The Breeders - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Though initially started as a side project from the bands the Pixies and Throwing Muses, The Breeders have gone on, in their odd way and with many stops and starts in between, to be one of the more influential, and longest lived, bands to emerge from the 1990's alternative explosion. Though it didn't start out that way, The Breeders have also become the main musical vehicle for it's only constant member, Kim Deal.
In 1988, while on tour together in Europe, Tanya Donelly, then second guitarist and vocalist with Boston band Throwing Muses, and Pixies bassist Kim Deal came up with plans to do a musical project together in their down-time from their principle bands. The two also recruited violinist and vocalist Carrie Bradley from the band Ed's Redeeming Qualities, and named themselves The Breeders, a name Deal had used years before in a folk rock band with her twin sister Kelley. The trio recorded a demo tape, (with the help of guest drummers and bassist Ray Halliday), played one gig in Boston, and, on something of a lark, sent the tape to Ivo Watts-Russell, the head of 4AD, the record label that had signed both the Pixies and Throwing Muses. To their surprise, Watts-Russell loved the demo tape and gave the trio a budget for re-recording the songs for an album release. The Breeders recruited Steve Albini, who had recorded the Pixies and many other American underground groups, to pack up and travel to Edinburgh, Scotland to record them. Soon Bradley left the band, so the duo of Deal and Donelly was joined by the Perfect Disaster's Josephine Wiggs on bass, and still being without a drummer, Albini suggested that they ask Britt Walford, the former drummer of Louisville indie band Slint, to see if he would be interested. Deal talked to Walford, and convinced him to play on what would become their first album, Pod (4AD), released in 1990. (Walford, however, used the pseudonym “Shannon Doughton” on the album). The recording of the album only took a week, and Albini has later remarked that he got some of the best sound from a band that he had ever gotten during the course of the Pod sessions. Though the album was critically praised, it didn't sell very well, though it did have it's devoted fans, including one named Kurt Cobain. Through Cobain's championing and fan word-of-mouth, the album eventually gained a small audience, though it's members returned to their primary bands after the album was released.
Deal recorded the albums Bossanova and Trompe le Monde with the Pixies, but by 1991 the band was less active and Deal's role in the band was becoming more and more diminished as time went on. Because of this, she started writing more material for a new Breeders release, and got together with her sister Kelley to flesh out some new ideas. Soon Kelley was recruited into the band, and the Deal sisters, Donelly, Wiggs, and Walford, (now cheekily billed as “Mike Hunt”), recorded the 4 song EP Safari (4AD), released in 1992. After the release of the EP, Donelly left both The Breeders and Throwing Muses and formed her own band, Belly. Though they had not officially broken up yet, the Pixies were no longer an active band, so Kim Deal continued on writing new material and considering The Breeders as her main musical project. Walford, always shaky on his membership in the band in the first place, decided to leave, and was replaced by drummer Jim MacPherson. The Breeders were now a full-fledged band, ready to tour and record, and went out as an opening act for Nirvana during their European tour of 1992. Once the Pixies had officially broken up in 1993, the road was clear to record another Breeders album. The new line-up of the Deal sisters, Wiggs, and MacPherson, (with Bradley guesting on violin and vocals), recorded Last Splash (4AD), released in August of 1993. This time, not only was the album well received by critics, but now the record-buying public knew who they were, and it helped propel the album to as high as #33 on the Billboard Album Charts. The album was also helped along by the single “Cannonball”, and the accompanying video that was directed by Spike Jonze and Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon. The band toured heavily supporting the album, even appearing as part of the massive traveling Lollapalooza festival. It seemed the stage was set to move the band to an even higher level of popularity, but it was not to be.
Both Kelley and Kim Deal had been battling alcohol and substance abuse problems since they were in their teens, and Kelley in particular had been a heroin user for quite a long time. In 1995, she was caught in a drug bust after accepting a package of heroin that was sent to her house, and was sent into rehab in lieu of a prison sentence. This effectively put a hold on The Breeders, so while her sister was trying to get her life together, Kim Deal formed the side band The Amps with MacPherson, guitarist Nate Farley and bassist Luis Lerma. The Amps recorded the album Pacer (4AD) together in 1995 and played a series of tours to support the album. The album sold only modestly, and many people viewed it as a placeholder until the next Breeders album. When Kelley Deal successfully completed her rehabilitation, she formed the short lived bands the Kelley Deal 6000 and the Last Hard Men, a motley band that included Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, Jimmy Flemion from The Frogs, and Jimmy Chamberlin from the Smashing Pumpkins. Kim Deal resurrected The Breeders name in 1996, basically leading the same line-up as The Amps with the addition of Carrie Bradley on violin. The band tried to record another album together in 1997, but the sessions soon fell apart and nothing was deemed salvageable. Kelley rejoined The Breeders in 1997 and wrote songs with her sister, but nothing would be recorded until 2001, with the exception of the cover song “Collage”, which was included on The Mod Squad soundtrack in 1999.
The Deal sisters laid low until 2001, during which time they moved from Ohio to Los Angeles and recruited a new line-up to play a series of live shows. The new version of The Breeders included both Deal sisters on vocals and guitars, guitarist Richard Presley, drummer Jose Medeles, and bassist Mando Lopez. The five-piece recorded the album Title TK (4AD)(2002) again with Steve Albini, and the record had a fuzzier, more lo-fi feel than some of their previous work. Though the album didn't generate the kind of sales the band had seen earlier in their career, it did modestly well and re-established them again as a group. The band toured extensively in Europe and North America to support the album, and then took a break again in 2003. In 2004, the surprise announcement was made that the Pixies would reunite to stage a series of tours in North America and Europe, so that put a hold on any Breeders activities for a while, though Kelley did get to accompany her sister on the tour to keep her company and to make sure she didn't slip back into any bad habits. (By this time, both Deal sisters were clean and sober). The Deal sisters used their time on the road together to their advantage, and wrote material for a new Breeders album, though nothing was recorded until 2007. In the spring of 2008, a new Breeders album, titled Mountain Battles (4AD), appeared. This time The Breeders were a four piece consisting of the Deal sisters, Lopez and Medeles. The album garnered mostly favorable reviews and the band has been back on the road, now supplemented by live guitarist Cheryl Lindsey, promoting the album since it's release. In 2009 the band released the Fate To Fatal EP, and in 2013 got together the original Last Splash line up for a 20th anniversary celebration tour.