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Weekly Alibi The New Deal

Kelly Deal shapes a new band and an all-new project

By Kevin Klein

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997:  Kelley Deal is the lesser-known but equally talented sister of Kim Deal. You might know Kim Deal. She played bass for the seminal band, the Pixies, through the '80s. The twin sisters share reedy, naive voices and a love for a well-penned pop song. It is that skill that propels both forward.

The Deal sisters were and are the twin-guitar attack behind the phenomenal band The Breeders. Inside indie rock, and alternative rock, there isn't a more powerful family pair. "I don't know where all of the music comes from," Kelley Deal says. "Dad had a guitar, but didn't play much. My mother was not musically inclined. She's tone deaf. She used to play auto harp. I can still remember her singing," Deal recalls. With a haggard old-lady voice like Marge Simpson, "The old gray mare just ain't what she used to be ..."

"I had never played guitar before my sister asked me to be in The Breeders," says Deal. "She asked what I wanted to play, and I told her lead guitar. I think they call that ballsy or stupid. Maybe it's both." The pair wrote songs in their Dayton, Ohio, basement and emerged with two memorable releases, including Last Splash. The pair's singing and writing fueled a tour slot opening up for Nirvana on their "Nevermind" and "In Utero" tours.

And then Kelley Deal was arrested for possession of heroin. Her guitar was all she brought into the four-month rehabilitation program in Minnesota for heroin and alcohol addiction. She emerged and recorded Go to the Sugar Altar, a work with all of the vitality of The Breeders and with a darker, freer edge. She was clearly able to write without the burden of her sister's shadow.

Her new project, The Kelley Deal 6000, released the aptly titled Sugar Altar, a collection of sweet power pop with seductive hooks complementing quirky lyrics. Her musical influence on The Breeders' project can be discerned on KD6K's two releases through musical subtraction. She is a sonic texturalist, capable of imbuing her music and lyrics with a palpable duality: sweet music, lyrics about wanting to be a stripper or conversely dirty feedback-filled music with little girl lyrics. Prince-style funk sits comfortably on the same musical couch with a country-and-western Hank Williams outtake.

"What do you want," Deal asks. "I'm a Gemini and a twin. I love that stuff, the duality. That's what I liked about drugs. I could lead a dual life, and I think ideally that good music should have that."

If there was any question about Kelley Deal's past involvement with drugs, it's immediately dispelled on the first song of her new album. "Shag," the first track on Boom, Boom, Boom (on Deal's own label, Nice) searches for the lost goods on the thick carpet of life.

"It's about doing drugs and losing something into the thick carpet and not being able to find it again--ever," Deal says. "But having that scrambling feeling about needing to find it and being impossibly unable to."

Don't worry--she's not going to beat the cudgel of sobriety over any listener's head. Nor is she telling anyone that drugs are a good idea. "Shag" is a fine metaphor for Deal's own loss of innocence through her drug use. It's her life that she's lost a part of, and digging through the shag carpet of experience, she'll never find it. Nowhere on any of the 6000's records are the junkie confessionals or anti-drug rants that are more typical of freshly recovered addicts.

Instead, it rocks. And The Breeders? Sister Kim Deal plays in the side project the Amps as well as The Breeders. There are no immediate plans for the twin Deals' band, but it's not defunct, either. It's in limbo.

"It's still around," Deal says. "We don't live in the same town. I'm in Minnesota and my sister's in Dayton. I went down there recently and played a show. What's she gonna do? Fire me? She's my sister!"

--Kevin Klein

The Kelley Deal 6000 plays the Dingo Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 9 p.m. Call 243-0663.

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