we came over was for Big Day Out which I think was in January 1994. We had an absolute blast! It was so fantastic! Kim might have been to Australia before that but none of the rest of us had ever been there. We loved it. It was super fun doing the festival shows. I think Bjork was on the same bill and maybe The Smashing Pumpkins also. From my point of view, the best thing was that we had ever so many days off because of it being a festival. Literally we’d play a show then have a day off then play a show and have two days off. So, there was a lot of time for enjoying being in the different cities and being in places we’d never been before. That’s my memory of it. We came back again in 2013. It’s always fun to play there.
Do you like touring in general?
I do. It’s funny because 20 years ago I’m not sure that I did really enjoy touring so much. I think that maybe because we were on the road for two years straight and by the end of it I was completely over it. We finished by doing the Lollapalooza tour which was three months of basically a festival every day. I found it extremely tiresome, whereas Kim, Kelly and Jim, if you talk to them about it they’re like “Oh my God! We had the best time ever!”. It was like a party every day. All day, every day party.
I didn’t know how I was going to find touring this time around but I actually really kind of like it. I like it once you get into the groove, once you surrender to it. The last time we went out we were touring for three months earlier this year. We left at the end of March and didn’t get back until the beginning of August actually. I remember meeting up with Kelly the morning that we left. We were standing in the street waiting to go to the airport and she was saying “I’m not ready for this”. I told her that you just have to surrender. Surrender to the rhythm of it and everything will be fine.
You’re playing in Australia and New Zealand. What’s happening after that? Are you having a break or are you going to keep touring?
Actually, at the moment that’s the end of it. We don’t have anything booked after that. We’ve been playing live since January. We did a brief promo tour of Europe in January and February and then March through to August we did six weeks in The States and six weeks going around Europe. We’re off right now, we have a five or six week break before getting together again and doing The United States again. In a month’s time we’ll be doing another three weeks then another three weeks in Europe before heading down to Australia and New Zealand. But if people ask us to play, we will come! There’s been talk of doing some festivals next year but I’m not sure how much more touring for the record we’ll be doing next year.
With the new album being to so well received and you all enjoying playing and touring together again, is there any talk of another record coming?
Yes, there’s been talk of that. A month or so ago, Kim and Kelly were saying something about recording new stuff. There was a text flurry yesterday about how Kim had an idea for a song and wanted Jim to go over and work on it in the afternoon before he goes off on holiday. I think it’s possible that it will happen; once we get off the road though. It’s hard to mix that in with the touring schedule that we’ve had. We’ve had no time because we’ve been promoting the last record. But I think it’s likely.
Just before I let you go, I told a bass player friend of mine that I was going to be speaking to you and I was told that I had to ask what kind of bass you’re playing at the moment…
Well, I’m still playing my Music Man. I can’t really get away from it because that’s the sound of the songs on Last Splash. It was recorded on the Music Man so I have to keep that one with me. But since last autumn I’ve also been playing a Fender Jaguar. I got it because a friend of mine lent me his. I like the way it looks and I played around with it and, you know how it is, different instruments cause you to play in a different way. They’ll bring out different ideas and a different way of playing, and you interact with them in a different way depending on how the instrument is. There was something about the Jaguar that I really like. I like the shape of the neck and the width of the fret board. So I decided to get one after I had to give back the one that I’d borrowed and I’ve been playing that.
Also, the other bass that I play a lot is the Rickenbacker which is what I recorded Pod with. When we did the tour in 2013 I actually took it out on the road because after we’d played Last Splash, for the encore we played all of Pod and I wanted to take the Rickenbacker out with me in order to do that. I didn’t want to take it out with me again for this batch of touring because it’s a 1974 and I’m a little bit nervous about taking it on the road and something happening to it.