They had been out all summer on the Lollapalooza tour, playing to huge crowds. But when they returned home to Dayton, Ohio, the band was exhausted -- and Kelley was indulging some bad habits she'd picked up on the road. In November, after signing for an Emery Worldwide package containing more than three grams of heroin, she was taken away in handcuffs from her front yard. The Breeders soon returned to the studio, but recording proved difficult because, as Kelley says, she ''chose drugs over everything.
And then I -''. I am sick of having this conversation with you every time we talk about this!
Call him right now! I'm gonna call Dad at 4 in the morning! Suddenly the slumber party has become an episode of ''Judge Hatchett. What part of that sentence don't you get? It was after the fact, after I was out of rehab, that it became, 'Oh, she did treatment in lieu of conviction. I wasn't. Do you remember what the judge said?
You weren't there! You don't know what you're -- do you remember? What, what? They just let you go, and your family put you into rehab?
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Is that what you think? The rest of the band looks at the floor uncomfortably. We've had this conversation before. Dad was standing right there and he goes, 'Kelley! Oh, God, I don't want to talk about this. You're getting on my nerves! Just do you remember it? It's unlikely Kelley would. In reality, her father checked her into the Hazelden clinic, in Minnesota, on April 11, While undergoing treatment, Kelley pleaded guilty and Judge Walter A.
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Porter agreed to suspend a verdict until she completed rehab. When she did, the charges were dropped. As befits a band of accidental rock stars, the Breeders were originally a side project, started in by a handful of prominent women in the alternative-rock world, including Kim Deal. At that point, she was playing bass in the hugely influential Pixies.
Deal was not exactly the creative force in that band -- it was the guitarist Black Francis who wrote and sang most of the songs -- but fans adored her. The band's first popular single, ''Gigantic,'' just happened to be one of the two Pixies songs that Kim Deal sang. The Breeders recorded and mixed their first album, ''Pod,'' in 11 days. One single, a caustic cover of the Beatles' ''Happiness Is a Warm Gun,'' became a minor hit on college radio. In , the Pixies imploded -- some said it was because of Kim's chronic lateness, others that Black Francis could not tolerate her growing popularity.
So the Breeders became Deal's full-time gig. Unfortunately her rhythm guitarist and co-lead singer had lost interest, so Kim had hired Kelley, who had been working as a computer programmer. Kelley could handle the vocals O. She had never so much as strummed a chord before. In most musical eras, this would hardly be a recipe for chart-topping success.
But courageous amateurism was all the rage in the early 90's. In their quest for authenticity, fans and record executives alike were seeking underdogs to make into heroes. It was around this time that Beck scored his first hit with ''Loser'' -- a stoner anthem whose appeal was enhanced by rumors that it had been recorded in the singer's kitchen.
The Breeders went into a San Francisco studio, and in the summer of , they came out with ''Last Splash. The infectious, vaguely punky ''Cannonball'' never made it higher than No. The Deals did not get rich, but they did get comfortable. As the main songwriter, Kim made the most money. She bought a nice place in one of Dayton's better neighborhoods, and, later, a vacation house on Nantucket. She did not spend a lot of time at home, though.
They took a lot of drugs. They reveled in their unexpected good fortune. And when it came time to return to the studio, they found themselves entirely useless -- unable to write songs, unable to record the songs they did write, unable to get along with the parade of producers and new band members recruited to help them.
Some work did get produced -- Kim put out a record under the name the Amps; it sold 25, copies. Kelley, then living in St. Paul, with a construction-worker boyfriend she met in rehab -- He's a recovering crackhead,'' she says -- formed a short-lived outfit called the Kelley Deal View all New York Times newsletters.
Whatever their rivalry, Kim and Kelley were struggling with the same problem.
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On some intuitive level, they grasped that there was no way they could ever recreate the constellation of contingencies -- the right sound, the right song, the right moment -- that led to the breakout success of ''Last Splash. Kelley's was the rock star's time-honored escape route: substance abuse. Kim, while no stranger to drugs, became addicted to something more complicated: the minutia of recording. Eventually, Kim ditched the name Amps and started calling her new band the Breeders. But it still did not include Kelley.
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She puts down her knitting and adds: ''Why wasn't I in the band? And then after a while, I wasn't in the band because I didn't do drugs, and I didn't want to be around people who did. The rift affected the entire family. Kelley remembers Mary Ann Deal weighing in with her verdict.
The new Breeders were not a stable unit; drummers, guitarists and bassists came and went, turned off by Kim's mercurial sense of what a schedule meant and by her musical demands, by turns arbitrary and exacting. But she forged ahead, and hired the British engineer Mark Freegard, who helped produce ''Last Splash,'' to work on a new record.
The band settled into temporary apartments in Battery Park City and prepared to cut the album. The session started at the Magic Shop, in SoHo; Kim couldn't find a drum sound she liked there, so the band decamped to Midtown.
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They moved into a venerable studio, reputed to have the most extensive collection of vintage recording equipment on the East Coast. One night while Deal was holed up at the mixing board, her bandmates began making trouble in the waiting room. The operation moved to Avatar Studio, the former Power Station, where, in an episode now legendary among New York's assistant engineers, Deal spent an entire day fussing over a ''click track'' -- basically a recording of a metronome that plays in the musicians' headphones but is removed from the final mix.
Things unraveled further. Freegard quit. Another drummer bolted. Deal called John Agnello, who engineered parts of the Amps record, and asked him to help. So little had been accomplished in the preceding 11 months that Agnello and Deal planned to start from scratch. Why is that?
Kim is dressed in her signature, almost aggressively nondescript manner: dark shirt, jeans, running shoes, no makeup, glasses at the ready for reading the texts on her phone. People have done actual covers of the hilarious inter-song banter between her and Frank Black on Pixies records. You could easily imagine egging cars with Kim, who is 56, at two a.
She radiated both the integrity and DIY ethos of the world from which she came and the natural, flashy magnetism of a rock star. It includes a mock living room with a turntable — the headphones for which are not working. Kim immediately starts to tinker with the gear. The Deal sisters came from a super-tight family. Their father Ed was a physicist at the Wright Patterson air force base; their mother, Ann, was a teacher. The girls grew up singing country songs at truck stops for fun, and Kim was always writing music, but she found it tough to imagine things evolving much beyond that.
When he went back, she went with him. Kim and Kelley may be the only blood relatives in the band, but the entire Breeders crew is a family. They thought they might make a dance record because, you know, they both liked to dance.