By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Muffs' singer-guitarist Kim Shattuck is careful not to sound too arrogant when discussing how big a part she's played in the recording of her band's four albums, including the recent Alert Today Alive Tomorrow, released in June on Fat Wreck Chords offshot Honest Don's Recordings. While Alert Today is the first disc to list Shattuck's name as producer, she's always held the job, even while Rob Cavallo -- best known for his work with Green Day -- took most of the credit. Yet when she clears up that misconception, she doesn't seem to feel bitter or slighted, although maybe she should, since Cavallo basically made his name as a producer based on his work with The Muffs, using the tips he picked up working in the studio with Shattuck to turn Green Day into platinum punks. But she just laughs it off, giggling in a voice that is far removed from the throaty screech that has appeared on every Muffs album since their 1993 self-titled debut.
Maybe she is mindful of her early years with the band, when drummer Criss Crass and guitarist Melanie Vammen left the group after its first album because they felt The Muffs had become too much about Shattuck, a charge she insists is not true. And even if Crass and Vammen's reasons for leaving the group were valid, it doesn't matter much. Now a trio, with bassist Ronnie Barnett and ex-Redd Kross drummer (and onetime Pagan Rhythms employee) Roy McDonald joining Shattuck, The Muffs have only gotten better with each successive release, one-upping themselves each time out, though the band has never enjoyed the success its less talented peers have achieved. (Courtney Love couldn't come up with songs as breezy and ballsy as Shattuck no matter who's writing them for her.) Blonder and Blonder, released in 1995, was too smart to catch on with the mallrats who believed Billie Joe Armstrong invented punk rock. Reprise Records cut the legs off 1997's Happy Birthday to Me while it was still in the starting blocks, abandoning the disc before the first shipment had returned from the pressing plant.
Shattuck has laughed that off as well, preferring to concentrate on making albums rather than worry about who is or isn't releasing them. With a budget reined in by a return to the indie ranks, Alert Today Alive Tomorrow delivers twice the goods at less than half the price, bounding from bedroom pop ("Prettier Than Me") to sock-hop screamers ("Blow Your Mind"). After almost a decade together, The Muffs have finally created in Alert Today an album that will stop short-sighted critics from dismissing the band as little more than Joan Jett fronting the Ramones, a comparison Shattuck has never completely understood. But, as with most things, she shrugs off the misguided similes. She probably knows she'll have the last laugh anyway. And with Alert Today, that is definitely the case.
Dallas Observer: Did the release of the album get thrown off by Reprise Records' dropping the band?
Kim Shattuck: No...that didn't take so long. We got all of that out of the way really quick. But everything just took so long. I don't know why. There was this one dumpy-ass place we started in, and we had to leave because they sucked so bad. They threatened to sue us. I'm like, "Come on, you guys suck. Go away. We're not going to record at your shitty old place." We were there for two weeks, and it totally threw us for a loop. One day, I just couldn't take it anymore, and I fell asleep in this depressed nap, which I do if I'm really depressed and I don't know what to do. But when I wake up...I know what to do. So I woke up and said, "OK, are these problems going to be fixed?" And they said [in a dopey voice], "Well, we're working on it...." So I started packing up my stuff. "I'm leaving, and I'm not coming back." They were pissed. But I did the right thing.
DO: You said after Happy Birthday to Me came out that you wouldn't produce another album yourself.
KS: Well, it wasn't by myself. I co-produced it. [Laughs.] Steve Holroyd, who was our engineer last time, for part of the time, anyway -- we produced it together. We toyed with the idea of bringing in a producer, but I swear to God, I was going to have to fight with somebody again. I know exactly what I want it to sound like. As it turned out, me and Steve fought somewhat. It got quite frustrating at times, because you're together every day, constantly. I think he was kind of mad that I was pretty much running the show for a while. Like, he didn't think I was listening to his ideas. I didn't think he was coming up with any ideas. I guess my protocol is a little weird. I just bulldoze ahead and do things at my own speed.
DO: How did you end up on Honest Don's? The Muffs don't seem to fit in at that label.