Often when bands look back on their classic albums decades later, they’ll have you believe something magical happened or they just clicked in an effortless way. But not the Breeders, who are playing their 1993 record “Last Splash” in its entirety this year to mark its 20th anniversary.
“We worked really [expletive] hard on that record,” guitarist and co-vocalist Kelley Deal laughingly recalled.
A St. Paul resident from 1995 to 2001, Deal returns Thursday on the Last Splash Tour with her twin sister Kim Deal, of Pixies fame, and the other two heyday members of the Breeders, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson. It’s the same lineup that recorded “Last Splash.” The tour even features Minneapolis native Carrie Bradley, who played violin on the record and plays keyboards at shows, too.
An album that produced platinum record sales and MTV play and influenced many future bands, "Last Splashs" success was due in large part to a clever video for the hit single “Cannonball” by then-fledgling filmmaker Spike Jonze — “just a skater-rat kind of kid at the time,” Deal remembered — as well as subsequent tours with Nirvana and the fourth Lollapalooza caravan. The band’s second full-length disc, it went on to be named one of the top 100 albums of the 1990s by Pitchfork.
But the making of it wasn’t so easy, apparently.
For one thing, recording took place right around the time that Kim Deal found out via an infamous fax from Pixies frontman Frank Black that the band was no more. She’s returning to the record this year following her latest split with her old band, a much-publicized departure that is reportedly permanent.
“I can’t talk about anything Pixies-related,” Kelley Deal said flatly. (Kim wasn’t doing interviews.)
The Breeders trekked to San Francisco and holed up there for many weeks working on the record.
“There was a lot of pre-production, a lot of writing,” Deal remembered. “We did different versions of each song. We toured with those songs beforehand, too. Like I remember playing ‘Cannonball’ before we recorded it, and we changed up different bits and pieces of it.”
“Last Splash” is a sign of the times — the post-Nirvana era when so-called alternative rock bands were given big recording budgets and played on the radio. Not to mention, female-fronted bands like the Breeders were given a much fairer shake by the industry.
“We didn’t know how good we had it then,” Deal admitted.
A sign of what the record meant at the time, 4AD Records has issued an expansive redux of “Last Splash” as a three-CD or seven-disc vinyl set.
“We were already planning the tour, and then 4AD heard about it so they said, ‘Why don’t we do an extended box set of the record?’ ” Deal recounted. “We just sort of asked for the moon from them, for all the stuff on vinyl you can’t get anymore and whatnot, and 4AD just said, ‘Yeah, cool.’ ”
In the aftermath of “Last Splash’s” success, the Breeders quickly unraveled. Kelley was arrested in a drug bust in 1995 and forced to face up to years of heroin addiction. That’s when — like Eric Clapton, Steven Tyler and many other musicians — she arrived in Minnesota to get clean at Hazelden in Center City.
“It’s a wonderful facility, and I loved going there,” she said. “I had never really heard or understood the 12 Step Program and other parts of treatment. I didn’t have alcoholic parents or any kind of experience in how to get out of [my addiction]. So I enjoyed being around people with the same problems as me.”
She stuck around for six years in St. Paul, where she started her first band as a frontwoman, the Kelley Deal 6000, with members of Vinnie & the Stardusters.
“It was the first time I had made music where the point of it wasn’t really about just getting together and doing drugs, it really was about making music,” she remembered. The Twin Cities “was a really fun place to get to do that.”
Once again based in their native Dayton, Ohio, Kelley and Kim toured with different lineups of the Breeders in the ’00s and released a couple of modestly received albums. However much effort originally went into their best-known record, Kelley said she was amazed how easily it all came back once they re-formed the lineup from that era.
“It was just surreal to go downstairs to start replaying the record, and it sounded exactly like it right away. Nobody had to change anything or use a different guitar. It was bizarre how immediate and recognizable it was.”
So there’s at least a little magic in the band.