How the Breeders Finally Learned to Get Along

So the other difference now is sobriety. After some relapses with opiates, Kelley has been clean for eight years, she said, and the partying that dogged other band members has subsided. Seeing Kim “descend into a kind of pop star abyss of drugs and unreliability at the height of her success was pretty depressing,” Mr. Albini wrote, “and that whole deal could have turned out almost infinitely worse, but she came back from the precipice, built a substantial body of work and is making some of her most stunning music right now in full maturity.”

For the first time, a melody came to Kim in a dream. She said she woke with “a dude in my head, singing,” sounding like the synthy ‘80s hit “Tainted Love.” She lost the synth, and the dude, and it became the title track for “All Nerve,” which careens from plaintive to forceful over an insistent rhythm section. After the spacey explorations of “Mountain Battles,” this album is shorter, punchier. Kim didn’t have a grand explanation for the shift: “The fact that we’re playing, is where the meaning is,” she said.

But reuniting post-drugs can also be fraught, said Patty Schemel, the drummer for Hole, who chronicled her own addiction and recovery in a recent memoir, “Hit So Hard” (Da Capo Press). “In my band, getting back into the same room, that old dynamic comes back,” Ms. Schemel said. Musically, too, crutches may remain. “Writing songs, if you’re hitting a wall and you’re not just finding it, getting high kind of helps, in your mind,” she said, “and so you want to fall back into those habits.”

In a second interview without Mr. Macpherson and Ms. Wiggs, the Deal sisters talked about their old ways. Hearing a song arrangement, “Sometimes I think, God, if I could just smoke a nice joint and listen to this, critically, I would be able to identify any inauthentic moments better,” Kelley said. “Then I sigh and think, I don’t know if that’s really true or not. Me wishing for an easier way to do something, doesn’t necessarily make something true.”

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Kelley and Kim onstage in 2017. “I’m relearning working with people and being kind,” Kim said. “Every tour, it’s like, [deep breath] patience. Have patience.” Credit David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns, via Getty Images

Kim recalled making music, around 1999, after taking hallucinogenic mushrooms. “I was never a hallucinogen person,” she said, “but these mushrooms were incredible. And I have a tape of my art that I created and it’s like an hour, 90 minutes, of me going —” She made a low, indistinct moan. Took a breath. Continued low, indistinct moaning.

Kelley laughed and said, “See, if you give that to me, and I smoke a big fat joint —”

Kim finished her thought: “You tell me what the authentic part of it is.” She laughed. It sometimes takes the two of them to piece together one story from their heyday. “Opening the doors of perception,” with drugs, Kim said, “you can really only open the door once. It doesn’t need to keep getting reopened all the time. That was something that I realized.”

The “Last Splash” lineup reunited in 2013, on a 20th anniversary showcase for the album. The last time they’d toured, the Deals would be absent until moments before they were due onstage, Ms. Wiggs said, and would disappear again afterward. “It was pretty alienating,” she said. (She had enough downtime at Lollapalooza to learn how to six-pin juggle.)

With sober bandmates, performing “was so delightful, because they were so present, and they’re delightful people when they’re present,” Ms. Wiggs said. “It’s super fun to hang out with them.”

On their tour bus, they joked and marveled at the enthusiasm of their fans. “We were in D.C. last night,” Mr. Macpherson said. “It was a theater and nobody sat. I would’ve sat.”

The women in his band, in unison, pointed out the obvious: “You were sitting!”

The Deals and Mr. Macpherson live within a few miles of each other in Dayton, Ohio, their hometown; they get together to watch ballgames, and their state loyalty runs deep: on the bus, Kim wore socks emblazoned with a picture of Johnny Bench, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer. Ms. Wiggs drove west from her home in Brooklyn for rehearsals in Kim’s basement. “All Nerve” was recorded nearby, in Dayton, Kentucky and at Mr. Albini’s studio in Chicago. (Their tour for it begins in Los Angeles in April.)

Even after all these years, there were revelations in how they did things: Kim’s recording process, “it’s not going to make sense to me,” her sister said. “Her process is her process, and I can either join her, or I can say ‘no, thank you,’ and split. That was huge for me, to understand all that.”

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