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The Muffs

Often described as a pop-punk band, the Muffs both defined and transcended that subgenre. Led by guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kim Shattuck, the Muffs played rock & roll that was fast, loud, and cheerfully snotty, but they also had an uncommon gift for melody and pop hooks, with the sweet and sour sides of the music eagerly complementing one another. Shattuck was also blessed with a great rock & roll voice, sounding sweetly girlish or culminating in a throaty roar, and she could write lyrics that were deeply serious and introspective without sacrificing the drive of the band when they hit fifth gear. With Shattuck usually joined by bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald, the Muffs earned a reputation as a first-rate live act before they were signed to Warner Bros. for their self-titled 1993 debut album, which hit just the right balance of punch and polish, while the follow-up, 1995's Blonder and Blonder (which introduced the definitive lineup of the group) was nearly as good and just as enjoyable. Moving to the indie labels after being dropped by Warner Bros., their recording schedule became more sporadic, but 2014's Whoop Dee Doo was a late-career triumph that ranked with their finest work, and 2019's No Holiday was a bittersweet and emotional goodbye, completed as Shattuck was struggling with a fatal case of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The story of the Muffs began in the '80s, when Kim Shattuck and Melanie Vammen were both members of the L.A. band the Pandoras, an all-female outfit who began as garage rock revivalists and evolved into high-attitude hard rockers. Shattuck and Vammen both left the Pandoras in 1990, shortly before the death of band leader Paula Pierce. Eager to make music together, Shattuck and Vammen launched the Muffs, with Shattuck on lead vocals and lead guitar, Vammen on rhythm guitar, Ronnie Barnett on bass, and Chris Crass on drums. The band's tough but tuneful music and raucous live shows helped them gain a following in Los Angeles, as did early indie singles issued by Sub Pop and Sympathy for the Record Industry. Warner Bros. signed the band to a record deal, and in 1993 they released their self-titled first album, which earned alternative radio airplay for the songs "Everywhere I Go" and "Lucky Guy." The Muffs toured extensively in support, and tensions within the band soon made themselves known; Chris Crass soon left the band, with Jim Laspesa taking his place for touring. After the tour was completed, Melanie Vammen also dropped out, going on to play with the Leaving Trains. In 1994, Shattuck debuted a new edition of the Muffs; she handled lead vocals and all guitar chores, Ronnie Barnett returned on bass, and former Redd Kross percussionist Roy McDonald took over on drums. This trio soon became the final and definitive Muffs lineup, recording two more albums for Warner/Reprise, 1995's Blonder and Blonder and 1997's Happy Birthday to Me, as well as cutting a cover of Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" for the soundtrack of the hit movie Clueless. While the second and third albums earned positive reviews, sales were not up to the label's expectations, and by 1998 the Muffs were free agents. They worked with the independent punk label Honest Don's Records to bring out their fourth LP, 1999's Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow, and 2004's Really Really Happy (mostly recorded in Shattuck's kitchen) was issued on CD by Oglio Records and on vinyl by Sympathy for the Record Industry. Somewhere in between, they brought out the odds-and-sods compilation Hamburger (2003); much of the material surfaced again in 2011 on another collection, Kaboodle. While the Muffs played out periodically, the members mostly kept themselves busy with other projects after the release of Really Really Happy, and Shattuck released an album with her side band the Beards (2002's Funtown). In the fall of 2013, she landed an unexpectedly high-profile gig playing bass with the Pixies after the departure of original bassist Kim Deal. A few weeks later she was fired, reportedly for jumping into the audience to chat with fans at the end of a show, but her brief tenure with the group received plenty of attention in the music press. This helped generate buzz for 2014's Whoop Dee Doo, the first Muffs album in nine years. Shattuck and Melanie Vammen reunited to launch a new edition of the Pandoras, touring and releasing the EP Hey! It's the Pandoras in 2018. Shattuck and Vammen also created another side project, the Coolies, with drummer and multi-instrumentalist Palmyra Delran, recording an EP, Uh Oh! It's … the Coolies, that appeared in July 2019. While Shattuck seemed busier than she had been in ages, this flurry of activity hid a grim secret. Shattuck's family had a history of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and after she began having trouble controlling her hands, she was diagnosed in October 2017. As she began losing control of her body, she was determined to complete one last Muffs album, using a set of songs she had written and recorded as demos between 1991 and 2017. She continued playing guitar as long as she was able, and once she no longer could, she provided direction and support to Barnett and McDonald. The trio was also helped out by Adam Schary (who Shattuck picked to play her guitar parts), Kristian Hoffman and Melanie Vammen (who both contributed keyboards), and Karen Basset (a fellow ex-Pandora who also engineered the sessions at Shattuck's home). Sadly, Shattuck wouldn't live to see the album released, dying in her sleep on October 2, 2019, a few weeks before Omnivore Recordings released No Holiday.
© Mark Deming /TiVo


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