Breeders' Josephine Wiggs on 20 Years of Last Splash and the Future of Women in Rock
Our girl Josephine contemplates her philosophy degree on the right.
The creative process is one of the scariest things a person can endure. Opening yourself up, either alone or with a group of friends and fellow artists, it can blow up in your face. Or, you could make history.
The Breeders were kind of lucky in that regard. Their third record, Last Splash, is a timeless alt-rock classic. And 20 years later, people still want to hear them play it live. Even those of us who were too young to understand "Cannonball" in 1993 find ourselves reveling in its crunchy, moody sound.
We caught up with Josephine Wiggs, the bass player who fingered that famed buh-duh-duh-duh-duh-buh, in advance of the Last Splash anniversary tour stop at Grand Central, to talk about creating something with such a lasting impact, touring with Nirvana in '93, and girls being in rock 'n' roll bands.
Crossfade: On the subject of reflecting, you must be doing a lot of that on this tour. I was still a kid when Last Splash came out, and it's crazy for me to even imagine it's been 20 years, but how has the tour been for you with that kind of hindsight?
Wiggs: It's been a lot of fun spending time with that particular group of people again. Even though in the intervening years, I would be a liar if I didn't say I sometimes wondered if we might do something together again. Especially all through the 2000s, that whole phenomenon of people who had records in the early '90s, there were so many bands that came back and did reunion tours.
That sound had a resurgence.
I think it's partly because that music was made in the early '90s and it still sounds pretty good next to what's being made today. I'm not sure if stylistically things have really moved on that much. Not to denigrate or be critical, but it just so happens that a lot of what's being made now is very genetically similar to the stuff that was being made in the early '90s. It isn't surprising not only are people who've seen it interested in hearing it but people who were too young to have seen that are interested in it because they know. It's in regular rotation with the other stuff on their iPod, you know what I mean? Things from that time, that era should we say, have a pretty long shelf life.
Did you have any inkling while recording Last Splash that it would have this kind of lasting quality?
No, we had no idea that it was going to sell as many copies as it ended up selling. We had no idea how it would sound ten years later even 20 years later. I guess the stars were aligned on that.
You're playing the whole album on this tour, right?
That's right. It's a reunion for us as that lineup of the band, but it's also a kind of a celebration of that album. We're doing kind of two things in one.
Do these songs take on a new meaning now that you're able to apply every experience that you've had in the 20 years of recording and playing it now.
Not really. I mean, maybe it has for Kim. You talking about lyrical content?
Or just even the feeling that you put into the performance.
It definitely is different. It was exactly a year ago, I was listening to the album, to relearn the songs basically. Some came back really easily, and some of them we had never played live, so they were a little bit more like "whoa." I hadn't really listened to the record since we made it, so it was definitely an interesting experience to listen to it after all these years and everything that's happened musically -- not only in the music world but actually musically. To listen back to it and listen to it with those ears, kind of informed with what's happened in between. It was definitely an interesting exercise.
Do you think you did a good job? When you look back on yourself then, are you like, "Good job, me."
Yes, I do. I do! I think we played really well on that record. I mean, we were pretty well rehearsed by the time we went in and made it, from the point of view of what Jim and I were doing. We were pretty solid, and there weren't too many surprises there. Other things changed, like some of the guitar parts were done on the fly in the studio. That was a little more of a wild card, but certainly what Jim and I were doing I think was pretty solid teamwork before we went in. I seem to remember we did our parts quite quickly, and you kind of have to. I was pleasantly surprised, I would say, listening back to it.
When the record first was released, you supported Nirvana on the In Utero tour, and that's also been getting a lot of press on its 20th anniversary. What was that experience like?
It was pretty exciting, I have to say, to be on that tour at sort of the apex of that whole moment, where stuff had been alternative and on indie labels, and then it just shifted into another ring and all of that stuff became mainstream. That's what mainstream, all of a sudden, that's what it meant. It was a pretty special moment to be there right when that was happening and playing that tour, playing to the crowds we were playing to and how those audiences were so crazy. I don't know if people just got drunker in those days or what. It was literally such an electrifying feeling to play to those roomfuls of people. It was like treading the line between being really exciting and kind of frightening at the same time.
What kind of venues were you playing?
I think a lot of them were convention centers and, like, university auditoriums and places like that.
It's kind of funny to have what's basically a punk show at a university auditorium.
Yeah, that's true, that's right.
For the Breeders, there was so much of that feminine energy. Obviously, it wasn't an all-girl band, but you brought that strong female rock 'n' roller character out in a time that was pretty influential. Now, people my age take it for granted. What do you think of where things are now for girls in the music scene?
Well, on the one hand, at the end of the day, we weren't doing it in any sort of self-conscious political way. For us, it was just being able to lead by example. That was as simple as it was. It was more like, we're doing this, and if this makes people who are just starting out in a band or maybe thinking they'd like to be in a band, if it inspires them or gives them the idea that it's a possibility, that was the level at which it worked. There wasn't any political agenda on our parts.
Because you weren't really trying to call attention to the fact that you're girls necessarily; that's kind of the point.
I thought it was a more powerful statement to just be doing it and just to be there, and that was example enough without needing to make statements about it. But thinking about today, last year I remember [guitarist] Kelly [Deal] pointing out that there actually aren't as many women playing in contemporary bands as there were then. I think it's all guy bands, it's all Grizzly Bear and you know what I mean? It's like guy-ish again in the indie. I don't know; is it called indie anymore?
Yeah, they still use it, but it feels kind of funny. The term has evolved.
I do think it's kind of guy-ish. There's a couple of exceptions. One of them, of course, is that new band from London, the Savages, which is an all-girl band who we saw at Pitchfork. So they're kind of a notable exception to that. I'm wondering if there's going to be more a resurgence of that. You know how these things go through cycles. I wonder if that cycle is about to start again.
For the Breeders, Miami is the last U.S. date?
The last date right now, but there may be a last little run of dates in December.
Which splash is the Last Splash?
Exactly, that really will be the Last Splash.
What are you looking to get into after that's wrapped up?
I just this morning came from a meeting about doing music for a feature film, so I'm looking at that. And y'know, if people ask us to play more, the Breeders, that is, we will play more.
The Breeders' Last Splash Reissue & Tour. With Beach Day. Wednesday, October 9, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets cost $30 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.