The Breeders: It's a drag to play "Cannonball" second in the set
All apologies to the folks that cringe at the thought, but for kids my age, Last Splash by the Breeders was like a wonderful alt-rock version of the Muppets. From the technicolor album cover featuring delicious strawberries, to the easily accessible melodies delivered by Kim Deal's sweet, breathy voice, Last Splash must've felt like a gift to cool parents of Millenials around the world.
As we've grown up, the appeal has only deepened, as has our appreciation for the subversive songwriting and seminal music produced by a group that many initially wrote off as a side-project. Last Splash turned 20 this year, and it's a testament to the quality of the record, that the five members of the Breeders that created it were able to reunite and do a wildly successful world tour. Gimme Noise spoke to bassist Josephine Wiggs about the album's legacy, and why she thinks they ought to have been a little more like Metallica.
Gimme Noise: So, how does it feel to have the whole Last Splash team back together again?
Josephine Wiggs: It's really nice, I have to say. Both personally and musically, it's worked out better than I think anyone could have expected, going into it. Because we hadn't played together in such a long time, abut when we were playing together it was a very intense time. We were together, more or less, for about two and a half years. Before making the album for about eight months, and then making it we toured all over the place pretty intensely, so we were together a lot. It's an interesting and unexpected thing to be playing with them again, and to be spending time with them and hanging out with them. It's a lot of fun.
Is there a chemistry unique to this lineup, to the five people that make up this tour?
I think so, I'm sure a lot of people think that about groups of people that they know [laughs]. But I do think that, I personally feel that there is a special chemistry between that particular group of people.
Minneapolis is the first show in a string of dates that you added to this tour to close out 2013. With so many dates already, this has been pretty much a whole year's worth of Last Splash for you.
We started at the beginning of May, we did a couple of warm-up shows and then our first official tour date was the 2nd of May, and we've been pretty much on the road since then. Alltogether, we will have played 60 shows this year, by the time we do our New Year's Eve show in Austin, Texas, that will be something like 59 shows.
As a musician and performer, How do you keep 20 year-old songs fresh after this many shows?
You know, it's funny, people have asked me that. Because ordinarily when you're touring you can change up the set, and bring in different songs, do things in a different order, and make it a little different every night. So this is for sure a different kind of a thing. You know what the set's going to be every night for sure, except for the six or seven songs we do every night as an encore, we change those around as much as we can.
But, I haven't got tired of it, to be honest. Every night that we come to do it, I still really enjoy the whole thing. When we first were running through the songs and thinking about this as a show, we realized the fact that we were going to have to play them in the order of the record, and play every single song on there, which you often don't do. You know, there's often songs on the album that don't work well live so you just don't do them. I have to say, I was really pleasantly surprised by how well that sequence works as a live show, and I think it's a testament to Kim in sequencing the record, in that it actually has a really good flow as a live show.
Yeah, I could see that. You start out with the big hit, "Cannonball," up front so that people aren't waiting for it.
Yes, although I have to tell you, that of all things is slightly perturbing about it. It's sometimes a drag to have to play that song as the second song. Because, you know, sometimes the sound hasn't been tweaked enough yet, or the room is suddenly full of people, however well-tuned it is during sound check, it's always going to be different when people arrive. Sometimes it's a little bit of a shame that we have to play that song as the second song in the set, because the sound isn't necessarily as good as it will be later on.
So, we did talk about it. When Metallica were doing a show behind their album [1991's Metallica], and their big hit was the first song on the first side, they decided to play it backwards, in reverse order so they would be able to end with the hit. I had suggested doing that, pick one of these shows and do it in reverse order just to see what it would be like. Wouldn't that be funny? We should have done that in Australia, we just came back from there.
At this point, Last Splash, Pod and Safari have around long enough to become legendary albums for rock 'n' roll kids my age. Have you talked to any teens or twentysomethings at shows?
After we play, people often say what an important record it was to the, because of when they heard it. Quite a number of people say "this is the first record I ever bought." So we often hear things like that. "Oh my god, this was such an important moment in my life, and I'll always think of that, and I still listen to it now," there's a lot of comments like that too. It's so funny the number of people that say "This is the first album that I bought, and it was on cassette." It's hilarious! Who buys cassettes now?
I think your legacy is especially strong with female rockers. Your band was happening at the same time Riot Grrl was blowing up. Did you feel at all allied with that scene, back then, or now in retrospect?
Obviously, we were aware of it, and we were aware of the commentary of it being somehow new and different that there were so many bands that either had a frontwoman or were more women-men, and that some tipping point had been reached. We were aware of being a part of that, but from our own point of view we didn't really think of that as anything that we were doing in a self conscious way, the way that I think that bands that were more closely associated with Riot Grrl probably were. It was kind of a political statement to them, and I think for us it was more of a personal statement, just by virtue of the time and the place became political, or other people thought that it was political. I'm not sure that it was so much for us, we were setting that as an example rather than making a statement about it.
When people talk about Last Splash as being your band's big pop-hits album, I think it unfortunately neglects a lot of the more experimental deep cuts like "Mad Lucas" and "Hag."
Well, I don't think we ever played "Mad Lucas" live before, 20 years ago I don't think we ever played it. We did play "Roi," I remember we did play that, which is more of a deeper cut on the record. But when we played it before, we didn't have that long, trippy Moog [synthesizer] section in the middle. We didn't have a Moog, and we didn't have any way of reproducing that, so I think we just shortened that middle section to do it live. But because we wanted to recreate the album we actually tracked down the guy whose Moog she borrowed 20 years ago, and played all the parts again and put them into a sampler, which we do bring with us, so we can recreate that section in the middle, which we had never done before.
I don't really feel like there were really songs that were underrated, because every song is so different from every other song. That's one thing that really struck me coming back to it to relearn it. There's a lot of bands where you put their record on and the songs are basically interchangeable, both in terms of instrumentation and speed and mood and cadence. Whereas each song on this record is radically different from the each other one, so I think that they always work.
The Breeders. With Speedy Ortiz. $25, 7 p.m., Thursday, December 12 at First Avenue. Tickets here.
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