Season 2 — Episode 10 — June 30, 2022
Ronnie Barnett of The Muffs
Ronnie Barnett of The Muffs
I saw that a DM had slid into my Facebook account, so I checked it out:
AND THEN IT DAWNED ON ME I WAS CHATTING WITH RONNIE BARNETT — THE BASS PLAYER OF THE MUFFS!
He said yes!
Having Ronnie Barnett on Abandoned Albums made me remember one of the reasons I started doing this— because it’s fun! And at times it’s even important.
Look, both Rob Janicke and I are fully aware that we aren’t doing the lord’s work here at Abandoned Albums or The Generation Riff Podcast; BUT sometimes, important things are talked about.
Ronnie is from Texas and has lived in Los Angeles for over 30 years, which is to say, he is a fuckton of fun to talk to! You see, Texans can weave a good yarn, and almost anyone who lives in LA knows how to tell a tale…AND Ronnie’s been a full-time musician for decades.
All of this to say, Ronnie has some stories to tell…and he tells them well.
The Muffs are one of the most influential bands to have emerged from the haze of 90s music. That era is largely seen through the fog of privilege: the white male, testosterone driven, Gen X angst of grunge. But if you look closer, there are other great artists of different genre’s.
Arguably, the 90’s was a high point for female singers. Regardless of your own opinion, women were doing interesting, and amazing, work across genre’s — and among them was The Muffs chief creative force and lead singer Kim Shattuck.
As Ronnie tells us, The Muffs began when Melanie Vammen was kicked out of the all-female group The Pandoras. Fellow Pandora Shattuck had been creatively sidelined in The Pandora’s, and saw Vammen’s departure as an opportunity. Shattuck left shortly thereafter and tapped Vammen to start a new band.
And because Barnett was then Shattuck’s paramour, and she knew he played bass, the three found a drummer in Criss Crass… and thus, The Muffs were born.
The band released a couple of singles for independent label stalwarts Sub Pop Records and Sympathy for the Devil Industries (who played a significant role in Episode 4 guest Mike Randle’s band Baby Lemonade).
In short order, the band picked up a deal with Warner Brothers Records, and their self-titled debut was produced by the band and the guy who signed them, David Katznelson, and Rob Cavallo. Their self-titled debut album is loaded with 16 fast, furious, and fun power-punk tracks, primarily penned by Shattuck.
Released in 1993, the album didn’t necessarily light the commercial world on fire, but it resonated with critics and fans of taut power-pop/punk. In fact, the record landed hard in the ears of three guys — Mike Dirnt, Tre’ Cool, and Billie Joe Armstrong — who you may know better as a band called Green Day.
The connective tissue between Green Day and The Muffs isn’t just their mutual respect or the type of music they played, it’s also Rob Cavallo.
But wait, there’s more…
A TRIFECTA OF CONNECTION:
[Fun Fact(s): Rob Cavallo also produced the debut album by Episode 5 guest Jeff Whalen’s band TSAR.
NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING
By the time The Muffs re-convened to record their sophomore effort, Blonder and Blonder, they had had shed two members (Vammen and drummer Cross) and were now a trio of Shattuck, now ex-paramour Barnett, and new drummer Roy McDonald.
Oh yea, and their producer Rob Cavallo had produced the tectonic shifting Green Day album Dookie.
1995’s Blonder and Blonder includes 14 more tight and crafty tunes written by Shattuck, but still failed to find a huge commercial audience; although they continued picking up industry and artist fans the way a Dyson hoovers up dirt on a carpet.
The Muffs did manage to score a hit that year remaking Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” for the soundtrack to the 1995 film Clueless.
Unfortunately, the major-label faucet was shut down and The Muffs were dropped by Reprise Records in 1997 after their third album, Happy Birthday.
And without having the commercial and financial success that some of their fans did — like Green Day, Elvis Costello, or The Who — to soften the churn of the industry treadmill — record ->tour -> record->tour ->record-> tour — the band was understandably burned out by the end of the 90s.
The Muffs went on an extended hiatus from 1999 to 2005.
When The Muffs re-convened in 2005, they continued recording in Shattuck’s musical milieu of tight well-crafted power pop/punk songs. And look, you can call it power pop, pop, punk, power punk, garage, or whatever — just listen to it.
For the next 14 years The Muffs did what they do best — perform live and make killer music.
In a review of the bands 2014’s Whoop Dee Do, critic Douglas Wolk wrote in Pitchfork:
“They haven’t slowed down or softened their attack, or lost their way with tune-construction. Even Shattuck’s voice remains barely touched by time… There is scarcely a more consistent band in all of American pop-punk.”
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ran in Kim Shattuck’s family.
Some can have ALS, and live lives with varying degrees of the diseases impact. Unfortunately, that was not the case for Kim Shattuck. Her illness attacked her body with the same speed and ferocity that one of her brilliantly crafted songs penetrates your ears.
Ronnie describes this period of The Muffs during this episode.
Despite being unable to perform, or speak, and continuing to be physically ravaged by ALS, the band —still under Shattuck’s direction — built songs from her demos and recorded The Muffs final album, 2019's No Holiday. Kim Shattuck saw this final album with The Muffs all the way through.
By October of 2019, all of the recording, post-production, and artwork had been completed and signed off by Shattuck.
Kim Shattuck passed away as a result of ALS on October 2, 2019.
No Holiday was released October 18, 2019 on Omnivore Recordings.
We began our conversation with Ronnie under the auspices of talking about Blonder and Blonder, but ended up chatting about everything related to The Muffs.
And the bands story is unique in many ways. Including, but not limited to, The Muffs continuing influence on musicians, their — in particular, Ronnie’s — actual love and respect for the music business, and, of course, their tragic end.
Both Rob and I are grateful to Ronnie for sharing The Muffs complete story with us and are thankful that he will continue to carry the torch for The Muffs to ensure that their music continues to resonate with future artists.
We’re also grateful to Ronnie for the David Lee Roth and Maurice White stories… and the others we decided NOT to include in the podcast.
The joy I get from Abandoned Albums is that not only do I get to talk to really cool artists, and have fun doing it, but I’m also reminded of the impact of music.
For many of us, music isn’t just something to tap out on the steering wheel or sing in the shower, it’s a God damn life force.
“The only music podcast that matters.”