Some may have the misfortune of only knowing Kim Shattuck, the quirky lead singer and guitarist for the L.A. melodic punk three-piece The Muffs, when she made headlines last year after being fired as the touring bassist for The Pixies. Yet it is her group The Muffs that is really the attention grabber. Rounded out by Ronnie Barnett on bass and Roy McDonald on drums, the trio first made waves in 1990 with its energetic live shows and a string of singles that led to a self-titled LP on Warner Bros. Since then, the band has released four studio albums including the critically acclaimed Blonder and Blonder on Warner Bros/Reprise, the title of which comes from Courtney Love’s comment on Shattuck’s hair when they ran into one another in a bar two decades ago.
It’s no surprise then that the band’s sixth album Whoop Dee Doo, out July 29 on Burger Records, shares its name with a comment Frank Black shared during a Yahoo! interview about Shattuck’s dismissal late last year. “Nothing is funnier than making a bunch of Prima donnas mad […] nothing is funnier to me, than to think that I got under their skin,” quips Shattuck on the band’s decision to name the album, which is chock-full of head nodding gems like the spectacular “Lay Down (It’s So Much Better).” It’s this dark humor that makes up but one side of the 50-year-old, who once kicked a guy in the face for flashing a bulb under her dress.
In real life, Shattuck is a self-described Charlie Brown, or a tender-hearted goofball. “The older I get, the more real I become, and the more I smile,” she says. Not to be outdone, Shattuck’s aggressive on-stage persona, complete with a barbaric vocal yawp that complements the bands sometimes frenetic, noisy rock, is alive and well.
“I’m mellow now, but I’m not a doormat,” she notes. “I’ll protect myself and people on stage if I have to. I’d never wuss out.”
Boxx contributor Jim Keller caught up with Shattuck to talk about the band’s new album, some hot jewelry metal, breaking social barriers through technology and how her trademark vocal yawp could frighten the fur off a coyote.
Jim Keller: Your last album was released a decade ago. Why the delay?
Kim Shattuck: We finished the tour for Really, Really Happy around 2006, and it seemed like rock wasn’t thriving. We thought we’d take a little break. We weren’t feelin’ it, but we didn’t want to break-up. I took some photography classes, which I’d done in college, and then I got bored. I started hanging out with the guys and we conspired to make a record in 2010. The basic tracks took two days, but by the time I signed-off on the mix, I heard from The Pixies and that [tour] lasted almost a year. We had to secure a couple of distribution deals thereafter, and I wanted to re-master it, so by the time the record was ready it took another year because the label wanted to wait until summer. It’s always one step forward, two steps back.
JK: So, The Pixies, no hard feelings there?
KS: Charles [Black] and I got along really good, and he thought I was going to be in the band the whole time. He was outvoted by the other guys and management. So I’m not mad at him, he was kind of a dick about it at first in the press. I don’t really take it that hard because I get it, they’re somewhat dysfunctional. It was a good experience to be with the band, but I’m glad it wasn’t any longer because I think I would’ve gotten burned-out. I wanted to focus on The Muffs, and it would’ve been hard to do that if I was still on-tour with [The Pixies]. I was a big Pixies fan and their audience was super nice to me. I can’t complain at all. It was fun. They have big, wild audiences, I dug it.
JK: You shot a video for “Weird Boy Next Door”—what can you tell us about it?
KS: I saw a rough cut of it last night. Erik Nielsen from TV’s Community plays the weird boy next door and The Muffs play the band. We do some live stuff and some Monkees-style, fun things. It’s very cute! I’m happy with the way I look in it. That’s the most important thing to me, haha.
JK: You mentioned in an interview with Down the Highway that you consider yourself physically awkward, what do you feel is awkward about you?
KS: Being really tall [Shattuck is 5’11”]. I grew up super skinny, like weird skinny. I ate all the time. I was just lanky and skinny with long arms and legs, just awkward. The more I work out, the more confident and muscular I feel. It was my insecurity coming out.
JK: What is your most awkward experience?
KS: I have a lot of awkward moments from my school years. When you do metal jewelry casting, you pour molten metal into a mold and it hardens. In ninth grade, Mr. Lynch’s class, I was learning this and if you get any water on it, it will explode. Sure as shit, mine had a drop of water on it, it exploded and metal went flying. The most popular girl got molten metal on her face. Everyone fucking hated me. I felt bad ‘cuz I didn’t want to burn anybody, and it was scary. But everyone acted as though I did it on purpose. I felt completely stupid and awkward, and like I had done something really wrong.
JK: Walt Whitman once said, “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” Your music features your barbaric yawp, so have you used it to frighten away enemies?
KS: It’s funny, when we walk our dog, my husband and I take a stick to scare off coyotes because we live in the hills. They roam around trying to eat squirrels, rabbits and sometimes cats and little dogs, which is disturbing. If you leave a little dog in the yard in our neighborhood, it’s basically coyote food. I’m afraid a coyote is going to try and eat my dog, a medium-sized mutt, similar to the dog on Frasier with a coyote-ish look. There have been times when a small coyote family has stared us down and I want to run, but they’ll chase. You can act kooky around them. We smack the stick on the ground and yell if we see one. But the scream might work. I never thought to do it! I’m gonna’ try it next time. They might start rocking out though, haha.
JK: Can you name some music that you enjoy that one might not expect after having listened to your music?
KS: I’m a huge fan of Sarah Vaughan. I can’t sing in that amazing velvety voice that she has. Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk I enjoy listening to as well, but I don’t think I’d be able to throw that in my songs. I also like Kim Deal’s band The Amps, Peggy March and The Supremes.
JK: What do you think about barriers being broken between talent and their fans via social media outlets?
KS: I’m into it. The untouchable celebrity is an old-fashioned concept because of the Internet. It’s creepy when a celebrated person in music, movies or TV thinks they’re above anyone else. Now everyone is on an equal playing field, which is amazing. My husband and I make fun of it because we live in Hollywood with the cult of celebrity. Pretentious celebrities, I hope that dies on the vine. I love that anyone can talk to anyone.
JK: Have you had any interesting interactions with people?
KS: I got a super mean-spirited comment, and I blocked the person. I don’t need to see that, he was being a dick.
JK: Maybe it was the guy you kicked in the face?
KS: Maybe! No, the people I’ve hurt while on stage have been weirdly nice about it. I ran into the guy that I made bleed on our stage back in the olden days, and he thought it was cool. I thought he was going to have a little retribution! I don’t act out on the crowd anymore, back then was a more violent time and you had to save your skin.
JK: Is navigating the music scene in L.A. different for a woman?
KS: I think it’s still novel, in a good way, to have a woman fronting a band—people seem cool with it. I grew up in the all-girl band, The Pandoras. We were these wild little animals. Like pirates, we would swoop into town and act overly brave like we knew it all. We were in our twenties and crazy. I don’t see less opportunity and I never found it to be a detriment. I think there’s more attention given to it than is warranted. The Muffs’ focus has always been writing the songs and performing them with gusto—that’s our motto.
JK: What do you see in your future?
KS: Since our album is finally coming out, the immediate future would be to promote it with shows. After that, I’m producing a band called Honeychang. Then, my sister [Kristen] and I are doing a thing. We don’t have a name, but we have a couple of songs, and we’re gonna try to gear it towards little kids because she had a baby and now, I’m a softie when it comes to babies. I realize my music is melodic and it could be melodic in a nursery rhyme way. My sister is really talented. She sings a lot of the backing vocals on our record.
JK: What message do you have for our readers thinking about becoming a musician?
KS: I’m a huge fan of not following trends, but people are gonna do whatever they want, so on that note: I say do whatever the fuck you want to do. Be true to yourself. If you’re writing songs and trying to sound a certain way, then you’re gonna sound lame because you’re trying too hard. Trying usually results in bad results. Doing something, and having inspiration when you’re doing it, usually brings good results. If you try too hard you fail. I’m a big baseball fan. In baseball, when a player tries too hard to swing, they are using the wrong side of the brain and usually, they don’t have good results. Do it your own way, don’t listen to people at all.
Catch The Muffs on tour:
8/2/14 – Santa Ana, CA @ Burger Au Go Go at The Observatory
8/17/14 – Los Angeles, CA @ Wild Honey Presents The Muffs and Andrew Sandoval for the Autism Think Tank
8/19/14 – Los Angeles, CA @ Origami Record Store Party in Echo Park
9/5/14 – Palm Springs, CA @ Burger Oasis at the Ace Hotel
10/9/14 – New Haven, CT @ Cafe Nine
10/10/14 – Brooklyn, NY @ The Bell House (CBGB Fest)
10/11/14 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Lanes
10/12/14 – Philadelphia PA @ Boot & Saddle
Photos by Kim Shattuck