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[2020-07-29] Style Profile: Kim Deal - THUMB

Style Profile: Kim Deal

07/29/2020 12:00 PM

Kim Deal with The Pixies in 2010

By Leila Abdul-Rauf

"Band seeks bassist into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary. Please – no chops." The not-yet-formed Pixies posted this ad in the Boston Phoenix in 1986, to which Kim Deal was the only person to respond. Guitar being her first instrument, Deal borrowed her twin sister (and bandmate in The Breeders) Kelley's Aria Pro II bass for the gig. As a singer-songwriter-guitarist who hadn't really played bass before, Kim developed her own no-frills, driving bass style, along with her crucial backing (and sometimes lead) vocals. Although she left the Pixies in 2013, Kim laid the foundation for The Pixies' unique sound, while also inspiring a generation of girls and women to pick up the bass.

The Pixies in 2009

Attempting to describe the Pixies' sound in terms of genre – a jarring blend of pop, noise, punk, and surf rock – doesn't do it justice, because the band really created its own genre, with its "nothing standard" philosophy and do-it-yourself attitude. Kim's non-standard approach to the bass includes playing with a pick (she favors green .88mm Dunlop Tortex) and using old bass strings. She hasn't explained in interviews why she prefers using old strings, but we'd guess it might be either comfort (new strings can be less comfortable on fingers) or she prefers the mellower tone that results from broken-in strings.

Kim Deal started out playing an Aria Pro II Cardinal Series CSB-300 Bass Guitar like this one.

Kim stuck with her sister's Aria Pro II Cardinal Series bass until the recording of their highly-acclaimed second studio album from 1988, Doolittle. When their producer refused to record the instrument, she grabbed a 1962 Fender Precision Reissue. Over the next couple of years, Kim experimented with different bass sounds, going back and forth between the Fender and a new Music Man StingRay, depending on the song's needs.

Some of the Pixies' greatest hits begin with bass and no guitar – check out both "Debaser" above and "Hey" below – and that's a testament the importance of Kim's contributions. Playing with a pick and the tone knob all the way up gave Kim a punchy, percussive tone, with an even attack that cuts through the mix; it also provided an anchor to Joey Santiago's noisy, angular guitar style.

The influence of Kim Deal's bass style went far beyond the Pixies; along with bass contemporary Kim Gordon and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, Deal inspired a whole movement of new female musicians, showing the world that you don't have to be a shredder or know a lot of music theory to be a solid bass player or write great songs.

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Oakland, CA. Leila is guitarist and vocalist for metal bands Vastum, Hammers of Misfortune, and ethereal post-punk band Terebellum. She also composes and produces ambient music under her own name, with electronic trio Ionophore and synth-folk duo Fyrhtu. Leila has toured internationally and is a private guitar and voice teacher in her spare time.

"Kim Deal 2010" by Alejandro Jofré is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

"Pixies 2009" by Angie Garrett is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

"Aria Pro II Cardinal Series CSB-300 Bass Guitar" by Martin Taylor is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0./p>

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