Once upon a time, I used to be a music writer. It was during that time, writing for the greatly underrated, dearly departed Band Bombshell, that I first had the chance to chat with Muffs founder Kim Shattuck.
Shattuck passed away in the latest hours of Oct 2, after a two year sparring match with ALS. Shattuck was a one of a kind personality and joy of a human being to know. While certainly not anything you could reasonably call “friends,” she was the only “name” musician I interviewed with whom I maintained any kind of correspondence after our initial chat.
Below is the transcript of my Band Bombshell interview with Shattuck, originally printed May 9, 2014, shortly after her all-too-brief stint replacing Kim Deal as bassist for The Pixies. Rest easy, Kim. I’ve got “Blonder and Blonder” on repeat today.
“They didn’t vet me very well.”: Kim Shattuck Talks Touring With The Pixies, Her Soon to Be Released New Album and The Return of The Muffs
Kim Shattuck is one of a kind. Former bassist for The Pandoras. Founder/guitarist/front woman of The Muffs. Erstwhile Pixie. Owner of one of the greatest primal screams in music.
The Muffs are gearing up to hit the road later this year, in support of their fifth studio album—and first in 10 years—slated to drop this July on Burger Records. The group took a kind of break in 2013, when Shattuck joined up with The Pixies that July, replacing Kim Deal on bass. Though embraced by fans and widely praised for her work with the band, Shattuck's Pixies tenure would prove to be short lived, as the band announced her departure that following November, shortly after a European swing.
Shattuck's personality was never a comfortable mesh with the more subdued Pixies, and now she's back doing what she does best full-time. The Muffs are playing Burger Records' “Burger Boogaloo” in Oakland, CA on July 5 & 6, with their new album slated for release shortly thereafter.
I chatted with Shattuck over the phone back in April, and it was just about the most fun I've had. As an expected 20-minute interview stretched into two hours, we talked about her time as a Pixie, the new album, and what it's like getting back into the swing of things with The Muffs.
Band Bombshell: How did you get hooked up with The Pixies? Because in my head, I like to imagine that (Pixies frontman) Black Francis brings people in the same way he tells them it's over, and that you just woke up one day to a fax that said “thank you for joining The Pixies...”
Kim Shattuck: It was almost like that! It was strange. I didn’t really know any of them. Then, out of the blue, he asked me to do a benefit. It turns out that our old sound guy was working with Francis on his tour and I guess he sort of put the bug in his ear that I was cool and stuff. So I did the benefit. Played three Pixies song and one Muffs song—which they did waaay too slow.
I could see them playing that too slow. It's the kind of song you have to really attack.
It was weird, playing “Oh Nina” with someone else. (Muffs drummer) Roy McDonald is the best drummer in the universe!
Yeah. So then, MUCH later, I get this DM on Twitter from Francis, saying he wanted to send me music. So I replied back, kind of saying “yeah, as long as you wrote it...” Then I didn't hear from him for a while, and kind of forgot about it. Then I got a message saying “would you like to be the bass player for The Pixies?” He'd never even sent me the music!
Did you you say yes right away?
I said yeah, sure, that'll be cool. I don't really know what's going on here, but that would be great.
What was the first show with them like?
It was cool. We were playing at The Echo. It was one of those dumb, super secret shows that rock stars do. You know, the ones where they tell people, but they don't TELL people?
Were you nervous? Being “New Kim” and all?
I don't get nervous, but I definitely had a lot of anticipation. The fans were great about it though.
Was there a lot of prep time beforehand?
I did a lot of practicing on my own, because their songs, they're not the Ramones. They're complicated. Kind of self-consciously complicated. So we all practiced three times a week. And I didn't get paid for it. Did not. Get. Paid. So I feel like a chump for that.
Then there was a show last fall at The Mayan, where you got yelled at for stage diving.
Yeah! I was playing these shows—we'd already been trying to feel it out because my personality and theirs were different. So I was trying to feel it out to make sure that I wasn't going to be super annoying to them. Because they're kind of corpse-like on stage. They get up there and play the songs and that's it. And that's totally fine, but I'm more boppy on stage. So at the Mayan, I started coming into my own a little more. I was testing my boundaries a little—you know like a toddler would? So I jumped into the pit. I didn't stage dive in the literal sense, because I don't like getting groped and having fingers put up my butt, which tends to happen.
So they seriously didn't know what your stage presence was like before hiring you?
They didn't vet me very well.
What was the Europe tour like?
We didn't do anything. It was just: hotel, gig, hotel. If nobody wants to hang out and I'm just stuck in a foreign country with no friends, it's boring. I think I just slept most of the time. It was depressing, touring with them.
Then they had their manager let you go.
Over the phone. He said they decided to go with a different bass player. I said 'did I suck?' and he said no. So I said OK. What am I gonna do? I feel good about my time with them.
Did you learn anything from your time with them? Would you do it again with another band?
Sure, if the right situation came up. But I would get paid for rehearsals. That would be one thing that I'd ask for.
Has the experience turned you off to them?
It's hard for me to say 'yes' to that, because I don't really like that many bands. I really like the Pixies. I'm not that enthused about listening to them right now because I'm burned out, but I was a fan of theirs.
OK, enough Pixies stuff. The Muffs finally have a new album that's going to drop this year. It's been a long time coming.
Very! We'd been working on the Muffs album since 2010. I demoed all the songs and recorded all the songs in '10. I was working on it sporadically in 2011 and in earnest in the later part of 2011. So once that was done we had to get it mixed. When it comes to studio time, we're getting a bro deal, so it's not being mixed in earnest. It's whenever we can get it in.
I assume things were on hold the last part of 2013.
Yeah, I was ready to go get it mastered right when I started finding out all the Pixies stuff. Summer of 2013, basically. I took some time off because I was doing my whole life. By the fall I started hearing from Francis, and it was like 'shit. This is starting to make my life a little too full.' The guys were cool about it. In fact, when I was with the Pixies in Europe was when I was handling all the business stuff with Muffs, getting the labels in place.
You're doing your own legwork, shopping the album and booking shows?
We have been lately. When we started we had the whole shebang. We had a label and managers and lawyers.
How's that experience been?
We might not be, like, smooth and knowledgeable, but we're learning.
Do you like it this way? Doing things on your own?
Sort of. I'm starting to want help again with certain things. Between Roy and myself we usually do the managing aspect. And it's great. (Muffs bassist Ronnie Barnett's) starting to kick in with tours and we're starting to glide into doing it pretty automatically.
What's the new album called?
KS: We're keeping it hush hush. It's funny, kinda. Well, it's not FUNNY-funny, but it'll be more fun to find out when it comes out.
Is it still slated for late spring?
Nah, it's going to be in the Summer. I just turned it into the labels this week (first week in April). So call it four months from now.
How many tracks?
I think 12. It's six on one side and six on the other. I'm very, very proud of them. The last listen I did, I was just freaking out. It's really something I'm proud of.
Are you already looking ahead to the next one? Are you writing more songs?
I write off and on no matter what's going on. On my first break from the Pixies, I did write some songs that I liked, so those are around. Then when I got fired, I didn't really feel like writing. Then I wrote some kid songs that I'm going to put out with my sister. But that's something else that I'm going to work on. The last two days I've been writing again and I just wrote a REALLY good song that I'm really excited about.
What's your writing process like?
Well one of the ways I write is I'll do bits and pieces. And if a bit catches in my head in a way that I cant shake, I'll go through writing the song. Because if a bit is haunting me like that, then I know it's going to be good. What my head does, while I'm going through my day, those bits are going through my head and the song is basically writing itself in my head as I go. And that's the magic of songwriting. (laughs)
How do you construct your songs?
I'm a melody first person, so I always have the melody no matter what. I'm not really a riff-ey person. A lot of times, I don't even have a riff. There's not as much of an audience for melody based songs anymore, which I think is kind of sad.
It is. A lot of people go for the hooks now.
Yeah. It's like, I know other people have different ideas, but they're wrong.