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All Nerve is an apt title from a band that's survived as much as the members of The Breeders have. Addiction and infighting broke up the four musicians responsible for the 1993's alternative staple Last Splash. Though the group has returned in various incarnations since then, it would be 25 years before the classic lineup — twin sisters Kim and Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson — would record together again.
Last week, The Breeders released All Nerve, the band's fifth album and first since 2008's Mountain Battles. Kelley Deal says that despite the time and distance (Kim and Macpherson hadn't spoken for 15 years), reuniting was easy.
"Somehow, between the four of us getting in the basement [and] playing together again, it all just felt exactly the same as the good times before everything," she says. "It was just really fun."
Kim says she remembers waking up one morning with the song that would be come the title track in her head. Its lyrics read like a letter to the Deals' former selves: "I wanna see you / Especially you," Kim sings. "I may be high, I may hide and run out at you / You don't know how much I miss you."
Both sisters struggled with alcohol and drug addiction, and Kelley was arrested for heroin possession in 1994. "It's really important for me that people know that I drank alcoholically and used drugs addictively," Kelley says. "Music and being in a band and that lifestyle had absolutely nothing to do with it."
The sisters have since moved back to their hometown of Dayton, Ohio, which they elegize in the song "Walking with a Killer." "I'm walking with a killer and I'm gonna need that ride / We walked through the night / Through the cornfields of East 35," Kim sings of the two-lane highway near her home. She calls the song her "shame opus."
"The corn comes up to the side of the road, it's tall in the summer, so it feels isolated, no lights, cars go zipping by," she says. "I think a lot of towns have that gothic, eerie feeling."
But while the Deals don't shy from darkness, there are moments of light on All Nerve, too. The sparse "Dawn: Making an Effort" is a note to self, to walk into the daylight — and to keep making music.
"When I listen to that, it makes me rally — like, come on, you can do it," Kim says. "Just put your feet on the floor, avoid the news channel for five minutes, get out of bed, show up and have a good day."
All Nerve is out now on 4AD. Hear more of Kim and Kelley Deal's conversation with NPR's Renee Montagne at the audio link.
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