“I really liked Blondie; I really liked the Sex Pistols when they came out and they had a lot of melody. No one ever thinks that”
interview with Anna Blumenthal in Guitar World 2011
Anyone born in 1963 is likely to have experienced the Beatles as a child, Punk Rock as a teen and a world in which opportunities for girls and women continue to expand. The professional life of Kim Shattuck, songwriter, record producer, engineer, performer and guitar hero reflects this and today we are sad that it has come to an end.
Degenerative genetically-acquired diseases are heart-breaking. Kim Shattuck knew she had ALS when she released a single by The Coolies. It was a 100% charity fundraising single for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as motor neurone disease). Tributes and messages of love and respect have been pouring in since her husband Kevin Sutherland announced that Kim has passed away.
Kim came from a musically rich family in Orange County south of Los Angeles – one that sang in church choirs, barbershop groups and the like, but there was little in the way of rock n roll. She talks of the ‘annoying vibrato’ singing that her aunts and mother did and how hearing a beautiful clear singing voice on the radio with melody and no vibrato was a turning point.
Kim first got into playing in bands through a bass-playing boyfriend. Local girl band The Pandoras approached Kim as she had the right look for their band.
“They asked my boyfriend and me if I played bass and we lied and said I did …. but I didn’t! My boyfriend did so he quickly showed me all the little tricks and stuff and it wasn’t that hard.”
Kim’s life in The Pandoras served well as a time to write songs, observe and learn her craft. The Pandoras’ sound changed
“from Madonna… to Bryan Adams and then to the Whitesnake phase – I thought I was gonna lose my mind….. At the end it got nasty and it all broke up”
Her next band – The Muffs – has endured partly out of Kim learning what not to do with band dynamics and politics. Signed to major labels, The Muffs insisted on having total freedom in their musical direction and plans.
In interviews, Kim claims to be a ‘melody fiend’ and sums up her songs as
“Rock n roll that’s melodic and aggressive”
She cites role models and influences such as The Bangles, Joan Jett, The Sex Pistols, The Go-Gos. Any alleged similarity to The Ramones, Kim says it’s
“because I’m influenced by the same 1960’s groups that they were.”
And, true to nature, when vibrato singing came back big-time in the 1990’s, Kim countered it with screeching as well as using her pure straight non-vibrato voice!
Comedian/Writer Greg Behrendt rates the band:
“The Muffs are a much overlooked and undernourished band that rival the best of Hole and Green Day. You were a total punk, Kim and you will be missed.”
Many fans and journalists cite her period as stand-in bass player for The Pixies as her most important achievement. This fame-rating obsession is stupid; Kim’s best work is that which she has created herself or in symbiotic musical relationships. The try-out with The Pixies was clearly a mis-match of individuals with very different personalities, as Kim recounts her tour experience:
“I did a stage dive……when I got offstage, the manager told me not to do that again. I said, “Really, for my own safety?” and he said, “No because The Pixies don’t do that.”
The music has continued since then with The Muffs; Kim was a keen photographer and has continued to write songs after becoming ill, as well as producing other artists.
Punkgirldiaries wants women to have a fair deal in music, where there’s mutual respect, help and just good non-sexist attitudes all round. With a couple of exceptions along the way, Kim seems to have built a professional life with people around her who have been just right musically and personally.
Band mates Ronnie Barnett and Roy McDonald are full of praise for Kim’s skills and resilience:
“While battling ALS, Kim produced our last album, overseeing every part of the record from tracking to artwork.”
The Muffs new album, No Holiday, is due for release on October 18th.