“Perfection Is Boring”: Q & A With Kim Shattuck of The Muffs

by BUST Magazine

Kim Shattuck, guitarist of The Muffs, had missed her band. She had been playing with the LA-based punk rock group since their formation in 1991 and up until they decided to take a break after their fifth record in 2004. About a decade later, she paid a visit to her mother’s house, where a number of previous Muffs songs were written, to see if the environment sparked any new inspiration. Shattuck came up with an album’s worth of all new material and couldn’t wait to show Muffs bassist, Ronnie Barnett, and drummer, Roy McDonald. “I started sending [the songs] to [them] and they were like, “OMG!”

OMG is right. The Muff’s newest studio album, Whoop Dee Doo, rules. While chatting with Shattuck one summer afternoon, I got the inside scoop on her musical obsessions throughout the Whoop Dee Doo songwriting process, her favorite tracks on the album, her love for fellow LA rockers Redd Kross, her thoughts on practicing the DIY ethic, and, of course, her love for her band mates.

The Muffs just played the Burger Boogaloo last week—how was that? What was your favorite part of the Boogaloo?

I thought it was really fun! I think the part that I enjoyed the most was running around afterwards talking to all my friends and people I knew and people I met for the first time. I felt like a total social butterfly when I was there. The show was really fun—I liked the vibe of it! It was in a park and was sort of an amphitheater-style and the sound was good. I don’t know what it sounded like to the crowd but on stage it sounded good to me. And the audience was really enthusiastic so, of course, I loved that!

Did you get to see any bands that you liked a lot?

The Gizmos were amazing! I really loved them and I met them afterwards and didn’t know it was them because I watched them play from behind the stage so I only saw the backs of people’s heads…I had heard about them a lot and people told me to check them out, but I didn’t even know I was watching them when I was watching them! They had some really good songs and I kind of got sucked into watching them from behind, and then when I met them I was like “What band are you all in?” When they said “The Gizmos” I was like “Whaaat? You guys are amazing!!” It was cool.

It’s been 10 years since The Muff’s last studio album, right? What factors (influential bands, events in your lives, etc) inspired you, musically and lyrically, to put this new album together?

What was kind of funny was that we were taking a break after our last record. We went on tour a little bit and did some shows and we kind of got burnt out. So we were taking a break…and I don’t know how much longer it was—maybe a year—but I wasn’t really writing and I decided to go to my mom’s house where I’d written a lot of Muffs songs. I have a lot of inspiration in my mom’s house just from writing songs there when I was younger and living with my mom still. So she was on a vacation and I went and hung out at her house and started writing a little bit to see if I still could.  I started to really like what I was writing, but I didn’t really show the guys. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with the songs. So I came up with a really good one that is on our new album, called “Paint By Numbers,” and I started thinking, “I want to listen to my old inspirations,” like what used to inspire me when I used to write. Just to see…because I didn’t want to be, like, that older person that is kind of “flat”—like didn’t have inspiration anymore…somebody who is jaded. I didn’t want to be jaded at all. So I thought, “Well, I should at least listen to stuff I used to listen to just to remember why I liked it.”

So I did that. I just drove around wasting gas and listening to music. I started listening to The Beatles again…I got really obsessed with The Beatles again. I also listened to Blondie, The Beach Boys, different punk rock stuff like the Sex Pistols and Freddie and the Dreamers. You know, goofy stuff that I used to like. It made my head kind of go back to the old days and be like, “Ah, that’s cool!” So it made me start writing more and more and more….and once I get on a teeny bit of a roll, I can write a ton of songs that I’m happy with in a short period of time. And that’s what started to happen. By then, Ronnie and Roy were like “We want to hear your songs!” So I started demoing them and started sending the songs to Ronnie and Roy and they were like, “Oh my god!” And then I’d be like, “Oh, I have another song!” And they’d be like “Oh my god, I really like that song!” And then I’d send another and another and…eventually Roy and I were conspiring and we were like, “We should record another album!”

But because we weren’t really set up with a label and set up with anything, we just kind of let everything fall by the wayside. We decided to kind of start fresh and we recorded it! And then it took a little while and then the Pixies thing happened. We had mixed the album completely and were just about to master it and then I joined the Pixies. So it took another 9 months or something before I was fired from the Pixies…to get all our “ducks in a row” and to get a label together and get it out! It’s a lot of work. You don’t even realize it until you’re in the middle of it. I’m so excited it’s finally coming out!

Me too! Do you have a favorite track on the album?

I have a couple favorites I think. I really like “Take a Take a Me” and I really like “Up and Down Around” and “Forget the Day”. Just different poppy melodies and arrangements stand out for me. “Up and Down Around” is one of my favorite ones, for sure.

What are some of your favorite currently active bands based out of the LA area? Do you think they had any influence on any of the songs? What are some of your all-time favorite former LA-based bands?

One of the things about the way I write is that I’m not always inspired by other bands. I kind of take my inspiration from internally…like my own kind of taste that’s been churning through my head for a long time. Every once in a while I’ll get an inspiration and it’ll influence my music a little bit, like in 1995 and 1996 it was The Amps and Guided by Voices. But now, when I was writing I really did just delve into liking old stuff. Like The Beatles and Blondie. I got really obsessed with The Beatles for like…I don’t know, a month maybe? And then I went into Blondie and it was like another month of just listening to Blondie. Like I got really obsessive about the stuff I was listening to. I wasn’t really trying to write like any of those guys I don’t think, but I obsessed on it for sure.

But regarding LA area bands…Roy is also in the band, Redd Kross, and I LOVE them…I’ve always loved them. And while we were making our record they were also making theirs but they were taking longer than us and I got to hear the final tracks that were unmastered because Roy gave me a copy of it and I obsessed on that for a while. Our thing was that we were going to see which band could get their record out first. We were neck and neck and were racing to finish…and then the Pixies came up…and then Redd Kross won the race. I don’t even know if they were racing, but I was racing! (Laughs) I was using them as a barometer.

That’s fun that you could love Redd Kross so much and then also be able to play music with someone from their band.

I know! Roy’s always been The Muffs’ first choice for a drummer. When we were looking for a drummer, Melanie was really good friends with Roy. I was friends with him a little bit but she was closer with him and she had his phone number so we called him to see if he could do it. He was like “No, I’m moving to Texas. But I work with this guy named Criss…you should check him out, he’s a really good drummer.” So we had Criss Crass on our first record and…he was insane. (Laughs) He had a really big personality…so that didn’t last super long. And then we had Roy join so it was cool.

Despite being on a major record label like Warner Bros. in the past, you have expressed being a strong advocate of the DIY ethic. Why do you feel like bands (regardless of genre) embracing this DIY ethic is an important factor in gaining a positive experience in the music industry?

That’s a really good question actually. Sometimes you really have no choice but to “do it yourself” when you have limited money and…you know, we’ve gone through having a major label deal but also doing everything independently and not having a lot of money. The part of it that I really appreciate is that I started producing because we didn’t have any money and I used to fight with everybody about everything so I was just like, “I’ll just do it myself!” And then I had to learn. I’m not amazing at any of the engineering aspects of it or anything, but I just kind of embraced doing that part of it myself and doing my best. I think that it’s rewarding. I just feel really happy to be proactive about my life a little bit, you know? And sometimes you need help with things from actual pros and people who know what they’re doing because you don’t know what you’re doing.

I’m definitely not a “know-it-all” about stuff anymore. I think I was before. I was controlling and stuff like that.  And now I’m just kind of like, “I don’t know everything, and it’s fine.” And if it doesn’t sound perfect, it’s totally okay, because perfection is super boring. (Laughs) I like doing stuff myself. I come from a family like that. I’ll paint the whole house and I’ll be super exhausted and be having a mini nervous breakdown like “Oh my god, I’m so tired!” And then after I get not tired anymore, I’ll be like “Oh, it looks pretty good—wait there’s a spot there.” And then I’m just like “Whatever! I did that myself!” It’s kind of awesome doing everything yourself. I think it’s character building for sure.  

In The Muffs, you’ve covered a variety of different songs by bands such as The Beat, Elvis Costello, and most famously, since it was featured in the movie Clueless, Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America.” Which cover was the most fun to do?

You know what song that we covered that I still think might be one of my favorite songs that we ever did? “Beat Your Heart Out,” done by The Zeros of Chula Vista, CA. In the 1970’s they were just these 15-year-old Mexican boys that did this amazing, melodic punk rock with all the gusto that you want to see. “Beat Your Heart Out” was written by Robert Lopez, who later became “El Vez.” So yeah, we recorded the cover in Seattle in like…1992. That’s one of my favorite covers. It’s just a fun song to play.

I’ve never really listened to that song by The Zeros but I like their song, “Handgrenade Heart” a lot.

Yeah! I think “Beat Your Heart Out” was on a really early single that they did.

Do you have any special songs that you’d like to cover in the future?

There are some songs in The Pandoras, a band I was in before The Muffs, that never got released that I like that I think would make amazing, amazing covers. Just cause they were never released. I don’t like to cover songs that much…the “Kids in America” thing kind of made me not want to cover songs anymore. Because I don’t get any money for it! But oh well, live and learn. But yeah, maybe something from The Pandoras. That would be super fun.

So you picked up guitar at age 18.What gave you the confidence and strength to teach yourself an instrument at this age?

I didn’t really care that I started late, but I think what made me start wanting to play guitar was that I just heard some guitar playing at the time that blew me away so much that I was like, “I need to be able to do this.” It wasn’t even like a big thought-out thing, I just became completely obsessed with playing the guitar. I never really thought I’d do anything with it, I just kind of wanted to learn. Since I was a little kid I always liked to write songs, but I never thought I’d actually write a real song that a real band would play.

Maybe the coolest thing ever was when The Muffs played a song that I wrote for the first time. I got to sing it and play it and yeah…that was a big deal to me. I actually really like when people kind of know how to play, like when it’s really ragged and messy. I don’t like people who show off or play really slick. That always bugs the shit out of me. I hate it! (Laughs) It’s good and it’s very impressive when people play really technical, but I don’t really care. I’m more about sloppy, loud, raggedy, feedback, cool power chords, little intricate melodies on top of it. Even with other things, like the way people decorate houses, I hate when things are ostentatious, gaudy, or show-off-y. I always like a real down-home, comfortable yet nice looking and sleek kind of decorated house.

So yeah, I don’t like showing off. It’s all feelings I think—I want to hear big, fluffy, crispy, crunchy, feedback and….but it’s weird because a beautifully played rhythm guitar can add to the texture of it. Like, when The Kinks started, Ray Davies played these amazing, raggedy, stupid-yet-amazing leads that just had squawky notes all over the place. He’d try to play fast but his fingers wouldn’t go fast enough so it was all like weird but cool. But when he got older, he tried to be all “cool” and learn how to noodle a little bit and make it sound, you know, “technical”…and I shut my ears. I was like, “Blech.” (Laughs)

Although The Muffs is your main band, I know that you’ve played in a few other bands, some of them having an all-girl lineup, like The Pandoras, and the Beards.  I read that you prefer actually playing in NOT all-girl bands, like The Muffs and White Flag. Why is that?

I’ve had a bit of a change of heart about that, actually. I’m starting to change my mind. I really like being girl bands. Of course it depends on the people you’re playing with, naturally, and I don’t really think of it as like “girl band” or “guy band” or “mixed band,” I just think of it as a band. It’s just fun to play with anyone who inspires you and you have a common thing with and that you can have some laughs with. That previous opinion came from the fact that I had some bad memories from playing in The Pandoras and a few bad memories from playing in The Bears so I just kind of said, “Screw it, I like playing with guys more.” But that was a reactionary opinion, a kind of blustery comment that I made that’s not really true anymore.

If you could be in a band with musicians that you admire, who would the band consist of?

I really have to say that the band I’m in right now, The Muffs, is the band that I would choose. I don’t glorify celebrities at all, so I can’t really think of a “celebrity” artist that I’d want to be in a band with because it’s more about the music and less about the personality. Well, if they’re nice, that goes a long way, obviously. But, if I were to have a big old hootenanny, I’d pick members of all the bands I’ve been in and just have all of us there.

What’s next for you, musically? Any big news regarding The Muffs or any other musical projects?

My main project is obviously the Muffs. I want people to hear our album so I’m committed to that. I have another project I’m working on too. Something that people will dig…I’m keeping it under my hat though. Super fucking cool. I’m also producing a band called Honeychain. They are amazing and we are going into the studio sometime this fall. Producing is something I’m getting more and more into. I’m having a ton of fun. —Marisa Cagnoli

Whoop Dee Doo is out now on Burger Records!

Photos by Kim Shattuck

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter

About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.