THERE'S NO JUSTICE in a world in which the Muffs aren't superstars. Sure, there were a few brief flirtations with mainstream popularity in the mid-'90s—including some moderate alt-rock radio success with the single "Sad Tomorrow," from the group's high-water mark 1995 album, Blonder and Blonder, and a cover of Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" on the Clueless soundtrack (a song which Muffs frontwoman and principal songwriter Kim Shattuck concedes is a "really awful song"). But the group remain, by and large, one of the great secret-handshake bands of the '90s: Those people who know about the Muffs are pretty much their consistent diehard fans.
There's an audible tone of embarrassment in Shattuck's voice when I refer to her group as a "cult band"—a played-out, tawdry, two-bit music-critic term. "I'm not even sure I know what that means," Shattuck says. "I just don't think about things in those terms. The ultimate goal for me has never been popularity of any kind, but just to write songs that I feel good about, although I will say that there have always been certain people that seem really attracted to our music, and I think it boils down to the fact that we have such strong melodies. I like pre-mustache Beatles, I like hyper-melodic, mid-'60s music, and I think that's something that a really specific crowd identifies with."
The Muffs' new record, Whoop Dee Doo, follows a nearly decade-long hiatus that Shattuck attributes to a variety of factors. "Ten years ago, we put out our last record, Really Really Happy, and we went on a month-long tour," she says. "We were working really hard, and we played our last show in LA in 2006, and I remember just feeling like, 'This is frustrating, I feel like we're spinning our wheels.' So from then until about 2008 we were essentially an inactive band."
Although Shattuck claims to have written the bulk of Whoop Dee Doo more than six years ago, circumstances prevented the record from actually materializing for some time. "When we finally got around to recording the album, I had to fight through a lot of perfectionism," she says. "I was producing the record, in addition to getting mine and everyone else's tracks down. I would do a part, and then I wouldn't like it, and would constantly mess with it until I was satisfied—then the next morning I would listen to it again and be like, 'This is great, what was I thinking?' So dealing with that really slowed down the process a lot."
And then there was Shattuck's controversial stint in the Pixies in 2013, a job she was fired from for essentially being punk as fuck. "Honestly, I think I freaked those guys out—they didn't realize I was an aggressive performer, and they didn't want to deal with it. I'm kind of glad that ended when it did, though, because I didn't know how we [the Muffs] were going to release our album. I honestly thought that was going to last forever. When I joined they told me to expect a year and a half of touring, and I was like, 'Oh shit, I'm probably gonna go insane.'"
With Shattuck's schedule effectively cleared up and Whoop Dee Doo completed, the group made the decision to team up with power-pop fetishist label Burger Records, a partnership that couldn't make any more sense. "[Burger] are great. They're mostly hands off, but when it counts, they do all the stuff I don't know how to do really well," Shattuck says. "I'm really happy with the record, and I already have 10 songs for the next one—and this time it hopefully won't take another 10 years."