The Muffs – Alert Today Alive Tomorrow – Interview

The Muffs

Alert Today Alive Tomorrow (Honest Don’s)
An interview with Kim Shattuck
by Scott Hefflon

I didn’t get a helluva lot of info on what you’ve been up to from your bio…
That’s OK, we just wanted a bio that said “Here’s our album. Enjoy.”

But that doesn’t give us jack shit to write about. You’re making us think, and we resent that.
Well, some bio said how much more mellow we are, how fucked up and wimpy we are now. And I just didn’t want them putting ideas in people’s heads. Let people decide for themselves. The bios all said it’s less of something but… Is that some kind of dismissal? Burn bios.

This is your fourth full-length (I read in the bio). You used to be on Reprise, right?

I asked for your last few records cuz all of mine/Lollipop‘s have been stolen and, not surprisingly, they didn’t do dick.
Yeah, well, they’re exactly that.

So what’s the deal with going from a major, oooh!, to a cool indie?
Really, it’s not that different. Honest Don’s has a press release I don’t like, while at Reprise, we used to proof everything before it went out.

Do you really care?
I so care. I don’t like to be misrepresented. But that bio is the only bad thing, really. Reprise was falling apart. Kinda like an inmates running the asylum thing. With the exception of a few cool people, they were all a bunch of idiots. The cool people did their part, but no one knew what anyone else was doing – or not doing. It was retarded. But I don’t take it personally.

Did you fulfill your contract, did you bail, or get dropped?
They were dropping left and right, and people were quitting all over the place. Before they thought of dropping us, I was asking to get dropped, because they weren’t doing anything for us. Then they acted like it was all their idea. But we were fine with it. Fat and Honest Don’s are much more together, business-wise. And they’re really nice people, too.

And you were probably hanging out and playing with more Honest Don’s and Fat bands than Reprise bands anyway.
Well, we played with a few of each, but the thing is, I’m kind of an anti-fan. I really don’t like that much stuff. So it doesn’t really matter what label we’re on, I’m not going to like most of the bands on the label. It’s a fact of life.

That could be one of the factors that keeps the band sounding like the band – you’re not really affected by bands or trends around you.
I guess. But sometimes a band’ll come along and I’ll draw influence from them…

Like who?
Rock bands?… None… (laughs) No, let’s see. I really like Buck. We’re taking them on tour with us. I’ll get to see them every night. They’re on Sympathy for the Record Industry. The singer, Lisa Marr, used to be in Cub, from Canada. But Buck is a way better band.

She does a lot of co-writing and back-up singing for Joe Queer.
Right, right. She totally writes the best songs. I wouldn’t say I’m really influenced by them cuz they’re doing the same kind of stuff as us, but I’m often very envious of their songs. I’m like, “Dammit, that’s a great song. Why didn’t I write that first?!?”

Speaking of guest vocals, was that your voice on NOFX’s “Lori Myers” from Punk in Drublic?
Yeah, that was me. That’s how I first met Mike. They called our manager and asked if I’d sing that part.

I love it. It’s so hateful and biting…
Too bad I can’t remember it at all. They wanted me to sing it on stage once, and it was really last minute so I didn’t get to learn it, so I remembered part of it and let out a big ol’ scream for the rest.

A few years ago here in Boston, I think Wendy O. Williams performed your part.
Isn’t she dead? Oh, this was a few years ago? OK… Now that would’ve been cool: the ghost of Wendy O. Williams singing that part. Did she blow up anything?

No, and she was fully dressed. No clothes pins or electrician’s tape on her nipples.
There’re still a lot of people out here who want to be her.

For various reasons, I’m guessing that it’s very important for you to be you, no matter what that might be at the time, and no matter how it’s received.
I absolutely can’t be fake. And the amount of shit I’ve taken for being me has totally strengthened my resolve. I swore I would never walk on eggshells around anyone again after the whole Melanie experience. She required eggshell-walking like crazy.

OK, I’ll bite: What was the Melanie experience?
She was in the band on the first record. She was really cool, but she had a lot of weird problems. Finally we had to tell her she had to learn how to play the guitar. She got really mad and quit. We realized we should’ve told her a long time ago. Because we walked on eggshells, I blame myself. You’d think that people would have pride in their own thing, and she had pride to a point, but she thought she was great and she wasn’t.

Not to slag another band…
I don’t mean it as a slag, I mean it as an absolute bash.

Actually, I was gonna mention The Donnas. I just reviewed Skin Tight, and while I’m really glad the guitarist got a lot better – you can tell she’s been workin’ really hard at it – the drummer kinda, ya know, gets sloppy and fucks up.
Well, if they’re trying to sound like Kiss, they’re doing the right thing. The drummer, um…

Peter Criss.
Yeah, he was horrible. I’ve been forced to listen to Kiss a lot because of my bandmates, and I’ve never been a fan. So when I hear it, I totally pick it apart. What was the guitarist’s name? Ace? Whatever. I just know I was Paul Stanley when we used to dress up.

So what was your background? I sense you have some country in you.
Yeah, a little. I don’t like new country stuff – I think that stuff is really bad – but I like some old country stuff. But I think I only got into that recently, since I was in a band. I kind of approach music as a songwriter: I look at different styles of music to see what’s there, what it’s made of. I think you have to keep looking and keep changing a little, just to keep yourself interested. I hate when I hear bands imitate themselves. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz lately. I can’t play it, but there are certain jazz chords I like that I throw in sometimes. But I use them in a pop way, not in a pretentious jazz way to show off.

I think it’s good to listen to what you can’t play, read what you can’t write. Basically, there’s still mystery to it. You have the techniques of your own style down to a science, so there’s no magic left in it.
Totally. I can’t dissect jazz because I don’t understand it. I’m impressed because I don’t get it. But I like it. In rock music, I think I’ve heard and played most of the little tricks and I’m sick to death of it. But when I hear a really good song, I go nuts. I get really emotional and it’s embarrassing. I get a chill up and down my spine and get all teary-eyed. I don’t want to be around anyone when I’m enjoying something. I’d rather hate something than show all kinds of dumb emotion.

What’s done that to you recently?
Buck. I can get like that when Buck plays. And That Dog could do that to me, but they broke up. That pisses me off when the few bands I like break up. And X, of course. And I saw the Go-Go’s recently. And while I really like their music, Belinda’s singing drives me nuts. But I think that’s because she stands in front of the bass. When you stand in front of the bass, you sing flat. I’ve learned that. So she sings flat… consistently. It drives me nuts.

Did you see any of VH1’s “100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll?”
Yeah, I saw some, but I kept seeing the same one. Who made #1?

Aretha Franklin.
I agree with that. She’s amazing. But I wouldn’t’ve put it in any order.

My only beef with her is that she’s beating “Respect” into the ground. Her performing that song in Blues Brothers 2000 was just a travesty. The movie had no blues or soul, and her involvement was just an embarrassment.
I think most Hollywood movies are the biggest pieces of trash, and I live in the middle of Tinseltown. I’m always annoyed when I’m trying to drive somewhere and there’s a big crowd blocking everything as they gawk at the set of some horrible movie. Actually, I almost got arrested because I was driving by a movie set, and I had to pee so bad. I’m parked on a bridge, and I have this paranoia that if I’m on a bridge too long, it’ll crash – I know it’s totally irrational, but I can’t help it – and I start to get really mad. Way behind me somewhere, someone honks. Honking here is not like honking elsewhere. You’ll get shot for it. People don’t honk here. So I started honking and yelling “Get the fuck outta my way!” I was so pissed off. I think I wrecked the take – fine with me, I’m sure it sucked anyway – and they started to let us forward. I could see the cop ahead of me flexing, and when I got up to him, he was like, “You just stop.” He leaned into my car and started viciously yelling at me, and I just kept saying, “Ooookay,” really sarcastically. But man did I have to pee! I think there should be a law that anything’s justifiable when you have to pee.

(At this point, you can only change the subject.) You never put lyric sheets in your records…
No, I don’t like to hand people things on a silver platter. But then I like it when bands I like include lyrics, so what do I know? I think people should work a little bit to figure out what I’m saying. But it’s horrible to have somebody misquote you in a big publication and people think that you wrote these really lame lyrics. And I also don’t like when bands thank people on their records. We don’t do that either. I’ve had people come up to me and show me that they thanked me on their record, and I ask why. They say I inspired them…

“Yeah, then give me some of the songwriting royalties!”
Yeah, we’ll see how much I inspired them!

You mentioned you hate being misrepresented, what do people think that’s untrue?
People think I’m really mean and tough all the time. And that’s not really inaccurate, especially if you’ve read enough of my lyrics, but I’m not like that all the time. These last two records, Happy Birthday to Me and this one, I think of as kind of twins. They’re both self-deprecating and blue. On the first two records, I was really angry and used to attack a lot more. I mean, I attack on this one too, but it was written in a kind of a blue period. But all the newer songs I’ve been writing are really angry again. I had this thing with my boyfriend moving in, and then my kicking him out… I have to have more boyfriends that drive me ape shit. There’s a lot of inspiration there.
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