by Keith Valcourt
Kim Shattuck was a unique voice in rock and roll. For a solid part of three decades, she led the L.A. Power Punk trio The Muffs through hundreds of shows and the release of six albums of catchy songs packed with sarcasm and sing song joy. By her side for the travels were her bandmates, bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy MacDonald. Sadly, on October 2nd of this year, that voice fell silent when Kim Shattuck died in her sleep after a two-year battle with ALS. She was 56. Just 48 hours after her passing, Ronnie Barnett’s mom also died. Despite that overwhelming loss, Ronnie was kind enough to talk with me about life with Kim (as a singer and former girlfriend), The Muff’s final album “No Holiday,” and the legacy Kim Shattuck left behind.
What do you remember about the first time you met Kim?
I was like a rock critic in my hometown of Houston. We met in ‘86 when The Pandoras came through on tour. We became instant friends. My brother lived in Orange County, CA so I was able to come out for an extended stay. That cemented the friendship between Kim and me. It was not romantic at that time. That was 1986, and we didn’t see each other again till 1989.
Were you guys a couple or bandmates first?
We were a couple before we were bandmates. When we saw each other again in 1989, that’s when it became romantic. I dropped everything and moved to California. She was in The Pandoras. At that time, The Pandoras were kind of heavy metal and had lost their audience. Kim didn’t like the direction of the band. She had a stockpile of songs. She found out I played bass. From that point on, she wanted to have her own band. In September 1990, the Pandoras were going to Europe, and Paula (Pierce – lead singer/songwriter) cancelled that week because her boyfriend couldn’t go. Kim was like, “That’s it. I quit.” I was very concerned and said, “No. You can’t.” She said, “It’s fine. We’ll have our own band.”
When Kim was diagnosed with ALS, the band decided to make one more album. What was making “No Holiday” like?
We had been planning so most of these songs were written. As soon she was diagnosed, we all got together and said, “We have to make this record.” We knew we had to do it in a different way because Kim couldn’t play guitar at that point. But she could still speak and still walk. In the past, Kim made demos that were fully formed. They would almost sound like a finished record. This time was mainly her acoustic. We had to adhere to weird timings and weird tunings here and there. We had to construct it kind of like Syd Barret’s “Madcap Laughs.”
“No Holiday” to me sounds like a “best of” because the album showcases every aspect of the band. Was that intentional?
I like that you said that. It is kind of a “best of” of what we do. Some polished stuff next to some low fi stuff. But I can’t say it was intentional because we had what we had to work with. There are three songs that were finished songs that didn’t make the last record for whatever reason. With all the different fidelities and audio qualities, we didn’t know how it would fit together. When I first heard it as a record, I broke down and cried because it sounded like a cohesive record. We were so hoping she was going to make it to the release date. And she almost did.
Was her death as big of a shock to you as it was to the fans?
We all knew. Sadly, it is a fatal disease. Generally, once you are diagnosed you have two to three years. There is no cure. Over time the person loses control over their body. With Kim it moved fast. She was diagnosed two years ago this month, and just six months later she couldn’t move or talk. In the last six weeks the disease caught up with her breathing. We all knew that what was going to be the final thing. The last week we knew it would be any day. I got word on the Tuesday, and she passed away Wednesday morning. As prepared as you are… It was still heartbreaking.
How did you guys communicate?
She had a device that could read her eyeballs, so she was able to communicate, answer emails and post stuff online. The easiest way for her to communicate was through Viber messages. Me and her and Roy had a message thread together.
What was the last thing you guys said to each other?
The whole past two years we were constantly telling each other that we loved each other. Always saying that when we left her side. Kissing her head. It got harder for her to use the machine in the last six weeks because she had to start using a breathing apparatus full time. The last messages were a little garbled because the machine couldn’t read her eyes so well. I am almost positive the last communication was, “You guys know how much I love you.”
Do you think you will ever make music again?
At this point I’m saying no. The Muffs were my band. I put everything in that band. I don’t consider myself a “musician.” I do what I do, but I’m not the guy who would search ads in the newspaper, “Bassist Wanted.” As of now I can’t see myself being in another band.
What is Kim’s legacy?
Kim’s legacy is her songwriting. That is what kept us around for twenty-nine years we worked as a band. We were a good live band, but it’s really the songs that kept us around. Her songwriting is timeless.
The Muffs: “No Holiday” is out on October 18th, 2019.
Keith Valcourt is a Los Angeles based music and entertainment writer. He has interviewed thousands of celebrities in the worlds of music, film, TV and comedy for dozens of outlets including: L.A. Times, Washington Times, LFP Publishing, ChelseaCommunityNews.com, RetroRoadMap.com LaArtsOnline and more. Much More
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