Just as Blonder as Ever:
The Muffs Return Unchanged
It’s hard to comprehend why the Pixies ousted Kim Shattuck from their touring lineup last November. The Muffs singer and guitarist, who’d replaced Kim Deal as bassist, certainly had the chops, and there were no reports of botched performances. Still, she only lasted a few months. After talking with her for about 45 minutes, it’s now even more difficult for me, personally, to understand. Shattuck is cheerful, ending nearly every sentence with a giggle or a laugh. Her good humor is infectious; when the call ended, I found myself in an exceptionally positive mood.
At least there’s an obvious positive to her departure from the Pixies: The Muffs were able to focus on a new album. Whoop Dee Doo, their first LP in ten years, is due out July 29th, and it’s everything anyone who’s been a follower of the Muffs since their ’90s heyday could hope for. Shattuck managed to channel the same urgent angst and sandpaper-rough alt-pop as their debut, their sophomore (and fan favorite) Blonder and Blonder or any other Muffs work. You could tuck this brand-new collection in amongst the rest of their repertoire without sounding a single alarm.
“I think it’s just the way I am about what I listen to and stuff,” Shattuck says. “I’m really true to my own musical self. I don’t want to ever be stale, but at the same time I just have my own sensibility about song and melody and beat and guitar parts. I don’t think I really ever veered super far off of what I was trying to do in the first place.”
She did take some precautions, however, to ensure the sound was signature Muffs.
“When I finally started writing something earnest – when I knew we were going to record – I actually made myself little challenges. The challenges were to find my original roots again. You know, people get older, they get soft, they get mellow, or they get, like, super-duper lame, just boring. I’ve seen so many musical artists do that. Like, I can’t believe [it], you’re so good, your first and second album were so good, and your last album was just so boring! So I had it in my head that I don’t want to be that person,” she says.
In alphabetical order, Shattuck revisited old inspirations. Shortly after the letter B, she was ready to write.
“The Beach Boys, Blondie, Beatles, maybe I listened to the Creation, I forget,” she says. “But I was like, ‘Oh, I love this song, I used to be influenced by this…’ I wasn’t trying to copy these guys, I just had it in my head to revisit my original influences, which totally sprung me in a direction of being really into rock ‘n’ roll again. I had started to listen to more jazz and other kinds of music, and it kind of spun me back into rock. I really wanted this album…to be really energetic again – just aggressive, and to have moments that were just, like, aghhh! Big outbursts and stuff.”
Surprisingly, Shattuck, who produced the album, blames herself for how long it took to complete.
“I worked on it in earnest at some point before [my husband Kevin and I] moved, and at the end of 2011 I was doing it as a full-time job. From morning to night, I would just work on the album. But there was a lot of times there where there were distractions and I wasn’t able to work on it much. But the basic parts were done really super fast, in two days, then I was the one who dragged it [out], basically,” she laughs.
The Muffs are still Shattuck, Ronnie Barnett and Roy McDonald – the same lineup solidified in the mid-’90s. But it was former player Jim Lapesa – he was in the band only briefly before McDonald joined in his place – who should be credited for bringing them back together.
“[Lapesa] started having dinner parties where he invited all the people in the Muffs. Not everybody, but almost everybody who was in the Muffs….So we would have dinner parties and it had been a long time since I’d talked to the guys. And I admitted to them that I’d been writing and they were like, ‘What? You’re writing songs? What do you want to do with them?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know…,’” she says coyly. “Finally, Roy convinced me to email him some songs that I was working on. He wrote me back and he’s like, ‘Oh my fucking god, these are great. [Laughs] I’m like, ‘Really?’ …After that we started concocting a plan to record. Suddenly, me and Roy are having all these spirited conversations over the phone…and we got really excited, and starting doing it. It was fun.”
Shattuck’s vocals are perfectly raspy and the pace as immediate as ever throughout the whole platter, which comes off like sour bubblegum chewed with a snarl. “Weird Boy Next Door” leads with punchy guitar and plenty of screeches from Shattuck. There’s a handclap worthy beat on “Take a Take a Me” and a sauntering, swirling ballad in “Up and Down Around.” There’s a heavy ripper in there, too – “Lay Down (It’s So Much Better).” Whoop Dee Doo is all things Muffs, catchy and perpetually crunchy, 100 percent.
There is one fresh element, though. Shattuck wrote two odes to her husband: “Like You Don’t See Me” and the closer, “Forever.” The latter is a ballad with a little pep.
“It is totally about my husband. It’s funny because I get really embarrassed when I write songs that anybody will know what it’s about. It’s kind of stupid because I’m putting it out into the public but, at the same time, I’m like, errr…” she says.
She wrote it only a few years into their relationship. Adorable, quirky side note: They originally met at a barbecue, and the night ended at actor Bob Odenkirk’s home, where he’d set up an illegal casino that was eventually busted by the cops.
With the fact that the album turned out to be so stellar in mind, maybe we should be grateful the Pixies gave Shattuck the boot. Well, not entirely, of course – because she seems so nice, and the lead-up to the end wasn’t exactly pleasant. Though she kept her complaints to a minimum in recent press, she admitted the whole thing wasn’t exactly a peachy experience.
“You know, I was trying not to act out. But…when you get fired, obviously it’s kind of a big deal. You feel kind of shitty because you were just fired. I was trying to be gracious and not make a scene. I don’t want to seem like the retribution bitch, I don’t want to be like, ‘Ah, you fucked me over, man!’ I didn’t really think that was a good way to act. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m disappointed.’ I forget what I said now. I was disappointed and surprised, and I wish them all the luck. Because I do, you know.”
Shattuck says things were “mostly fine,” and confessed they were probably “a little bit of a mismatch personality-wise.” And, in retrospect, she sort of knew the end was nigh.
“They were, especially the drummer [David Lovering], was mad at me for jumping in the pit. After I jumped in the pit [at a show at the Mayan in LA], he stopped speaking to me for the whole entire first half of the tour – unless he was criticizing me for something I did onstage that he didn’t like. So I would try to just act like it wasn’t happening, and I’d just go, ‘Hey, Dave,’ and he would literally just…grumble. It was weird being in a band where somebody’s not speaking to you. It’s just weird. The second half of the tour happened and suddenly Dave was super friendly to me, and I was shocked. It actually brought up a red flag for me that he knew my time was limited. Because who doesn’t talk to you for the whole first half then suddenly is really nice to you the second half? It doesn’t make sense. I’m not used to people being that constipated about their emotions. I’m used to people who speak freely. Sometimes they shut down but mostly people just say what they want to say. If they’re mad they say they’re mad. That’s most of the people I know. But there’s some people who get really passive aggressive…I’ve never met those people until the Pixies stuff. When that happened, I had a feeling that something was limited on my end, ’cause why would you suddenly be so friendly with me? I sensed sort of that I he got a little bit of a talking to, like that wasn’t professional to ignore me and give me the cold shoulder or whatever. I’m sure that helped him break through that.”
I asked Shattuck: If they hadn’t fired her, would she have stayed in such a seemingly hostile environment?
“I was literally trying to think of a way to gently bow out,” she reveals. “I wanted to stay along for America. After that, it was going to be South America, and I started thinking, I don’t know how I’m going to be on this tour for that long, I can’t imagine it. And when they hired me they said it would be a year-and-a-half of off-and-on touring the whole time. Even the last show that I did, when we were…at the hotel [getting] ready to go to the airport, [the manager said] to make sure I got my passport renewed because I was going to need it for the tour. They were just tricky up until the last minute, hiding it from me. They just did not want me to know until I got home that I was fired. But…that’s fine because, honestly, it got me off the hook, and it was really fun doing the shows because the audiences were amazing. The audiences were absolutely so enthusiastic and sweet. Everyone was really nice to me crowd-wise, like nobody threw things at me or booed me or spit on me or anything. Everything was fine on that end. People were nice to me from the crowd standpoint. So I just figured it was all going fine, like the shows were, anyway. Yeah, I totally would have started getting really antsy about being in the band in the first place, and I really wanted to get our album out, the Muffs album. So I started to not know how I was going to do that and still be in the band – so it all worked out fine. And then they got somebody they really liked so, boom, its done!”
She ended that long-winded explanation with a lighthearted laugh, of course.