The Breeders’ lead guitarist KELLEY DEAL makes more than brilliant music. Here she tells WILLIAM VAN METER about her line of sustainable knit accessories; a new crafting business venture that’s way beyond a hobby
Photography by Daniel Jack Lyons Styling by Jorden Bickham
In 2018, the Breeders released All Nerve, their first album in a decade. It was a remarkable return and featured the classic line-up that recorded 1993’s Last Splash. Lead guitarist Kelley Deal is proudly not a virtuoso, and that might be why her playing is so distinctive and she’s evolved into such a force playing live. But Kelley has many creative outlets. She is a prodigious and passionate crafter and makes scarves from vintage sweaters.
“Collecting and reusing,” she says. “The idea of buying new things makes me sick to my stomach. You know how you get nauseous when you see crass consumption? It actually has a physical effect where you’re just like,‘Oh my god, the world is just gonna end in trash. You gotta shake yourself out of it. Do what you can do.” Every scarf has its own name, and she sells them on her website. Her bandmate and twin sister Kim supports her endeavour. “Kim is my primary namer and she earned that,” Kelley says. “She’ll look at a scarf and say, ‘I’m thinking Sunken Living Room’.” We spoke to Kelley from her home in Dayton, Ohio.
The Breeders never come off as an overly precious kind of band. Do you treat your music and guitar-playing as a craft?
Yeah, totally. In certain songs by the Breeders, it sounds like they just sat down and picked up a guitar and make it sound so effortless. It’s not effortless. Now, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen by happenstance. You keep the door closed so that you can have a vision and a direction, and there’s something inside that you want to explore, but you also keep the door open enough to allow for the craft gods to come in and create mischief – in a good way.
When you joined the Breeders, you had never really played guitar, and they’d already had one album.
I had played a little bit of bass. It wasn’t like I was joining a band that had this long road history. They had never done an actual live show. So, in hindsight, it seems like it was a big deal, but at the time it just kind of slid on through. It’s not like I had any shoes to fill. The band didn’t really exist before that.
So, when did you start making objects?
My mom and dad are from West Virginia, where they take crafts very seriously – not just a cosy on the toilet. Crafts are very important. They’re elevated to works of art like quilting and these amazing lace doilies that my grandmother made. It’s respected, and I got that same tradition from my mother, so she taught me how to knit and crochet and we took quilting class together. I’ve always been making things.
But then I moved to Minnesota after rehab. I was in Amsterdam touring with my band and everybody went out. It was the middle of the night, and this is in the early 1990s – there were two TV channels you can watch or you could read a book. Everybody went out to the red-light district, but I’m sober. I can’t do that. So, I’m like, what am I gonna do? And I thought, you know what? I need to knit. So that’s what I did. I started bringing along yarn and thread and that became my thing. I have an addictive personality.
So, then I started making little creations, little purses and sculptural bags, and I’d sell them at boutiques in Minnesota. From there I started to make cold-weather gear, because it’s really hard there. It’s pretty common now to see mittens made of recycled sweaters, but I had never seen that in my life. I do feel like nobody was recycling sweaters in 1995 or whatever it was.
“The idea of buying new things makes me sick to my stomach… I’m just like, Oh my god, the world is just gonna end in trash”
Where did you get the sweaters?
At thrift stores there were so many beautiful sweaters. So, it was really just falling in love with them and shopping at thrift stores. In terms of being an ecological thing, it’s funny how that really wasn’t my motivator for the scarves, but it’s interesting how that kind of mindset drives other aspects of my life more. I’m looking around at my house and every piece is either from a friend or something that somebody had left in a house that I used to live in. It’s like, God, how could you have left that chest of drawers?
I’d love to say, yes, I’m helping the universe by doing the recycled sweaters. But I just saw these amazing sweaters and knew that they couldn’t die there, they had to be resurrected, they had to be worn and celebrated.
It’s cool that your crafting story is intertwined with addiction but is a positive response to it.
It’s so true, and I love talking about drug addiction and alcoholism. I’m a superfan of it!
The Breeders have never really been extensively covered in fashion magazines or gone through the glam process of being styled and put in leather boots and heavy make-up. Kim never did that with the Pixies, either. Was there a refusal to go along with that? Many female musicians can get swept into their image being redefined.
Honestly, if stylists had anything that was remotely my size, I would maybe try to squeeze my ass in it. But you know that didn’t happen. So, I can’t even like try something on to see if I could rock it correctly. I can’t believe I’m in a fashion magazine! That’s so weird. Have you seen our video for Safari?
Where you wear the brown skirt suit? It’s the Breeders’ biggest mega-fashion moment.
I was coming from work. And so, this idea of me getting on my cool rock dress to represent – I couldn’t do that. This is who I am; I just got off work and this is me. I’m gonna wear this suit and I know it’s the most uncool thing ever. I knew it was the correct decision. I had to represent my truths, which is I just got off work and this is what we wear at work. I’m gonna just sit here and hold this guitar. I’m really glad that I did that.
What was your day job at the time?
I was a program analyst for a defence contractor. Also part of that, too, is this idea that this cliquey idea of who is allowed to be an artist and musician? And you had to look a certain way to do that. I know that if somebody walks up and they’re tattooed and they’ve got the hair and they are looking the rock vibe, I find that the most un-rock’n’roll moment. I like the actual freaks who come up and they look like your mom or your aunt. And they just explode your face because of their authenticity.
There was this awesome goth club called Spit in the 1980s in Boston. It was so cool and it was like every day is Hallowe’en and they spent hours curating their look for that evening. I remember somebody said to me ‘Nice hose’ or ‘Nice jeans’. There was this idea that somehow they were more authentic for spending a zillion hours on this curated look than somebody who just woke up and put on some stuff. I don’t know what that is about, but there’s something to explore.
The Breeders have been touring ever since the record came out. I know mass consumption doesn’t appeal to you, but do you indulge in shopping when you’re visiting all of these cities?I’m collecting earrings of the 10 plagues of Egypt. It started by accident and I was like, Oh my god, I’m collecting the plagues. I’ve got bees, frogs, ice and hail. So, I need to get locusts and blood of the firstborn.
You can purchase Kelley Deal’s scarves here.
Fashion assistant: Claire Tang