Interview with the Muffs
The Muffs release, "Happy Birthday to Me", follows the intoxicating pop precedent they set on their first two albums, the Muffs (1993) and Blonder & Blonder (1995). This time they seized the production reins themselves. The result is more of their trademark relentless, full-throttle, pop assault, from the masters of the 2 1/2 minute pop-punk songs. Recently, vocalist/lone guitarist/songwriter Kim Shattuck and bassist, Ronnie Barnett talked with me about their newest offering.
QUESTION: Did you enter the studio saying "we're just gonna repeat the formula of our first two albums" or was there a different approach this time around?
Kim: The same attitude...
Ronnie: But we produced this one ourselves...
Kim: There were a few things that we wanted to make better, like the drum sound.
Ronnie: We felt less pressure making this one, cause we knew we had a good batch of songs.
Kim: The way that I recorded vocals was definitely experimental. I just recorded the vocals at home, without any input from anybody. I'm not much of an engineer, but I took my time with it, that kind of held up the record. It was fun, I could watch TV while I'm singing, with the sound down. I'm not like a super motivated person when I'm by myself, I usually need somebody else to lean on me a little bit.
QUESTION: Now that you're the only guitar player, did it take longer in the studio than the first album?
Kim: I already knew what I wanted to play. It was scary, but it was an easy transition, especially in the studio.
QUESTION: When I saw the Muffs live in '95, having just one guitar player didn't effect the sound at all...
Kim: No, I mean the only thing that changed was that when I go into a lead there's not fuzz underneath.
Ronnie: But, then we found that was kinda cool. It was more rocking.
Kim: It sounds more immediate and live, I mean it's not like the record at all when you do that. On this record we actually have one song that we're a three piece band on, so there is nothing under the lead.
QUESTION: You mentioned trying to get that drumming sound...Roy has more of that Keith Moon style...
Kim: We wanted the Keith Moon thing a little more than we wanted anything else.
Ronnie: Roy's a better drummer, we've become a better band since that first record, like me and Kim can't even listen to that record.
Kim: Basically, it's like a first record, I mean we should have been on an independent label, because that's what it sounds like to us.
QUESTION: In the past, female rockers such as the Go Go's and the Bangles were hard to take too seriously. On the other hand you have Sheryl Crow trying to grasp for credibility. How do you see yourself among female rockers? Is it hard to be taken seriously, or is your sex always an issue?
Kim: (sings out of tune- "if it makes you happy...") I hate her! I'm much better than Belinda Carlisle, Sheryl Crow-to me she sounds like she's in a bar band, and I'm not like a bar band singer. And the Bangles, I think all have amazing voices, and they harmonize amazing. But, I don't think that's my kind of singing either. I don't think that our band is like a girl thing at all, I mean I don't sing like a typical girl, I don't sing with a vibrato girly thing. I've heard horror stories about girl-bands not getting played cause there was a quota of girls they would only allow on the radio. I've never noticed that with us, we just don't get played (both laugh).
QUESTION: You hear bands like No Doubt continuously on the radio...
Kim: Their music sounds like it should be played on the radio. I mean I think we should be played on the radio. I don't see why radio has to continuously suck...I don't understand that.
QUESTION: It was great to hear you on the Clueless soundtrack, is the band going to be doing any more soundtrack work?
Kim: We're gonna be in a movie called "Father's Day", Robin Williams and Billy Crystal are in it. It's us like at a fake Lollapalooza...
Ronnie: We haven't seen it yet so we don't know, they have to fight in front of us and everything, we had to react... Kim: It's hard, like I can't react to Robin Williams!
QUESTION: About your voice, people either love it or hate it. IT was what I found most appealing about the Muff's songs. My ex used to cringe every time I played your tape, in fact she banned me from playing it when she was around!
Kim: Actually, a lot of girls that I know like the voice. Did your ex maybe like Sheryl Crow? See that's fine, if somebody likes that, with that kind of taste, then I'm complimented.
Ronnie: People tend to love us or hate us, there's rarely any middle ground. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it's true...
Kim: It's pretty cool though, I'm not offended by that at all! Actually on this record, I think that I do some of the best singing that I've ever done. I definitely on this album don't scream as much...
QUESTION: Have you ever had any bad reviews, and what do they pick on?
Kim: My voice (laughs)...but if you look at anybody in a rock band's voice it's one of the things that makes them stand out. Look how many singers that are really famous have weird-ass voices, like look at Alanis Morrissette, she has the weirdest voice I've ever heard. Mick Jagger, my god, his voice is sour! Weird voices definitely do make a band sometimes.
QUESTION: Your music kinda falls between the cracks, cause you're not "alternative"...
Kim: But we're obnoxious!
QUESTION: And you're too melodic for punk, although you have the attitude...
Kim: Bands with attitude are cool, but it doesn't mean they're punk...it just means that they are probably really cool to watch live.
Ronnie: The Ramones are totally melodic...
Kim: There's no reason for me to listen to a band that's not melodic.
QUESTION: Did you know that Dash Rip Rock regularly covers your song, "End It All"?
Kim: The Queers also cover that...
Ronnie: It's our most covered song.
QUESTION: How do you approach songwriting?
Kim: I'll never write about current events...I mean, cause why?! I mean mostly I just complain! I'm just a complaining sort of person.
QUESTION: What is the band's tour schedule for the new album?
Kim: I wish we knew...July, we'll probably do a headlining tour unless we hook up with a really big shoe (Ed Sullivan impersonation)...
QUESTION: Maybe you can hook up with Sheryl Crow...
Kim: I hate her!!!!