The Head of the Cult

Post-rehab and on sabbatical from the Breeders, Kelley Deal is still in search of bliss.

As Deal tells it, the pattern of who led and who followed--at least musically--was set in her family early on. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, she says, "Me and Kim used to go to truckstops and bars, saloons; she played guitar, and we sang. We played Hank Williams songs, we played Bonnie & Delaney songs, we did an Elvis Costello song, we did lots of [Kim's] originals." Then Kelley went to L.A. to work as a computer analyst for Hughes Aircraft, where Kim planned to join her. Instead, Kim married, moved to Boston, and answered an ad that led to the Pixies.

As legend has it, Kelley learned how to play the guitar in the month after Kim called her up about a vacancy in her own band, the Breeders. Who, though they've been on hiatus since Kim harried her twin into treatment, are still very much a living entity. Kelley spent a week in April touring with Kim's garage band the Amps out in California, hanging out and singing with her sister. "The Breeders aren't broken up," she states firmly. "The Breeders are not broken up. Kim and I are talking about doing some writing soon. The Amps are doing festivals in Europe the month of July, and then in August we'll maybe spend a couple weeks in Dayton to play with [Jim] MacPherson, the drummer, and Josephine [Wiggs, the Breeders' bassist]."

Meantime, the Kelley Deal 6000 has an album to support and a summer West Coast tour set up with Cakelike. Has there been any readjustment of power within the Breeders camp, now that Kelley has her own publishing deal? "It's interesting that you should ask that," drawls Deal. "Because, I kind of tested those waters this past week"--she pauses for comic effect--"and the answer would be 'no' on that." The band laughs; Deal smiles ruefully. "And it's OK--it really is OK--I just have to see how that's gonna work for me and put it then in its place."

But she will be writing with Kim? "Yeah, if I'm there and want to do that. I don't know. I felt like I cowrote with Last Splash but... apparently, she didn't. We were down in the basement for a year; I mean, I wrote parts and stuff like that. You write a solo, and she takes it and uses it for the melody--I think that's cowriting. I don't know, maybe it's not."

Watching the 6000 practice in Deal's St. Paul basement, the writer guesses that the Breeders' commander-in-chief may eventually run into a smidgen of insurrection. Because Kelley--without being boorish about it--is quite clear about what she wants to hear. She instructs relative newcomer Salett on his guitar and effect settings, straightens some confusion about a particular song structure, cheerleads the band through the set. "It's really weird," muses the benevolent dictator, "when you work with people that are really good, they have really great ideas, but it's almost like, 'OK, save that... this is something different.'

"They have so many ideas, we have a problem practicing the set," Deal says affectionately, "'cause we always start messing around." Future 6000 compositions, she jokes, will have quicker tempos, because Hook and Salett are erstwhile punkers and Nedich is a recovering--"Can I say it?" she asks and gets a nod--crackhead. "So they're up here, and I'm this: 'Waaaiiiit, let's just slow down more,'" she says, her voice going bourbon syrupy.

At this point, the interviewer can only shake her head, amazed at how up-front Deal is about a subject that even rock & rollers like to keep out of the newspapers.

"Why wouldn't I talk about it?" Deal wonders earnestly. "What would it be saving? Ohhhh, drugs?" she oozes archly, channeling Greta Garbo, "I don't wanna talk about it. That would be more of statement--using it as some sort of personality thang or piece of mystery. Where it's not about that at all. It's about"--she starts slapping her knee in time with the words--"I am a drug addict, I love drugs, loved 'em since I was 14, been arrested, felony, sent to treatment. I've had a lot of consequences. I'm not that precious about it."

So what's a pragmatically sober person doing naming her band after a hippie cult, which, as Deal describes it, seems to focus on attaining "higher" spirituality through drugs and free love? "In the halfway house, I met somebody who used to be in the Arican cult. And when I was in treatment, especially at the beginning, AA seemed like such a fucking cult thing--there's all this God stuff everywhere. My dad is a physicist, my mom is Pentecostal Holiness, the two do not meld. I don't have any idea about God. I'm just so confused about the issue. So for me to just open my heart up to 'God,' or 'how you understand it'... thing is, I don't understand it, don't want to really."

"But, in Arica there are states of ecstasy?" the interviewer asks, seeking a connection.

"Yes, states. Very good," praises the singer, in schoolteacher mode. "State three is like total serenity."

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