Music News

Raw Deal

Oh, way to go, Ohio. Dayton, Ohio, that is. The town that is sprouting rock bands like corn. Check out the run-down: Guided by Voices (together since 1986, discovered in 1993), Brainiac, the Tasties, the Method, the Afghan Whigs and--the subject of our talk today--the Amps.

A sort of Dayton-scene supergroup, the Amps are fronted by one Tammy Ampersand. Never heard of her? How about her alias, Kim Deal, the former Pixie who, along with sister Kelley and Throwing Muses' Tanya Donelly, formed the Breeders as a side project in 1990? Side shifted to center after Deal split with Frank Black and the Pixies, and the Breeders released the killer album Last Splash in 1993. The band is currently on hiatus, primarily because of Kelley Deal's heroin troubles (Kelley is reportedly in Minnesota now, trying to get straight).

In the meantime, Kim and Breeders bassist Jim Macpherson picked up a couple members from the Tasties and started playing as the Amps. The band's first full-length recording, Pacer, came out last year on 4AD, the same division of Elektra that signed the Breeders. Recorded in six different studios across America (and one in Ireland), Pacer's basic lo-fi guitar rock was a turnoff for most Breeders fans who were hoping for at least a quick fix of the bizarre song structures, effect-drenched vocals and noisy pop-punk grooves that took Last Splash over the top. To date, Pacer has sold just over 25,000 copies.

Contacted recently at her home in Oakwood, Ohio, a sleepy suburb of Dayton, Kim Deal took one superlunged bong hit and settled in to the following chat about life in Ohio, cell biology and the Marquis de Sade.

New Times: So, Dayton--the Midwest's answer to Seattle?
Kim Deal: (Laughs) Man, the only people who go to see bands here are other bands. (A piercing beep sounds in the background.) Hold on, I'm getting a fax. (Pause) Fuck! This magazine in Britain keeps faxing me the same question over and over. Let's see what they want . . . (Laughs) Check it out--they want to know what author has been a major influence on my work. Hah!

NT: You don't care for the question?
KD: I've just never connected music with books. Wait, that's not entirely true. "Cannonball" was inspired by the writings of Marquis de Sade.

NT: What? "I'll be the bong in your reggae song" was inspired by Marquis de Sade?

KD: Well, not that line specifically. But the message of the song as a whole was making fun of Sade and his libertarian views that if he was better off than someone, then they were just fodder for him. Playthings. It was saying, "Come on, life's not a contest."

NT: So you're pretty much anti-Sade.
KD: Well, I don't know. Later on I found out he used to suck the snot out of people's noses, and I thought that pretty much ruled.

NT: So what's your take on the Dayton phenomenon? Seems to be pretty fertile ground for a small town.

KD: Yeah, well, there's a lot of great bands from here, but the ironic thing is that here in Dayton, no one really knows it. There's not this bustling music scene or anything. The kids here just want to see Bush and Pearl Jam. They don't care how good the music is, if it doesn't have the right brand name, they're not into it.

The Amps played a show here last year at Canal Street Tavern, which is this club on the main drag right by the [University of Dayton] campus, and all these kids were calling up the day of the show asking where the club was. It was like, "Hello, Canal Street Tavern." They just don't go out to hear live music.

NT: If it's so dead, why do you live there?
KD: It's pretty here. I've got a nice big yard with squirrels in it. See, I'm not one of those people that is real attached to where I live. I don't really care about anything but smoking pot and playing music, so it doesn't matter where I am as long as I can do that. That sounds pathetic, I'm sure, but it's true, and there's a lot to be said for honesty, especially when you don't give a fuck what people think.

NT: In Dayton are you "Kim Deal, the rock star" or "the weird chick down the block"?

KD: A little bit of both. When the Breeders were really hot and the "Cannonball" video was out, people knew who I was because we have MTV here. Now they've more or less forgotten, which is just fine with me. Either way, they generally leave me alone. Which is cool.

NT: You've got a degree in biology. If you weren't a musician, would you be in science?

KD: Oh, yeah, I suppose. Cell biology was my thing. To me, math was impossible. It was just intangible ideals. You match ideal to ideal to ideal to ideal, and I was bad at that. I need something real to grab onto, and with bio you just visualize and memorize. That I can do.

NT: Will there ever be another Breeders record?
KD: If none of us are in jail, we're going to do one soon, yeah.
NT: There are rumors that your sister has formed a side project in Minnesota. Any light to shed?

KD: That's true. She's playing out with a band in St. Paul right now. They're calling themselves Solid State, but it turns out someone else may have the rights to that name. They should be pressing a record soon.

NT: So what was up with the jet-set recording schedule for Pacer?
KD: It was a good excuse to travel. Usually you do like 18 songs for an album in one place, and after Last Splash I was thinking, why not do it in small batches all over the place? But it turned out to be a lot of heavy tapes to lug around. I think next time I'll go with two cities instead of six.

NT: Any cities you'd like to play that you haven't?
KD: I'd like to play somewhere in Brazil or Indonesia. And, oh, man, I'd love to play Jamaica. I heard if the crowd gets into you there, they start shooting their guns in the air. (Laughs) Isn't that fucking cool? Think about it--"Oh, shit, they like us! Duck!"

The Amps are scheduled to perform on Monday, April 22, at Gibson's in Tempe, with Ammonia. Call for showtime.


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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse