Monday, October 13, 2014

THE MUFFS: INTERVIEW WITH KIM

Kim, Ronnie, and Roy have been blurring the lines between punk, garage, and pop since the band’s first inception in 1991. By now, you have heard of their latest masterpiece “Whoop Dee Doo”, the first record release in about 10 years for this legendary band. With a loyal following and a brand new generation of kids getting hip to their catchy and tempestuous sounds, the Muffs are better than ever. This past summer, Muff’s leader Kim Shattuck, hung out with me and answered everything I ever wanted to know about all things Muffs…

(FNL) Were the Muffs ever officially broken up?

(Kim) No, we were never broken up. Actually, in 2000 when after we did a bunch of stuff, we went on the Warped tour but we had temporarily quit because Roy needed to make real money and have a real job. He was tired of it being it really hit or miss. So I did some online thing and said “People, Roy quit, tell him how much he means to you”. I got a gazillion emails and forwarded them all to him. He called me up crying and eventually came back to the band, so now he has both job and band. After that, we did the 2004 record and toured that for maybe 2 months. In 2005 we had finished the support for that album. In 2005-2006, we were just playing random shows and were doing a few new songs, felt off, and were thinking, what’s the point? We were really depressed about it, so we took a really long break where I went back to school for photography.

When did you start playing guitar and form your first band?

When I was in college, I had never played guitar ever. I played piano and a little bit of violin very badly. I grew up in a musical family and when I got to 18, I fell in love with the guitar, but it didn’t fall in love with me. I sucked, I was terrible. I took one lesson and learned two chords, open chords. After that, I just picked people’s brains and I figured it out for myself. When I was 19, me and a couple of people from college tried to start a band but we never played out. We played in the garage; we were literally a garage band.

We could never finish songs; we would start a song but could never get it done. We wrote songs but they were terrible, we didn’t know how to end a song. I am notoriously bad at ending songs. I like it to end on a major chord but if you do it too much it sounds the same. Like the Go-Go’s at the end of “Our Lips are Sealed”. I like that kind of ending... In our first lineup of the Muffs, our drummer Chris Crass, always wanted to end every song with some drum thing. I hate doing the “hard ending”, it’s so pretentious.

Back in 89-90 I was still in the Pandoras and starting to get better at writing songs. My first songs I didn’t think were good. With the Muffs, “New Love” was our first single and might’ve been our first song actually. Everyone said it sounded just like the Sex Pistols… I was actually listening to them the other day at the gym and thought “Anarchy in the U.K” is amazing! This is a really good one to walk to!


When I had my first place, tracks like “Funny Face” and “Lucky Guy” were permanent fixtures on my stereo. What is the story behind those classic songs?

Funny Face is so hard for me to sing that we’ve never done it live. It’s so high up. We try to do it every once in a while at practice and the guys say “you’re gonna wreck your voice”. I sound like I’m trying to take a shit when I do it (laughs).

What about "Lucky Guy"? I always loved the chord progression and lyrics, who is it about?

That song is about Ronnie because we went ou together for a little while and he is absolutely frustrating to go out with. He’s the most frustrating guy to date ever. We’re awesome friends but to go out with him is just no way, no way. At the time it was very tempestuous, and he was pissing me off constantly, I guess I was pissing him off too. I was writing songs a lot to just get things off my chest and so of course, they all started coming out about Ronnie. That whole first album, that song “Saying Goodbye” is all about Ronnie. I presented it to the band as “Saying Goodbye to Phil” and that it was a fictional account about Phil Spector.

Lucky Guy is basically about the fact that even though Ronnie never tries, has no ambition, he falls into good situations. He just falls into it, like random and I’m jealous, honestly. Like he doesn’t have to lift a finger to do anything. Anyways, this is what I thought at the time, this is what the song is about.

There’s this guy who’s totally useless but gets into great situations and does well with it. Lucky…he’s lucky… It’s a little sarcastic because I’m like fuck that, you’re lucky, and I have all of this hard work on my end. There are a lot of nasty, nasty lyrics on that first album when you think about it (laughs).

What’s your approach to writing in general?

I narrow a lot of feelings through writing songs so that’s like my therapy. When I write a song, I don’t think of what it’s going to be about. It’s automatic writing almost and then later after I’m done with the song and it sits for a while, I go through whatever emotions. I realize that the song is about what I was just going through and I had no idea I was writing about it. Usually there’s one verse that’s a little more me thinking about it. So it’s always the dumb verse that I hate, this awkward verse. My subconscious writes better songs than I do. Blonder and Blonder is a lot more about the things I was going through with Melanie. We split, we also had a tempestuous breakup. We broke up as friends but we’re buddies again. So a lot of that record is about that time.

Looking back, when the band gained immediate attention with the first 2 records, what are your thoughts on the 90s?

The 90s were cool. I have really good memories of the 90s but I was really immature about a lot of stuff. Now that I’m older I look back and I’m like whoa, what was I doing? I was like a pirate; I was like an animal almost. Just my reactions to things were so big and grandiose. I got stuff done. I don’t think I dealt well with authority. Now I’m just fine with everything. I’m easy going. I still get stuff done but now I can be relaxed.

Do you prefer that time period to the times we’re in now?

No, I wouldn’t say it prefer it. I see it as being a really cool time but there are other cool times too. I’m really excited about right now. This is a more exciting time than back then, we used to always be at the mercy of someone else to put out records. We couldn’t do a lot ourselves and now we do everything ourselves. I used think that I knew everything and know I admit that I don’t. I’m more relaxed but there’s still a lot to do.

What current trends bother you?

Every trend does. Like the terrible melodies everyone has that all sound the same. Like bad hip-hop and robot voiced music. What the hell is that about? It’s so terrible to listen to. I don’t even think it’s real.

Like the auto-tune effect?

It’s not even auto-tune’s fault, it’s the people that control auto-tune. I won’t use auto-tune, when I do vocals I do a ton of takes. I go through the mind numbing task of picking through them. I’m like the Marilyn Monroe of doing a million takes. Roy is the Frank Sinatra of takes. He only wants to do it twice. Recording with Roy is awesome because he is amazing and improvises.

So, what went down with the Pixies and what is the deal with their “mystique”?

They do have mystique, artificial mystique maybe but whatever. How it started? Randomly they asked me to play a couple of songs with them at a benefit because Kim Deal couldn’t do it. So they were getting together a bunch of bass players to play with them at this benefit. This was back in 2009. I lost track with them and then, seriously, out of the clear blue sky, Charles “Black Francis” got a hold of me through social media. Twitter messaged me and Facebook messaged me. He asked if I wanted to hear some music and I said yeah, as long as you’ve written it because I didn’t want to hear some random person that he thought he was cool. And then after a while he finally blurted out “Would you ever be interested in being the bass player for the Pixies?”. I was shocked because up until then all he wanted me to do was listen to some music.

I thought someone must be playing a joke on me because I had met Kim Deal briefly and we talked a bunch and when she found out I was in the Muffs she stopped talking to me. This happened right before I first heard from Charles so I thought is Kim Deal playing a prank on me?
Because if she is, she should be applauded. But then Charles asked if he could call me and he did and I asked, what is the deal with the Pixies?
Kim Deal had left during their recording session in Wales. I had to audition in LA and learned all of the songs but the other guys didn’t like me that much which is fine with me, fuck them (laughs).
After I had played with them, the final words from their manager was that I get my passport renewed for the next tour. I just wish they would've told me I was getting fired before I left. I wouldn’t have wrecked their shows and they have amazing fans. Those guys… they are who they are.

Did you want to stay with the Muffs sound on the new record or were you considering something different musically?

No. Stylistically it’s still very similar. I only like what I like. I’m not ambitious in one of those creepy ways where I think I should change my music every time. I don’t like to trend follow. I live under a rock when it comes to trends.
I pretty much think that everyone has terrible taste but me. I know there are a few with good taste and I have to search them out. It’s almost ill to think like that but at the same time I look at people’s taste and I’m like- I don’t get it, I don’t get it, I don’t get it.

I think the same, and always think that there must be something wrong with me.

No…no, it’s the other way around (laughs)! It’s them. Everyone has their own tastes and that’s the way it is. Some people are fed and they just like what they’re fed. I dislike what I’m fed usually. So I’m constantly trying to find what truly really moves me, and not a lot does. But some things do and when they do, my head just explodes, I like it that much more. It’s rare, it’s a rare gem.
-Kevin McGovern
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