The Muffs: Really Really Happy Again

Music Features

Southern California pop-punk trio The Muffs—featuring singer/guitarist Kim Shattuck, drummer Roy McDonald and bassist Ronnie Barnett—were a staple during my teen years, after I fell in love with their crunchy, feedback-filled anthem “Funny Face” on the 1995 Angus soundtrack. Shattuck’s unmistakable voice was wonderfully rough around the edges and more passionate than perfect, making it so fun to sing along to, and the band’s ability to craft a catchy melody remains untouched to this day (though many new-school pop punkers like Tacocat and Upset do come close).

The Muffs were one of the few successful female-fronted pop-punk bands when the genre felt like a sea of men. They had a song on an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, their cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” was featured on the Clueless soundtrack, and you could play along to their song “Outer Space” on Rock Band. They seemed to be popping up everywhere. Then, without any kind of announcement or fanfare, The Muffs quietly went away after releasing the album Really Really Happy in 2004.

“We didn’t break up; we just took an extremely long break,” Shattuck says a few weeks before the band releases Whoop Dee Doo, its first album in 10 years. “It’s like any family situation—you don’t see each other for a while, but when you see each other it’s like ‘Oh, hey!’ So no, there was no breaking up. Although, I wasn’t feeling like being in a band for a few of those years.”

A few years after Really Really Happy came out, Shattuck was burnt out on music and started to pursue a career in photography. “I did that a long time ago, when I was super young, and I wanted to get back into that, so I took some refresher courses and started doing it in earnest,” she says. “It was fun. I just don’t like to do photography for money.”

Then last year she also briefly played with the Pixies, following Kim Deal’s departure. Despite being fired, Shattuck says it was a positive experience. “It was a blast! I had so much fun. I’m really glad I got to do it because it was really fun learning somebody else’s songs and not being the front-person. It was cool to just rock out and not have to worry about being in the spotlight.”

But the biggest threat to whether or not The Muffs would ever play music together again—and whether or not Shattuck would play music, period—came when the singer thought she had lost her voice. “I had heard a live show, where my voice didn’t sound the way I wanted to hear it and I got paranoid,” she explains. “I’m not an amazing singer, I just belt it out in this crappy old way, but for a while I had it in my head that I couldn’t sing.”

“It turned out it was just muscle memory, and the more I thought about it, the worse it got. I just had to just go, ‘You know what? I’m sick of even thinking about it. I can’t think about it. I just have to do it.’ I don’t know what happened, but I just started hearing my real voice come out again. I could tell that I was singing the way I used to sing again. I had to go through some weird stuff in my head. I used to get really nervous, and it wasn’t even that long ago that I just got so sick of being nervous that I had to tell myself ‘I’m either gonna quit or stop being nervous, because this is bullshit.’ It was mind over matter. I had to decide it.”

With nerves dealt with, and a collection of songs that she had been writing on and off over the years for no specific project, Shattuck, McDonald and Barrett started talking about playing together again. “Eventually the guys started prying around, asking ‘Do you have any songs?’” she says. “I was like ‘Well yeah, as a matter of fact I just wrote a whole bunch that I really like.’ They were like ‘What?! You haven’t played them for us?!’ I think I actually said in an interview that I didn’t know if I was gonna keep [playing music] and I guess the guys saw it and got really bummed. I wasn’t really that serious. I didn’t have it in my head that it was ending; I just was going through other things.”

While listening to Whoop Dee Doo, it doesn’t sound like any time has passed at all, let alone an entire decade. Songs like “Where Did I Go Wrong” and “Because You’re Sad” carry the some fuzzy, pop-punk/doo-wop vibes that made the band a favorite in the ’90s. Shattuck says that’s partly because her songwriting style hasn’t changed, as she’s still very much inspired by great songwriters like Ray Davies and the Beatles.

“The one thing about songwriting that’s been consistent is that I do it for the love of a good melody. I live for writing cool melodies—that’s the thing that drives me to do any of this. And then when you put a big ol’ raggedy, crunchy guitar over the top of that and I’m done,” she says with a laugh. “I’m done, it’s perfect. Next!”

And just as she did in the past, Shattuck took on the role of producer, too.

“We don’t have the money to hire a producer, and I do like doing it,” she says. “I’m not an amazing engineer; I’m just super basic. I’m pretty cavalier about it—I stick the mic wherever it sounds good. I see people and they do, like, geometry. They’re doing angles and looking at it real carefully and I’m like ‘Whatever [fart noise]!’ I’m not saying that’s the right way to do it.”

“I Get It” is a charming, poppy duet featuring Ronie Barnett and lots of handclaps (just like the ’90s!); “Up and Down Around” is a midtempo, swingy number about being mentally unstable, and on “Take a Take a Me,” a tambourine-laden, ’60s pop jam where Shattuck threatens to fight her man’s other woman, she even uses the phrase “funny face,” perhaps an unintentional ode to the past.

The album’s closer, “Forever,” is a sugary-sweet and totally in love pop gem. On it Shattuck sings “I’m happy / as happy as I’ll ever be / and now you’ll see my smile is so real…We’re gonna be forever.” Fingers crossed that she’s talking about The Muffs—the world can’t afford to lose them again.

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