A new decade eventually offered renewed promise for The Breeders – although it didn’t start off that way. By 2010 and 2011, Kim’s time was taken up by extensive world tours with the reunited Pixies, and there were no plans for her other band. In early summer 2012, however, the Deal sisters, sitting on the couch in Dayton, realised that the following year would mark two decades since Last Splash’s release. They tentatively contacted Wiggs and Macpherson. “To be asked to do the anniversary of the album was a highlight,” says the drummer. “I was just so happy.”
Wiggs had filled in briefly for Lopez a few years before, and had had “a little taster of recapturing the past… It was so delightful to play with them again, and to play those songs again. So when they contacted Jim and I in 2012, I had already had the experience of playing with them sober, and it was really fantastic. There’s something special about The Breeders, it’s not like anything else. So because of that, I was like, ‘It’s worth talking the chance of it turning into a nightmare.’”
By autumn 2012, Jim had his drums set up in Kim’s basement ready for rehearsals in November, but Kim was in Rockfield Studios in Wales recording with Pixies. “It was all confusing, the timing of everything,” she remembers. “It was a beautiful place in Wales. But outside at night it was so dark – it was the darkest dark I’ve ever darked before in my life!”
After five days, Kim walked out of the sessions and flew back to Dayton. She denies it was a matter of choosing between Pixies and The Breeders, though. “I can’t necessarily say that if The Breeders thing wasn’t happening I would have stayed there, so it would be kind of misleading to say, ‘Yeah, I had to make a choice…’ But it would be tidy and probably put an end to the conversation if I said, ‘Yeah, I needed to make a choice.’ But that feels a little not real. I did make a choice, though, so in a way it is true.”
Finally, in March 2013, the group embarked on their anniversary tour for Last Splash, adding material from Pod to the setlists, then a few tracks from Title TK and new songs such as “All Nerve” and “Blues At The Acropolis”.
“When the Last Splash tour was coming to an end,” says Wiggs, “we had all had such a great time, being together again and playing those songs and feeling like we had something that was worth continuing. We thought, ‘Shouldn’t we carry on past it just being the anniversary year?’ In order to carry on you have to have new material, so we started the process of kicking around ideas.”
“There was no talk of doing any new music together,” says Kelley. “Until we started playing together and doing shows. And then it was like, ‘This is so fun, it sounds so good!’”
Although Kim has her own 16-track tape machine, they went further afield to record All Nerve, tracking a couple of songs at Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. Most of the album, however, was done at Candyland in Dayton, Kentucky, owned and operated by Mike Montgomery, the band’s live tech and Kelley’s partner in the group R Ring. “It was a classic analogue record,” explains Montgomery. “Get a bunch of reels of tape, do takes until they’re happy with it, and just go from there. Their workflow is so different to a lot of bands out there.”
“Kim’s pretty steeped in the traditional methods,” says Albini. “That is, you write the song, rehearse it and arrange it, then record it. In that order.”
The group weren’t short of material, even if some of it had unusual origins: “Nervous Mary”, for instance, came from a tune that Kim would sing to herself in the shower back in the ’80s, while first single “Wait In The Car” stemmed from a “stupid-sounding” riff that Title TK-era guitarist Richard Presley came up with in the early 2000s.
“When we get together, the first 50 ideas are like, ‘Urgh, why do I suck so bad?’” says Kelley. “And then we’ll re-write a Cher song [by mistake]. Jim’s the easiest to satisfy – I’m not saying he would take anything, but me and Jo and Kim, we would arm-wrestle on any given day about any particular thing. Many of these songs have been written, rewritten, torn apart and then rewritten again.”
“In my experiences with her, Kim was always a very on-deck bandleader,” says Tanya Donelly. “She has the rare ability to be at the helm while also genuinely encouraging as much creative input as possible from other musicians.”
“MetaGoth”, then, one of the highlights of All Nerve, finds Deal switching to bass and letting Wiggs take the lead. Kim and Macpherson came up with the riff while jamming on “Wait In The Car”, but soon realised it could stand on its own. “The next time I showed up to rehearsal,” says Wiggs, “Kim was like, ‘I’m playing bass on this one’, handed me this guitar and said, ‘Here, you play something…’”
“‘Try to be useful,’” laughs Kim. “Hey, do you wanna talk about what it’s about, or is that stuff you don’t talk about?”
“MetaGoth is how I feel,” says Wiggs after a long pause. “I was a goth in the original days. We used to go down to the local pub in Baldock on a Saturday night and I would be wearing a Dracula cape I’d made. It had a red silk lining.”
“‘Howl At The Summit’ comes from me taking mushrooms in, like, 1999 or 2000,” explains Kim, “and I’ve kept this little four-track of this two-minute piece of tape – the rest of the tape I’m just groaning, going, ‘Aaaarghhhhhhhh…’ ’cos I’m high on mushrooms! I thought I would get this incredibly creative artistic work, but I’m just moaning by myself in a room.”
The finished song, enriched by synth strings and now sounding a little like “I Am The Walrus”, features Courtney Barnett and her band on backing vocals; Barnett and Kim became friends after appearing together on a podcast, and the group invited the Australians to stop by in the studio while they were in Ohio for a festival. Despite its psilocybic inspiration, though, the only drug that Kim or any of the band involve themselves with now is catnip, which she grows for Kelley’s cat Blackberry and Jim’s cat Tallulah. “I’m the person you go see about it. It’s homegrown, it’s the best. Cats go fucking crazy for it!
“I feel like when we’re down there in the basement practising a song, I don’t want to bore anybody,” she says, discussing her songs’ compact lengths. “You just want the good parts. The worst thing it could be is sort of background. But six months later, I’ll think, ‘Why didn’t we add an intro? This music sounds good, why aren’t we playing? Do I have to be singing the whole time?’ So I’m torn – obviously I struggle with overstaying my welcome.”
“Honestly, I think there are some of their strongest songs on here,” says Mike Montgomery. “I’d put them up against any of Kim’s songs on previous albums.”
“I feel like there has to be a point to a song,” she explains, “something that seems cool enough about the song that I think makes its existence worthwhile.”