Most bands are lucky to have one career go-round. The Muffs—L.A.’s longtime purveyors of pugilistic power pop—are going on like their fourth. Singer/guitarist Kim Shattuck, having survived the day-glo garage gal-gang, the Pandoras at the end of the ‘80s, started the Muffs around 1992, had some slight lineup changes, and once the classic lineup of Shattuck, bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald (also on/off with Redd Kross over the years) was fixed, the trio settled into an amazing five-year groove on Warner Bros.
The dust of the alternative rock boom eventually settled, but not before the Muffs had their share of success, though they never fully got their due for producing some of the best guitar pop tunes of that decade. After a tiny breather, the band continued on with more garage goodness via various labels, until around 2006 where everyone sort of flitted around, living life. But the Muffs never stopped doing occasional gigs around the two coasts, keeping their chops honed and Shattuck’s infamous scream intact. And last year the Pixies’ noticed Shattuck’s expert ability to scream and play guitar at the same time, bringing her on tour for a fleeting moment that ended abruptly. That was good news to lovers of bashed-up bubblegum rock, because that just meant the Muffs got back into action and have a brand new album, Whoop Dee Doo, out today on Burger Records.
I was going to ask you guys for a Top 10 list of favorite onstage fights you’ve ever seen. Instead, I’ll make it easier—what are your Top Five Best Onstage Fights Between Muffs Members?
Ronnie Barnett: Even though any fight that has occurred onstage in our band has included me and Kim, I honestly can’t remember any of them. I think I’ve just blocked it out at this point. And though one hasn’t happened in at least the last 18 years, there’s still always someone who approaches me and says it’s what they remember most about seeing us. Sometimes that person has been Rick Nielsen!
Kim Shattuck: I can only think of one. We were playing at some stupid place with stair steps leading up to the stage. Ronnie kept standing right in front of my microphone. He was doing it just to bug me. So after a while I finally pushed hard on him with my legs to his torso. And down he went. Ass over tea kettle. I believe he kept playing but his glasses were askew. I’m not proud of fighting Ronnie onstage. Just putting it out there. It was completely immature and sad.
Roy McDonald: I can only think of one but it’s a good one. Back in ’95 we played a place called Club Babyhead in Providence, RI. As soon as we rolled in for soundcheck, I realized that I had played this same room in ’87 with Redd Kross (when it was called The Rocket). The reason my otherwise faulty memory was so clear was that Steve and Jeff McDonald had a huge onstage fight that night. The club’s stage has a notorious bass rumble and it caused a punch-up between the brothers…something along the lines of, “Steve, your bass is too loud!” “No it isn’t Jeff! It’s the stage!” “Turn it down, Steve!” “No, I’m not turning down!” “Fuck you!” “Fuck you!” (punch, punch). I warned Kim and Ronnie about the bass rumble and told them the whole story about the fight, which of course they thought was hilarious. Soundcheck was pretty awful, but we got through it…and then came showtime. “Ronnie, your bass is way too loud!” “No it isn’t Kim! It’s the stage! Don’t you remember Roy telling us about what happened with Jeff and Steve?” “I don’t care. It’s all I can hear! Turn it down now!” “No, I’m not turning down! Fuck you!” “Fuck you!” (punch, punch).
Ten years since your last record? Why now?
Shattuck: Because it was done.
Barnett: Didn’t plan it this way. If we had worked with a deadline and didn’t have the business contract stuff to work out it could have been out three years ago. At this point we’re on no fixed schedule in our career.
McDonald: The whole 10 years thing kind of crept up on us. We pushed the last album for about a year and then took a couple of years off, mostly to recharge our batteries. After that we started playing live again both in the U.S. and abroad which inspired Kim to write a bunch of new songs. Once we had enough money to make a record we started recording this one. Since we didn’t have a label breathing down our necks we worked on it at a leisurely pace. Then I got busy touring behind the Redd Kross record and Kim joined the Pixies, so that affected things as well.
How did Burger Records come into the picture?
Shattuck: They wanted to put out our record, and we fell in love with their work ethic and cool vibe. So we said fuck yeah!
Barnett: I was a fan of Burger. I’d been to the store and actually bought a ton of their stuff.
McDonald: I met Lee Rickard through Steve McDonald. Burger released Researching The Blues and a reissue of Born Innocent on cassette, and then Redd Kross did some touring with Lee in the old Burger van. I hit it off with Lee immediately. In the meantime Ronnie had also gotten to know Lee so it just made sense to start talking to him about releasing the record on Burger. On one late night ride during the Redd Kross Burger Van tour I played him some of the record and the rest is history.
Burger is all hot and everything, but how much did you guys know about that label, that scene, etc.?
McDonald: It was Steve McDonald who turned me on to the Burger scene. I was extremely impressed that they created this whole super cool scene, but once I got to know Sean (Bohrman) and Lee, it’s not really surprising. They live and breathe Burger. Their enthusiasm is genuine and contagious. Those guys are in it for all the right reasons.
Barnett: A few years ago I went out on a Valentine’s double-date with a girl I was seeing who was best friends with a girl Lee was seeing. Me and Lee were introduced, and basically me and him talked the whole night! We bonded over our mutual love of power pop, Emitt Rhodes, etc. I mail-ordered some stuff from them and Lee wrote me a message on the package. I called him up and we were “reunited.” Shortly after that Lee went on tour with Redd Kross & told him to wear Lee down & get Burger to put out our record…er, cassette. It worked!
Be honest—what do you think of the cassette trend Burger helped ignite?
Shattuck: Hilarious. Kinda like putting our record out on wax disc or whatever Thomas Edison first used. I’d really like to put it out on a breakable 78.
Barnett: I LOVE cassettes and am both proud and ashamed to be the only member of our band with a cassette player!
How far back did the plans for Whoop Dee Doo go? Was the idea hatched before or after Kim’s stint with the Pixies? Speaking of which, Kim, can you finally lay to rest any questions about your Pixies stint—like how do you look at the experience overall?
Shattuck: Mr. Charles Thompson totally handed us the name Whoop Dee Doo when he went on record saying what he said about firing me. I loved the experience of playing with the Pixies because of their AUDIENCE. Playing the shows to those rabid Pixies fanatics was super fun.
Where did you make the album, and how’d it go?
Shattuck: We did basic tracks with Steve Holroyd. He is the coolest dude. He assisted engineered under Glyn Johns way back when. Learned some cool mic techniques from him as well. So we recorded to two-inch tape like the olden days. Then we bounced it to Pro Tools like the nowadays. Then I engineered everything else.
Barnett: We worked on this thing for a long time. It was actually “in the can” before that Pixies business.
Of course you guys still do a fair amount of live gigs, if not long tours. Any good recent live gig stories?
Shattuck: I’m thinking it’s been really smooth lately. Everybody has been super nice recently. I guess it’s because we’re old.
McDonald: Things got very sexual at our last show just this past Saturday night. There was a couple in front of Ronnie that were practically fucking each other. I was going to say, “Get a room!” but then I remembered that it was the weekend of ComicCon, and rooms were very hard to come by.
I always loved how your songs are so catchy, poppy, etc., but live, Kim could get really vicious (in a funny way), and the band always played with loads of energy. And because of some of the labels you were on (Sympathy, Telstar, etc.), I assume you might have some stories of being on bills with quite violent punk or garage bands—any good stories of telling some vociferous audience members to go fuck themselves?
Shattuck: I once kicked a photographer in the face for sticking his camera under my dress and snapping pictures of my crotch. I guess he worked for a top magazine, but so what. What a dick.
Barnett: We played a benefit at the Palace in Hollywood in Christmastime, 1995. Jeffery Lee Pierce did a guest spot on the bill and was on the side of the stage heckling us during our set. At one point he crawled on his hands and knees behind Kim and lifted her dress. We laid into him verbally something good, I remember calling him a “Sam Kinison-looking motherfucker.” That was his last time onstage. He died three months later. I’m a big fan and I’m sorry he’s not around anymore, but that night, he was an asshole.
McDonald: One of my first shows with the Muffs was at some weird club in Ventura. Super hardcore crowd, lots of stagediving. At one point a guy lingered on the stage a little too long, and Ronnie promptly kicked him in the ass and sent him on his way. After the show Ronnie is surrounded by several questionable looking gentlemen who inform him that the young man he threw off the stage was a junior officer of an organization called the “Ventura Skins,” of which they were also charter members. To this day I don’t know how he got out of there alive.
You once told me the Muffs spent $50,000 on the making of a music video. This is the kind of thing that drops the jaws of any rock’n’roll band with members under the age of 27. Could you please 1) describe the music biz mileau that existed that would toss that kind of dough around; and 2) any memories of making that video?
Shattuck: I showed up to the video shoot in my pajamas holding my teddy bear. I was shocked at the big deal of it all. Cops everywhere. Blocked off streets. It was overkill. I think Warner/Reprise just liked to spend money. It didn’t make anything better or worse. It just allowed us to eat giant meals with a ton of people who wanted a free meal with the Muffs in the studio. It was fun. Little did I know that we paid for it all.
McDonald: I’ve blocked all that out. The only thing I remember was the catering, which was pretty good!
Barnett: Eric, you’re wrong. That video actually cost $60,000. That was the way it was back then. We recorded in studios next door to Eric Clapton and Earth, Wind & Fire, and made expensive videos. The way the business was set up, it’s not money you’re going to pocket anyway. Budgets were set aside for use for certain things. We’d be lucky to skim off some salaries. Unless you’re selling large amounts of records there would be no way to recoup. So the way I looked at it, we may as well spend their money and have some good tales to tell! And we do.
So any good tales about cheesy ’90s A&R guys promising the world? These stories will soon take on the air of dragon-slaying myths.
Shattuck: Nobody promised the world. They wanted us to do well, but they didn’t say we were going to be the new Nirvana or anything. I don’t think the stereotype A&R jerk thing applies here. Rob Cavallo and David Katznelson were our A&R guys, and we used to hang out with them as friends.
Barnett: Warner Brothers/Reprise, for better or worse, left us alone and let us do what we wanted to do for three albums. We have none of those horror stories about dudes saying, “Record more demos” or “We don’t hear any hits.” They were actually great to us and all of the albums are, surprisingly, still in print. I don’t think the Fluid’s album on Hollywood is. [Ed. Note: It’s not.]
Well, you had that Fruitopia TV commercial. And you’ve mentioned that you guys had to pay for the gold record you got for the Clueless soundtrack, and that it was a gold spray-painted record. Where is that record today?
Shattuck: We didn’t buy it. We found out we would have to pay some huge amount for it and it was Ronnie who wanted it anyway. I didn’t care. I don’t want tacky stuff like that around my house. It would seem like bragging. And honestly I didn’t write the song so it wasn’t something I was proud of.
Barnett: I want that fucking gold record! We earned it!