The Breeders: Twisted Sisters

If her sister Kim was in need, Kelley Deal would be the first to steal Vicodin from a stranger’s medicine cabinet.

The Breeders release albums so infrequently (this month's Mountain Battles is just the fourth in 18 years) that guitarist Kelley Deal may be better known for playing caretaker to her twin, Pixies bassist and Breeders leader Kim, than for her musical abilities. This was particularly evident in loudQUIETloud, the stellar documentary about the Pixies' 2004 reunion tour. See, Kim, who went through drug and alcohol rehab in 2002, agreed to the Pixies revival on three conditions: no alcohol in the band's dressing rooms, a separate SUV to travel in, and Kelley coming along for the ride. Kelley says the three Pixies not named Deal "have no female in them at all," so her role (in 2004) was just "hanging out, being a sister." "There is a symbiotic relationship," Kelley says by phone from her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, "where I take care of her [Kim], she takes care of me. It depends on that day who needs taking care of." Perhaps because they are identical twins, the Deals are ever-present for one another. And though they've been through one rehab apiece (Kelley, older by 11 minutes, went first here too, following a 1995 heroin bust), Kelley insists that the rock-'n'-roll road offers no greater temptations than those found in Dayton. "When I was doing the Kelley Deal 6000," she says of her 1996 post-rehab band, "I had just gotten sober, so it was a pretty precarious feeling. This girl came up to me, and she had a couple bags of powder heroin in her hand. I just turned away and fled. But you know what? I wasn't tempted. "However, let me tell you, when I go to 'civilians' homes' and I open their medicine cabinet—because that's what I do...I have taken Vicodin out of people's medicine chests," she adds. "In my parents' house, in my brother's house, in my friend's house, in this stranger that I don't know's house. I find that way more precarious than being handed, like, a bag of smack at a concert." Kelley pauses—whether to let the effect of her words hit me or for them to boomerang back onto herself, I don't know. But then she laughs. "That's so depressing," she says between chuckles. "When I talk about shit like that, it's like, 'What is wrong with me?'" Yes, a conversation with one of the unabashed Deal sisters, like the music of the Breeders, is wild, wacky, waggish, and more than a touch whimsical. Mountain Battles offers an especially idiosyncratic, intoxicating mix of melodic innocence: single-finger guitar parts (another reason Kelley may be better known as a caretaker) over schoolyard rhythms with matching messages of musical guilelessness. Kelley sings a song in Spanish (though she doesn't speak Spanish). Kim sings a song in German (though she doesn't speak German). "Istanbul" includes phrasing presumptively purloined from a jump-rope session ("Where ya going?/To the city/Where ya going?/To the city/Where ya going?/Is-tan-bul!"), and Battles begins with "Overglazed," an infectious calling card in which "I can feel it" represents the entire lyric. But though Kelley actively assisted as adviser and advocate during the writing of Mountain Battles—some of which continued through the Pixies reunion she chaperoned—she receives no songwriting credits. "A lot of times, just because it's not on the album itself doesn't mean that I won't be getting any royalties from it," Kelley laughs. "My job is to be encouraging, to help, to collaborate, to come up with parts, to come up with arrangements, things like that, but not to bring the lyrics to it." Does that mean that the Breeders are, in fact, her sister's band? "No," Kelley says. "It's Kim's and my band, but I let her think it's her band. And she probably lets me think it's our band. It's a total mindfuck."

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