Today I’m interviewing Kim Shattuck, singer and guitar player for The Muffs. Kim has seen it all and has a lot to say about the LA music scene of yesterday and today. Besides the Muffs, Kim has played in several other bands over the years including The Pixies, The Pandoras, and The Beards. I’ve always admired Kim’s music, attitude and style. I can’t wait to see where this conversation may go.
IH: Hey, Kim!
KS: Come on in.
IH: Thank you, good to see you.
KS: Good to see you too.
IH: All right we’re sitting here with Kim Shattuck.
IH: Hi…from The Muffs. Most notably The Muffs but there’s been other bands along the way.
IH: Oh you don’t want to get into that?
KS: No we can talk about anything, like I said we can talk about anything.
IH: Well I mean that’s the band that’s done, I think, the most for you and your musical career.
KS: The Muffs, yeah.
IH: But there’s another band, The Beards. Is that something that still goes on?
KS: Well that’s kind of a one off…
IH: Oh I see…
KS: But it was fun. It was me and two other chicks, and yeah. I like guys better for bands than chicks. Honestly I’d rather be in an all guy band.
IH: Makes sense.
KS: All guy but me.
IH: Yeah right, yeah. Don’t change that. So how did you get started playing music? Did you learn when you were young?
KS: I was about…no…well I played piano when I was really little my mom taught me, so I kind of rebelled about practice and stuff.
IH: Was she a music teacher or she just wanted to teach you how to play?
KS: She wanted to teach me how to play, and it was pretty cool. Like when I was seven I was in the talent show and I played Spanish Flea. I was wearing this cool purple and white…well I looked like a stewardess.
IH: That’s… [laughs]
KS: Like I had this little cute hair with these little sideburns. It was pretty cool.
IH: That was the first recital?
KS: That was my first performance ever.
IH: And did you…were there more piano performances after that or did you—that was it, that was the one…
KS: No, I suck at piano. [laughs]
IH: So mom was being mean for that moment, and then that was it.
KS: Yeah. She was into it. I made one mistake and I beat myself up over it. Long line of beating myself up…later, later, later. One mistake. Oh no! What??
IH: I’m kind of the same way.
KS: Yeah yeah yeah. Oh well.
IH: Now, so did you stop playing piano and weren’t interested in music for a while or…when did guitar come into it, or how did you find that instrument?
KS: I got really…well as soon as I started liking The Beatles, and I started liking the Stray Cats a lot.
IH: Oh yeah.
KS: Cuz Brian Setzer’s guitar playing is amazing.
IH: That guy is insane.
KS: He’s so good.
IH: I know. He’s one of the best guitar players, I think, in the world. And he can sing perfectly in key while he’s doing it.
KS: While he’s doing all that stuff, yeah, and I always thought that was really cool and that’s when I picked up the guitar for the first time. And I was a little on the older side. I was 18.
IH: Oh interesting. Ok.
KS: [Laughs] And I wanted to learn to play all those jazz chords that he does. And I kept asking people but, “OH you have to learn the basics first.” And I’m like NO I want to learn the jazz chords. So I learned some cool jazz chords first and then E, A, D, and then bar chords. And I was so frustrated because I’m physically an awkward person a lot.
KS: So learning the guitar was crazy, I was just like aaaah.
IH: It’s awkward for anybody anyways.
KS: I threw my guitar across the room a lot of times.
KS: A lot of times.
IH: It would never break?
KS: No! Not until I was onstage later.
IH: Actually, I think it’s really interesting that you started with the hard stuff because a lot of people – I don’t think I even know any of those jazz chords. Still. To this day.
KS: Ah, they’re easy, they’re easy you just go EH. So easy.
IH: Just like that?
KS: It’s so easy.
IH: So, at 18 you were playing. Did you learn for a couple years, just worked at it for a couple years before you ever thought about a band?
KS: No I pretty much thought I would start writing songs right away, because I always wrote songs in my head when I was a little kid and I started trying to write – I actually started to notate songs first. Then I realized I’m terrible at notations, so I was like ugh..just get the cassette recorder and start making up songs.
KS: But I made up terrible songs. I was terrible. So I did start a little band with my boyfriend at the time. It was in college and all three of us were in art, and we were all doing photography and art at the time, and it was me, my boyfriend, and this other guy who played drums, and we were terrible. And the drummer finally said to me, “Why can’t you sound more like Siouxsie Sioux?” I’m like Fuck You.
KS: And it made me feel really bad, and I was like I don’t want to do this anymore. But we were never able to finish a song. There was never an ending. We would just kind of peter off.
KS: [Laughs] I don’t know what that was about. I learned how to end songs later.
IH: That actually sounds familiar to me, I think a lot of the stuff I did was the same thing.
KS: [Makes noises like a drummer petering out]
IH: You just get started, figure it out and then, yeah it just falls apart and there ya go. It’s the end.
KS: I guess the song’s over.
IH: Yeah. Now were there a lot of bands after that leading up to, say, The Muffs? Or any of the bands you did that were, you know, playing out? On the circuit?
KS: No. I worked for a newspaper doing photography for a while, and that was terrible. Well no, it was cool, and then I got fired because my pictures were too arty. Like football pictures and stuff.
IH: They just wanted a picture of the football.
KS: They wanted it to [makes shutter noise] and I wanted it to swoop through…the picture of the football just going [makes swooping noise].
KS: So I got fired, and I started going out with people going to see like 60s kind of sounding bands, and I ended up getting in the band The Pandoras. So it was an all girl band. It was really fun. And I learned a lot, and then I started learning what not to do.
KS: Later. I was like, “What not to do, ok”. And then I wanted to have my own band after that so we started The Muffs. And that’s the band I’m still in.
IH: Yeah, and it’s been going for….
KS: Kind of a long time.
IH: Yeah, that’s great. When did The Muffs actually start?
KS: The very first practice was in 90. I think October of 90.
KS: I quit The Pandoras September of 90, and those guys were like, “Oh are you going to start your little band now?” And I’m like, “Yeah I’m starting my little band.” [Laughs]
IH: Ooooh noooo…was it like a bad parting or were they just busting your chops a little?
KS: Busting my chops.
KS: Yeah they were like “What are you gonna do, write songs?” I was like, “Yeah, little do you know I write songs at home.”
IH: [Laughs] Now where did you grow up?
KS: I grew up in, well I was born in Long Beach and then I was raised partially in Mission Viejo, and then when I was ten we moved to Orange.
IH: So South Orange County if people don’t know where Mission Viejo is.
KS: South Orange County…
IH: To the northern part of Orange County.
KS: Yeah. And Orange, I was glad I moved to Orange because they have a cool circle like with antique shops everywhere and it was really fun.
IH: Now, when you got to the point where you were getting interested in going out and seeing bands and stuff, would you see bands around Orange County at all?
KS: Well the first show I saw was in the Pacific Ampitheater and it was The Gogos.
KS: And they put on a really great show.
IH: Now how old were you when you saw that show?
KS: I was like 17 or something. It was before I started wanting to play the guitar.
IH: Right, so was that something that kind of triggered you?
KS: Yeah, well then I saw Elvis Costello at the Pacific Ampitheater, and that triggered me to want to write songs. Like…ah! He’s so great.
IH: Yeah. Yes he is.
KS: But then I started seeing club shows probably a little bit later. Like cool bands that nobody ever heard of kinda things. And that made me want to think that I could do it too.
IH: And you were seeing those club shows before The Pandoras, like before you were ever in that band even.
KS: Yeah. I mean I started hanging out with all those guys who were into the 60s and stuff, and going to the Cavern Club. There was this band called The Fad that sounded just like the Yogi Bear album.
IH: [Laughs] Just a little bit different lyrics.
KS: So I started going out with the bass player of The Fad. [Laughs] I was like YES! My Yogi Bear dreams come true. And it wasn’t long afterward that I got in The Pandoras. I was pretty naïve and kinda in my own little word. And when I got in The Pandoras it was like whooooaaaa…
IH: Just like lesson after lesson about what it’s like to be…
KS: In a rock band, yeah.
IH: And was that mainly around Los Angeles or did they ever do any of the Orange County stuff?
KS: I don’t remember playing Orange County that much in The Pandoras. A little bit later. But, like all the first shows were The Greek, which was really impressive to me, I was like Oh my God.
IH: That was one of the first shows you did with them?
KS: That was the exact first show.
IH: That’s crazy.
KS: That was cool. And my mom was all bummed because I didn’t wear a bra, and I was like boo-bie-doo-bie-doo-bie-doo booooiiiiing. She was like, “You better start wearing a bra, you’re going to go saggy,” and I was like naaaahhh….
IH: This is rock and roll, I’ll put the bra on later.
IH: Come on! [Laughs] Well a lot of people would get in a band and start a band and play in the small clubs with like 30 people. And you came in and played the Greek which is like 7,000 or 6,000 it’s pretty big.
KS: It’s big! Yeah! It went down hill from there though.
IH: So it started at the very top and then started…
KS: Then we started playing shittier and shittier shows, but you know it’s all right.
IH: And that kinda started pushing you toward…
KS: Toward having my own band, yeah.
IH: Did they start to influence you a little more? People you saw?
KS: Well it was kind of weird because I started getting really cranky about music. I didn’t like anybody’s music anymore I was just like, “Uuuugh”, I just didn’t like anyone’s music all the sudden, and I thought, “I know what I like. I should start my own band.” And so it was a lot of what not to do at that point. Well metal was starting to infiltrate, like hair metal, which I’ve always hated. Completely hated. And I’ll never like it. I don’t even think it’s funny. It’s horrible.
IH: Just hate it, period?
KS: Hated it! And The Pandoras started getting influenced by that, and I started getting really mad like I don’t like this…ugggh…to where I was starting to hit people with my bass that came too close to me and causing damage to peoples’ heads and stuff.
IH: Wow! And that’s just getting cranky about where music was going to where you were getting aggressive on stage?
KS: I was just like, “Aaaah, fuck you!” [Makes noise] And I actually caused someone to have to come onstage and they were gushing blood from their head, cuz I hit ‘em. And the ambulance came, took ‘em off. There’s a puddle of blood onstage the whole time and the next day I was like, oh God, he’s going to come back and kill me or be really mad. And the next day we went to Amoeba Records and that was in San Francisco and this guy shows up and I was like…oh my God…
IH: Like, with the bandage all the way around his head.
KS: Yeah, like a big thing right here. And he was like, “That was the best show, man!” Like, “I’m so sorry, you were pretty obnoxious, but I shouldn’t have hit you like that.” And he was like, “It’s ok, it’s so great, oh my gosh!” And I’m like, ok he’s insane.
IH: I was about to say like, “Can you sign my bandage?” Like I thought that was going to be the first thing…
KS: I would have.
IH: Yeah, I’d be like cool.
KS: Please don’t hate me for giving you brain trauma.
IH: Is that the first time you kind of had that sort of experience when you were like, “I totally screwed this guy up, and he’s stoked on it.” Were you like, “This is bizarre…”?
KS: No, well yeah that was kind of the first time. That happens sometimes. Like sometimes people are obnoxious and you’re like, “We’re trying to do a show.”
IH: Yeah, you’re working.
KS: So you kick at them. Like this one time in The Muffs, this photographer came to the front of the stage and I’m like, whatever. That’s normal. And he reached under my dress with the camera and he went “snap” and I was like, “Oh my God.”
IH: That’s bad form.
KS: First of all, it’s gonna be blurry. It’s my underwear, big deal. You know, who cares? But he goes, he goes, he does it again, and I was like, doing a lead, so I just went, “Come ‘ere.” And I kicked him square in the face with these really hard shoes I was wearing. And he was like, “Meh, you hit like a girl.” And I was like, “Really? Come here again.” And I just went BOOM, and he got really bloody and they took him out. And I guess it turned out that it was a well-known photographer from a well-known magazine.
IH: Oh no.
KS: But I don’t care.
IH: But if he acts like that it’s stupid.
KS: I know! He shouldn’t have done that.
IH: Yeah. Of course not…
KS: It was cool [laughs].
IH: He kind of signed his own deal on that one.
KS: I know!
IH: So The Muffs have been going since, my gosh, 1990.
KS: Yeah, 91 was our first show. In January.
KS: Yeah we just celebrated 20 years.
IH: That’s amazing.
KS: Or 21.
IH: Yeah! 21 years. So how many studio albums are there?
KS: I have to think. The first…Blonder and Blonder…Happy Birthday to Me…Alert Today…Really Really Happy…and then the one we’re working on now. So there’ll be six pretty soon.
IH: Wow. That’s a lot of work. Then of course singles and compilations.
KS: At first it would be boom boom boom boom boom, you know, album after album, but then it was like, “I don’t want to do another album right now.”
IH: It’s a lot to do. People who don’t play music I think don’t realize how much work it is to do. Like if you’re in a band of notoriety and you’re out playing and you’re touring , you could spend a whole year or year and a half or eight months or nine months just on the road playing shows. Then they expect, fan and / or record labels expect ten or twelve perfected songs in the studio, you know, written, done, recorded, and in an album, you know it’s a lot of work to do, there’s not enough hours or days or months to do all that within like a year. It’s a lot of work.
KS: It was nice being on a schedule though because I’m not super disciplined so when I’m not on a schedule I’m just like, whatever! And then I have a little schedule in my head and I go, nah I could wait…I just take a little bit longer than I should.
IH: Right. But at first there was a schedule: like tour, record, tour, record, tour…
KS: Yeah. They’d always leave me, like, a block of time to write. But it was like, write! Write now!
IH: Yeah, but it’s like, uuuuh I’m not creative now. Jeez.
KS: But it is good to be on a schedule for writing. Like I’ll write a kind of not as great song, and then I’ll write a little bit better one and then all of the sudden it’s like boom boom boom boom boom and I’m writing all these really good songs. And I don’t know what that’s about.
IH: That’s just how you write.
KS: It’s momentum.
IH: That’s how you write, that’s how you are, sure.
IH: Now, I love this part…I actually totally love “Clueless”, that movie was great.
IH: I love that movie.
KS: It was a kind of cute movie.
IH: It was. It was cute. And you guys had the song in there!
KS: We did.
IH: And it was a cover of Kids in America.
KS: It was a cover, yeah.
IH: Kim Wilde, right?
KS: Yeah. Kim Wilde, yeah. Yea she…whoever wrote that song did well. Not us. [Laughs]
IH: So did she…or someone wrote it for her?
KS: No, I think she wrote it and someone else wrote it in her band. So yeah, I was like, I don’t want to do a cover anymore because someone else gets paid for it. I’m like “aaah”!
IH: That’s kind of what I was going to ask. So you obviously had permission to use the song because it was in a huge movie.
IH: Obviously it was going to be on a soundtrack or whatever. Really there was no money to be made off of it because all of the money went to the publishing?
KS: Well I mean we got monies to record and stuff and we just did that. But nah it’s ok though. It’s ok. [Whispers] It’s ok.
IH: [Laughs] Which is my own song. Well you have to look at the optimistic side of it and be like, “If nothing else, we got a lot of exposure out of it.”
KS: We did get a lot of exposure from that.
IH: I’m sure you were going out right before you started The Muffs, and you wanted to start the band, you hadn’t started it yet, I’m sure you probably were taking notes, mentally, just when you were watching bands.
KS: Yeah, my what not to do thing was that I knew that some people had songs that would do major chord changes that I like, like in the kinda melodic-y Ramones way. But they’d only do it once or twice in a song and everyone was always like everybody really liked it. And then they’d go back into their minor-y chord weird, angular chord changes kinda thing. I’d be like, “Can’t they just do the major chord thing all the time?” Because that’s what I want to hear all the time.
IH: And that’s, yeah. That makes perfect sense.
KS: And that’s kind of when I started writing.
IH: Because you started piecing it together in your head.
IH: Well that’s huge. That’s like a turning point.
KS: Yeah, because I would hear little bits and pieces in songs that I liked but nobody was doing it all the time like I wanted them to and I just wanted more of that.
IH: And that’s how it was born. And that’s how you do it. That’s perfect. That’s the perfect answer to that question.
KS: I know. I really wanted at first to have three guitarists though.
KS: Yeah, there was this band called Band of Susans that had three guitarists, and I thought, “Well that would take a lot of pressure off of me,” but now I’m the only guitar player in the band.
IH: Yeah because it was a four piece originally.
KS: We were a four piece, yeah. And then as people started leaving the band we thought, we should just get a three piece.
IH: Why not?
KS: Yeah, but they don’t really realize how hard it is for me. Like I never have a breather, like I’m always either doing a lead or doing a rhythm or singing. Well, I’m kind of used to it now.
IH: You gotta work the entire time. The entire time you’re onstage you’re working.
KS: Yeah, the guys…and every once in a while I’m not in the mood to talk onstage, I just want to play. But sometimes I’m really jabbery and I’m like, saying funny things all the time. Or, I think they’re funny. [Laughs]
IH: Yeah. [Laughs]
KS: But when I’m like, more quiet, they’re like, “Why didn’t you talk more?” I’m like, “I just wanna rock man!” Just kidding I don’t talk like that.
IH: Well that was what was in your mind. You wanna rock.
KS: Yeah. I don’t wanna just sit here and talk, I wanna rock.
IH: This…well I guess we’re doing a season now about Los Angeles. So, the season of Down the Highway is about Los Angeles and people who make music in Los Angeles. So, here’s the question we like to wrap up every interview with, because the answers are always great, because I don’t think there is an answer. Do you think LA has a sound?
KS: One sound?
IH: I think you can interpret it however you want.
KS: God, you know it’s so funny. There are a lot of different kinds of bands here. And the bands who have all gotten big have a certain sound, like I guess The Beach Boys, obviously.
KS: The Doors…that’s a different sound. The Turtles…I’m thinking of, like, 60s right now, but then the punk people came in. Like X who are awesome!
IH: One of my favorite bands.
KS: So good. They’re so great. Yeah. That’s a band I really like. That’s why I kinda wanted to bring Ronnie into singing a little bit, because I wanted to do that kind of back and forth.
IH: The Exene / John Doe thing?
KS: We don’t sound anything like them, but that was sort of my idea in my head. They’re great.
IH: That’s a great thing. To base, you know, this off of.
KS: But now I don’t know if LA has a sound. I guess I’m kind of in my own world. And I just have whatever sound I have in my head… which is, I’m from LA. Orange County and LA, and I always thought in the punk stuff that was coming up had a really good Do-It-Yourself element to it. Like if they could do it I could do it, and if I could do it, you could do it, and to me that’s what LA sounds like. You can do it your own way. You don’t have to do it like anyone tells you to, you can do it yourself. Because in Los Angeles there’s that whole movie / TV industry where you’re pretty much at the mercy of like, the group. Like too many cooks in the kitchen making TV shows, but with the music it’s different. You can just do it your own way…
IH: And it could possibly work. Or not!
KS: Yeah, you could make royalties the rest of your life from just stuff like that…
IH: Mailbox money. That’s the best.
KS: Mailbox money! [Laughs]
IH: Hey! Seven dollars and forty-eight cents. AWESOME! [Laughs]
KS: I could buy a Taco Bell burrito. Awesome!
KS: Like I always say when money comes in the mail, like, “I could buy a refrigerator, but I already have a refrigerator…”
IH: But you could.
KS: But I could replace a refrigerator.
IH: There ya go.
KS: Free refrigerator money. Because when I first started getting money I lived in an apartment and didn’t have a refrigerator and then I did. Because of a check.
IH: So now it’s all refrigerator money.
KS: If it’s over $800 it’s a refrigerator money. I think they’re more now, but still.
IH: Refrigerator money, that’s perfect.
KS: But yeah, I think LA is a more do-it-yourself scene thing, and it’s not as insular as the scene is like in like Minnesota. Like, everybody knows each other. But here there’s factions here and there.
KS: Yeah, so LA is great.
IH: It is great, and I agree. Everything you said, I agree with all of it. You’re right!
IH: And speaking of which, maybe we should go play one of your songs.
KS: Oh yeah.
Ian Harrower sat down with Kim Shattuck the lead singer and guitarist of the band The Muffs, who was also a member of the Pixies, playing bass for them in 2013. From 1985 to 1990, she was a member of The Pandoras. In 2001, she was a singer, guitarist and songwriter for The Beards, a superpop side project composed of Shattuck, Lisa Marr, and Sherri Solinger.
She sang on a NOFX song, “Lori Meyers” on the album Punk in Drublic. She also sang on a Bowling for Soup song, “I’ll Always Remember You (That Way)”, which was included with the single “My Wena”. She also collaborated with vocals for the Kepi Ghoulie song “This Friend of Mine” on the album American Gothic. Shattuck also became the namesake to Dr. Shattuck, a character on Mr. Show (HBO, 1995–1999).
In June 2013 it was announced that she would be joining the Pixies for their European tour that year, following the departure of original member Kim Deal; however, in late November of that same year, it was announced that she was no longer a member of the Pixies.
For more information about The Muffs check out their great band blog.