Josephine Wiggs and Jim Macpherson, the bassist and drummer for The Breeders, were walking the streets of Melbourne recently while the band was on tour there.
As they passed a bus stop full of people, Wiggs heard one of them call out a familiar sound.
“Doo-doo-doo-da-doo,” Wiggs recalled, laughing.
It was Wiggs’ bass intro to “Cannonball,” by far the Breeders’ best-known song and one of the defining tunes of the ‘90s alternative era. It’s just a few notes (accidentally played a half-tone flat), but it’s one of the most iconic bass lines in rock.
“It’s just hilarious,” Wiggs said in a phone interview. “It’s such a funny thing to do something like that, and people all over the world recognize it and associate it with you. It’s a funny and special thing to have that.”
The album “Cannonball” came from, “Last Splash,” turned 20 this year. To celebrate, Wiggs and Macpherson joined Kim and Kelley Deal for a reunion tour, marking the first time since 1994 that the original Breeders line-up has played together. The tour has taken them all over the world, and Wiggs said the group was having so much fun they decided to squeeze in a few mid-December shows, including a show Friday, Dec. 13 at the High Noon Saloon.
“Originally it looked like Australia would be the last thing that we did,” Wiggs said. “We were like, ‘Wait, that means this is going to be over?’ This year has gone by so quickly that I think it all took us all by surprise. So we were like ‘Well, where haven’t we played yet?’”
The reunion tour comes along with a mammoth deluxe reissue of “Last Splash,” the band’s second album, which includes a bonus live album, four EPs and other rarities spread out over three CDs or seven vinyl albums.
For Wiggs, a classically-trained cellist who went on to compose soundtracks and other projects since the Breeders went on its lengthy hiatus, she hadn’t listened to “Last Splash” in a while.
“I hadn’t listened to for years and years and years, and then I had to listen to it a year ago last September to relearn the songs,” she said. “I was struck by how contemporary sounding it is. That record could be released today and it would stand up.
“They weren’t any weird this-is-the-latest-flavor-of-the-month effects, like Auto Tune was this year,” Wiggs added. “If you have any sort of effect like that, you’re immediately branding whatever it is you’re doing to that time. Luckily there wasn’t anything like that to position it in history. Everything on there is straightforward, honest sound, and the way it’s mixed is very much the way things are mixed now.”
As part of the tour, the band has been playing “Last Splash” start to finish as part of each set. That meant the band had to learn to play 20-year-old songs that were never part of a concert set the first time around.
“Often there are tracks on an album, maybe they don’t translate so well into a live situation, so they don’t get played live,” she said. “Playing that whole album meant you had to play that song. There were songs like ‘Mad Lucas’ that we had never done before.
“I was actually quite pleasantly surprised at how it well it works, and how well the whole record as one piece. I think it works really well. It’s got really good momentum to it.”
The band disbanded after "Last Splash" in 1994, although Kelley Deal resurrected the Breeders with different lineups in the intervening years. (Sister Kim was able to rejoin the lineup in 2013 after leaving her other gig as bassist for the Pixies.)
While inter-band strife between the Pixies is the stuff of legend, Wiggs said the initial Breeders wasn’t acrimonious at all, and the four original bandmates are having a great time playing together.
“It’s been fun to hang out with them and fun to be doing music with them again,” she said. “We went to a lot of places that I had certainly not been to before, and places that I went to 20 years ago that I never thought I’d get the chance to play there again. Santiago, Chile: it’s a little bit more off the beaten path to go and do a show there, and the audience was just amazing. They were so enthusiastic and excited.”
Wiggs said that, compared to 20 years ago, the musicians are all more focused this time around on getting the details right.
“Our live shows back then were a bit wilder for various reasons,” Wiggs said diplomatically. “Now, everybody is kind of more interested in actually looking at the songs and recreating the songs as they are on the record. Everybody’s got their attention to detail going on, which is kind of nice from my point of view. Back in the day, I was always the one who was saying ‘Hey, we’re playing that too fast!’”
As 2013 and the “Last Splash” 20th-anniversary tour winds down, Wiggs said the Breeders are thinking about ways they could keep the momentum going.
“All of us have had such a great time playing together again, and also revisiting our musical history together, that it has made us think about the possibility of trying to do something else,” she said.
“We’ve really enjoyed playing together, and the only way that we can carry on doing that is release new material. Our catalog is frankly pretty small.”