On and On

After nearly a decade in major-label purgatory, the Muffs' Kim Shattuck proves it wasn't all for nothing

"On Happy Birthday to Me, I was listening to the Amps and Guided by Voices -- Dayton Rock. Dayton, Ohio, sludge rock, and poppy sludge rock, even. It affected my singing, too, because that's when I started getting slurry," recalls Shattuck. "I still do it, but I try and do it less because I realized that it was kind of a phase I was going through."

The progression toward the eventual sound of Alert Today began with the song "Prettier Than Me," a work-in-progress that Shattuck had in the pipeline for almost a decade. Although she considered recording the track for some of the band's previous records, Shattuck says she feared that the song's repetitive musical pattern and gentle lilt made it ill-suited for the group.

"I wrote it and I thought it sounded like Mazzy Star or Opal or whoever the hell they were. Maybe the Velvet Underground or somebody," jokes Shattuck.

Alert and Alive: The Muffs, from left, Roy McDonald, Kim Shattuck and Ronnie Barnett.
Alert and Alive: The Muffs, from left, Roy McDonald, Kim Shattuck and Ronnie Barnett.

The song is indicative of Shattuck's evolving sense of melodic counterpoint and dynamics, two elements featured prominently on Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow.

The overall somber tone of the album was colored by the singer's own recent personal trials, ones that she dismisses with typical good humor. "I realized that the album is a result of my blue period that I've been going through. I only realized it when I came out of it, though. Now all of a sudden I'm like a bull. Charge!" says Shattuck. "I feel very outward and mean again. So I've been writing new songs and they're really nasty. You can thank my ex-boyfriend for that," adds Shattuck.

The inherent turmoil of personal relationships has always supplied Shattuck with ample subject matter for her songs. Shattuck was romantically involved with Muffs bassist Ronnie Barnett, and even though the two broke up early in the group's career (Barnett has since married), there is still some tension (often evidenced in onstage barbs and one-upsmanship) that is integral to the group's musical and personal chemistry.

Although they're well beyond petty personal differences, the relationship between Shattuck and Barnett is most tenuous when it comes to the subject of musical taste. "He is just this big fan of music. Whereas I'm more of an anti-fan. He thinks the worst things are great."

Their wildly differing musical philosophies have resulted in some interesting moments when choosing what songs to play in the van on the road. "At this point, he's learned to bring his headphones," says Shattuck. "There was one tour we went on and he had the new Pearl Jam, and I'm like, 'If you even play this for one second, it goes out the window.' I hate Pearl Jam," says Shattuck.

Despite her distaste for Eddie Vedder and his crumbled alterna-empire, the group isn't especially eager to be lumped in with L.A.'s retro-pop subculture and its attendant festivals, either. "We skipped Poptopia this time. We're sick of the crowds. The crowd is like all geeks," says Shattuck with typical candor. "It's like, 'No, I don't want to do it.' And then the IPO [International Pop Overthrow], that was even worse."

However, the group is excited about embarking on its first extended tour since 1997. Early in their career, the Muffs (and Shattuck in particular) developed a bad reputation for confronting club owners and rowdy audience members resulting in them being banned from several clubs in L.A. and in other parts of the country. Those wilder days seem to be over for the most part, as the crowds at more recent Muffs shows have been generous, if not downright adoring.

"Oh, yeah, every time we go on stage now it's sooo boring," says Shattuck. "Now people like us. So nobody does anything bad. It's nice and great and fun and I've gotten to enjoy it, but I still kind of miss it. I mean I don't like it when people are being obnoxious to us, but at the same time you get a really good boost of energy when someone is being a jerk.

Despite her desire for a more anarchic concert environment, Shattuck realizes how lucky the Muffs have been in keeping a core following filled with people who are genuinely fans of their music, and not merely faddists. "We have a really nice fan base because it's not full of a bunch of lunkheads. It's more like people who have good taste. Which I guess everyone thinks that about their band," says Shattuck.

In a music scene littered with the corpses of dozens of bands who were one-hit video wonders, Shattuck knows how fortunate the Muffs are to have never experienced that particular kind of "success."

"We actually went through a little bit of that when our video got played on MTV. They tried to make 'Sad Tomorrow' [off Blonder and Blonder] be the hit. It really only got shown maybe five times, that's it," recalls Shattuck. "When that happened, I swear to God, all of a sudden these creepy-ass people started to come out of the woodwork, just from that many plays. Imagine being played 70 billion times on MTV, every sloth in the entire world will come to your show, it's gross."

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