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R.I.P. Kim Shattuck

Remembering the Muffs’ Kim Shattuck: “She is the bravest person I’ll ever know”

by Roy McDonald
First published in the Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2019

On Oct. 18, longtime Los Angeles punk band the Muffs will release their final album, No Holiday. Tragically, it will arrive just weeks after singer-guitarist Kim Shattuck, the band’s guiding light and main songwriter, died on Oct. 2, after a two-year struggle with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She was 56.

After Shattuck was diagnosed with ALS in 2017, she and her bandmates, bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald, committed to recording one last album together. Here, McDonald recounts the making of “No Holiday,” the friends who made it possible and Shattuck’s indomitable rock ’n’ roll spirit.

It was May of 2017 and the Muffs had just returned from playing a triumphant show at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver. A few weeks prior to that we’d had a fantastic time on our first visit to South America, playing in Argentina and Uruguay.

We had ended a good run of shows on a high note. Now it was time to get down to the business of making the next album. We had most of the songs in place, but Kim wanted to work up another bunch of tunes. We needed a couple of fast ones to round out the record, just like we had for the “Whoop De Doo” album at the eleventh hour.

It wasn’t too long after that when Kim started to have problems with her wrist. At first, we thought it was a sprain, then possibly something to do with a nerve, but Kim confessed to me and Ronnie that she was worried it was ALS. We knew her family history and both remember what her poor father went through and how much it affected Kim. We reassured her that it wasn’t ALS, but I was a little worried too. So was Ronnie.

Then we both got the text from Kim. She had ALS. I felt lightheaded for a moment, then started uncontrollably sobbing. I had reassured her that it wasn’t ALS and I was wrong. I got myself somewhat under control and called her. She was sobbing. I apologized for being wrong and my sobbing started over again.

She talked through tears about how she had so much more she wanted to do, and that most of all she wanted to finish the record. Then and there we decided that was just what we were going to do. We figured that we had the bones of an album. There were three songs that we didn’t include on “Whoop De Doo” that we could use. Some of Kim’s demos of the newer songs were well tracked and fully arranged. We had a couple of older recordings that we could spruce up. This could work.

First of all, there would be fewer fast songs, which somehow now seems right. It was the pop songs that were coming more naturally to Kim these past few years.

Then she started getting sick. The ALS began affecting Kim’s speech and she was having problems with her motor coordination. We pressed on.

We booked time for me to come in and track the drums. I hadn’t seen Kim since the diagnosis and, while she had difficulty walking and her speech was slower, she was still the same Kim, funny and totally disarming.

Drums and bass usually are recorded first, with everything else layered over them. And some of these songs had wild swings in tempo that I would have to follow to a T. But as soon as we started, I was able to follow the ebb and flow of Kim’s rhythms almost intuitively. Kim supervised the recording with the help of our longtime engineer and friend Steve Holroyd (assisted by Eric Eldenius) and encouraged me through the whole process. Ronnie then laid down his parts, once again falling right into place.

After 23 years we could read each other’s minds. There were guitar parts that were needed. Kim enlisted our friend Adam Schary, and the stuff he added was amazing.

Recording continued at the Glendale home of Kim and her husband, Kevin Sutherland. Our longtime friend and Pandoras bandmate Karen Basset helped engineer, as well as contributing backing vocals on several songs. Kristen Shattuck continued a lovely Muffs tradition of harmonizing with her big sister. Longtime collaborator Kristian Hoffman provided keyboard magic. Evan Frankfort worked miracles with these mixes and did it for nothing, as a gift to Kim.

Bringing it all back home was founding Muffs member Melanie Vammen on keyboards. She was there with Kim through every stage of her illness, always by her side. It’s fitting that she’s part of our final studio album.

And then there’s Kim. She produced this entire record and approved all mixes and masters. She chose the songs for inclusion, sequenced the record and approved the artwork and design. She named the record. She did all this while that evil disease continued on its path.

She is the bravest person I’ll ever know. It’s been two days since she left us and I miss her so much already. This album is her legacy and, in many ways, our proudest moment.