Sometime this March, when I was seeing a show at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky, I heard something familiar while standing out in the parking lot. There was a quick slide into a pingy false-start bass line; a high, noodling guitar lead; and an unmistakably lilting vocal melody: someone was covering "Cannonball" by The Breeders.
After "Cannonball," they went in to "Safari," and after that I swear I heard the fuzzy, pounding climax of "New Year."
I asked my friend, "Where do you even find a Breeders cover band this good?"
When I got the chance to speak with Josephine Wiggs, the bassist for The Breeders, I asked her about it - I knew the band was scheduled to play that venue at the end of March as a kick-off for the 20 - year anniversary tour for their 1993 album Last Splash. "We had been rehearsing in Kim [Deal's] basement in Dayton for like four months. But we felt like we needed to get out of the basement and go somewhere that we could work with a PA."
So, I guess it wasn't a cover band after all.
Kim Deal is the foundational member of The Breeders. She formed the band with Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses in 1990 amidst tensions in The Pixies. Deal played bass in The Pixies, where perhaps her most iconic contribution was the bass line and melody for the song "Gigantic."
By the time Last Splash came out in 1993, Kim's twin sister, Kelley, had replaced Donnelly. Wiggs says the family dynamic occasionally made for an intense dynamic.
"Sometimes, as is the case with family members or spouses, they sometimes will be critical of each other in a way that perhaps they wouldn't be if they weren't related, just because they don't have that filter."
Wiggs laughs, saying that her own personality might have made her sensitive to this tension.
"Because I'm English and very, what's the word? Very repressed. Sometimes I'm like 'Oh my god! There's too much emotion here! Too many feelings!' So sometimes that's a little bit nerve wracking for me."
The last Breeders album, Mountain Battles, came out only about five years back, but save for a brief stint in 2005, it's been over a decade since Wiggs played with the band.
"Some songs were trickier to re-learn, just because the muscle memory wasn't there. But most of them came back extremely easily and quickly, just because of having played them so many times, it's really kind of engrained in to your soul."
Except for sitting down to rehearse, Wiggs says that she mostly hasn't listened to Last Splash over the years.
"I can't listen to things immediately after having finished because I'm always a perfectionist."
Even so, over the years she's heard songs here and there, and oddly, she felt like she was hearing old songs more and more in the last year or so.
"I was in a store in my neighborhood and like 'Invisible Man' came on and then a week later I got the call from Kim, and I thought 'Wow this is kind of bizarre.' There must have been something in the air."
On the current tour, the band is playing Last Splash straight through, instead of writing a traditional set list. This introduced a few challenges, especially on those songs they never played quite as much.
"There's one song in particular I don't think we ever played live because it's incredibly slow, 'Mad Lucas,' it's very much kind of an atmosphere piece," featuring a heavily effected violin sound.
Usually, they would skip a song like that thinking, "Oh my god, people are hating this, let's move on to the next song!"
They weren't only worried about pacing, however. At first there were questions as to how they would reproduce the recorded sounds for songs like "Mad Lucas."
"Fortunately we knew from the beginning we would have Carrie Bradley [who played the "weird electronic sound" on that track back in 1993] with us, so we just needed to find the technology to get it so the violin would sound right, which basically means putting through a bunch of effects pedals."
Minor considerations aside, she says, "we couldn't have asked for the tour to have gone any better." Last Splash's tracklist as set has been very satisfying.
"At one point I remember turning to Kim and saying, 'Why didn't we always just do this as our set?' "
Of course, it makes sense that the album makes a good live show.
"It was funny, we were like, 'Oh, well yeah, there was a reason why these songs are in this order.' That's what the sequencing of the album was for; all that thinking had already been done."
The Breeders are playing the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on July 20 alongside Belle & Sebastian, Solange, Savages, and many others.