At its heart, the music of Kim Shattuck was unabashedly poppy, but, unlike so many of her more meekly retro-minded peers, her songs were also infused with a relentless, cutting sarcasm and a jubilant, anarchic noisiness that elevated her longtime band The Muffs far above other local power-pop and punk groups. Throughout the course of her life, the Los Angeles native created an impressive body of work — primarily with The Muffs but also with The Beards, The Coolies and The Pandoras, not to mention a puzzling and brief digression as a member of Pixies — that influenced countless garage rock, punk, pop and riot-grrrl bands.

Back in July, Little Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool Records released a charming new Coolies album, Uh Oh! It’s … The Coolies. Later this month, Omnivore Recordings issues The Muffs’ No Holiday, a set of new songs written and produced by Shattuck. The recent flurry of activity masked the fact that Shattuck had been suffering for the past two years from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a condition that she successfully kept hidden from all but her closest friends and family.

On Wednesday, October 2, Shattuck’s longtime husband and partner, Kevin Sutherland, announced that the singer-guitarist had succumbed to the disease: “This morning, the love of my life Kim passed peacefully in her sleep after a two-year struggle with ALS. I am the man I am today because of her. She will live with all of us through her music, our shared memories and in her fierce, creative spirit.” She was 56.

The Muffs’ surviving members, bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald, posted the news Wednesday on the band’s Facebook page: “We are very sorry to announce the passing of our bandmate and dear friend Kim Shattuck. Besides being a brilliant songwriter, rocking guitarist and singer/screamer extraordinaire, Kim was a true force of nature. While battling ALS, Kim produced our last album, overseeing every part of the record from tracking to artwork. She was our best friend, and playing her songs was an honor. Goodbye, Kimba. We love you more than we could ever say.”

Late Wednesday night, Barnett expanded further on his friendship with Shattuck in a message to the Weekly: “As her bandmate for 29 years and, even more importantly, her friend for even longer, I can tell you she never once, for better or worse, ever compromised. That goes for everything: her music, her attitude, her life. She was special, and we are all luckier for it.”

Before long, social media was flooded with tributes and testimonials from shocked fans and celebrities alike, including Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Flamin’ Groovies’ Chris Wilson, Veruca Salt, Ramones producer Ed Stasium, DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, Van Zandt, and Pixies. Even publications and news websites that had rarely, if ever, deigned to cover The Muffs and the Southern California underground-music scene — such as Rolling Stone, NME, TMZ and The New York Times — posted obituaries acknowledging Shattuck’s impact.

“For starters, Kim Shattuck had the greatest scream in rock & roll,” Agent Orange’s Mike Palm declared in a Facebook post.

As much as Shattuck will be remembered for her madly catchy melodies, sardonically bratty lyrics and supremely fuzzed-out approach to traditional pop-punk, it was that instantly recognizable scream — a feral, raw-throated howl that was simultaneously chilling, unrestrained, ferocious and joyfully exuberant — that characterized and punctuated The Muffs’ most rambunctious songs.

Although there were obvious antecedents to her songwriting style — Ramones power chords mixed with Beatles-esque hooks and slyly caustic Ray Davies–like lyrical observations — it was the way Shattuck put those influences together that made her music so distinctive. From the compulsive crush of the descending opening chords of “Lucky Guy,” on The Muffs’ self-titled 1993 debut album on Warner Brothers, it was clear that the band weren’t like other groups of the era. At the time, punk rock had largely devolved into shapeless, testosterone-heavy grunge and insipid, derivative retro punk and emo.

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The Muffs’ Ronnie Barnett and Kim Shattuck at the Satellite, Friday, January 16, 2014 (Falling James)

Unlike other early ’90s groups, The Muffs weren’t cutesy in the way they mixed pop and punk. For instance, Shattuck wrote a series of insult songs — “Big Mouth,” “Red Eyed Troll,” “Right in the Eye” and “I Don’t Like You” — whose giddy melodies contrasted with hilariously bitchy lyrics about her perceived rivals in the local scene. The Muffs’ album titles also tended to be sarcastic. The title Whoop Dee Doo (released in 2014 by Burger Records) was reportedly her carefree response to being kicked out of Pixies. Happy Birthday to Me (on Reprise Records in 1997) alludes to her disappointment about spending a birthday alone, while Blonder and Blonder (Reprise Records, 1995) references an interaction with Hole’s Courtney Love, who apparently was upset that Shattuck’s hair at the time was blonder than hers. Shattuck tended to laughingly brush off Love’s ongoing attempt to engage in a rivalry in the early 1990s, such as the world-shaking kerfuffle that erupted in the pages of punk fanzine Flipside when the Hole vocalist dissed Shattuck’s stylish baby-doll dresses and claimed that she was the first to wear them.

Among her friends and fellow musicians, Shattuck was known for her ruthless and often politically incorrect humor. She not only didn’t suffer fools gladly but often used their own words and behavior against them to fuel her jokes and songs. She rarely took anything seriously. “She had a wicked sense of humor in everything. Even her illness,” recalls multi-instrumentalist Karen Basset, who played with Shattuck in The Pandoras in the 1980s and also with the revived version of the garage-rock group in recent years.

“She fought this horrific disease proud and strong and never lost sense of who she was,” writes Melanie Vammen, Shattuck’s fellow band member in both The Pandoras and The Muffs, in a message to the Weekly. “Through all of this, we laughed and laughed together to the end.”

As one of relatively few female singers in the largely male-dominated early-’90s rock scene, the wise-cracking and seemingly fearless Shattuck was a charismatic inspiration to women and men alike. She was rarely overtly political in her songs, and yet her very existence seemed to be an inherent threat to more limited minds. Her compact, straightforward pop-punk bonbons were a refreshing contrast in the early ’90s to the lugubrious bellowing and ostensibly grand statements of far more celebrated bands like Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam. Shattuck’s tuneful but fuzzy twist on garage and punk continues to resonate, consciously or not, in the sounds of such groups as The Regrettes, The Dollyrots, Best Coast, Potty Mouth and numerous others.

Born in Los Angeles on July 17, 1963, Shattuck grew up in L.A. but also lived in Orange County. She studied photography at Orange Coast College in the early 1980s and later developed a second career as a fine-art photographer with an eye for unusual perspectives. Shattuck first came to some attention in the SoCal music scene when she played bass in the later lineups of The Pandoras, one of the few female bands of the ’80s garage-rock revival. During her five years with the band, from 1985 to 1990, which encompassed The Pandoras’ sometimes uneasy evolution from garage-rock purists into hard-rock hellions, Shattuck was mainly a role player on bass, with lead singer/guitarist Paula Pierce singing and writing most of the group’s original songs.

Before breaking apart from The Pandoras in 1990 and starting The Muffs in 1991 with Pandoras keyboardist Melanie Vammen, Shattuck did learn a few things from Pierce, who died of an aneurysm on August 10, 1991. They shared some of the same ’60s influences, and Pierce possessed a notoriously raspy and scratchy voice that could let loose an unholy wildcat growl. “I’m pretty sure she was inspired by Paula as far as adding screams to her music,” Basset says.

Even with some early similarities to Pierce, it soon became apparent that Shattuck was emerging as a fully formed and unique songwriter in her own right. She was relaxed and self-deprecating onstage and clearly seemed to revel in leading her own band for the first time. The Muffs’ early singles ranged from the guileless romantic exhilaration of “New Love” (1991) to the feverishly obsessed “I Need You” (1992). With its dreamily romantic melody, “Everywhere I Go” sounds at first like a pretty love song until, on closer inspection, it turns out to be about a stalker. Many of The Muffs’ best singles, alternate versions, compilation cuts and occasional covers (of songs by The Zeros, Kim Wilde, The Devil Dogs, and The Troggs) from their first decade were collected on the 2000 anthology Hamburger.

The original lineup of The Muffs — with shambolic drummer Chris Crass, bassist Ronnie Barnett, and former Pandoras organist Vammen switching to guitar — seemed like the perfect group to unleash Shattuck’s songs. Some of The Muffs’ shows at long-gone Hollywood clubs like Raji’s have taken on legendary status over the years, with Vammen and Crass somehow maintaining order and a crunching volume and attack even as Shattuck stabbed at her guitar and howled into the maelstrom while using Barnett as a punching bag.

But after Vammen and Crass left in the mid-1990s, Shattuck and Barnett carried on as a trio, first with drummer Jim Laspesa, before Roy McDonald joined as the permanent drummer in 1994. The sound might have been leaner, but McDonald’s explosive drumming also took Shattuck’s songs to another level, especially live, and the trio’s interplay became more dynamically nuanced. The Muffs’ audience continued to expand as the trio released a series of consistently excellent albums, including Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow (1999) and Really, Really Happy (2004), as Shattuck took on a greater role as producer as well as main songwriter.

Over the years, Shattuck also took the time to share the spotlight in such collaborations as The Beards — a supergroup with Buck’s Lisa Marr and Sherri Solinger — and more recently in The Coolies, banding together with Vammen and New York singer-guitarist Palmyra Delran. “While enduring this horrific ALS journey, she was able to work on our new band The Coolies’ recently released EP, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to ALS research,” Vammen writes. “She’s my hero!”

Shattuck also took part in a revamped version of Pixies, playing bass on a 2013 tour of Europe after founding bassist Kim Deal left the group. (In a bit of irony, The Muffs covered “Pacer,” a song by Kim Deal’s band The Amps, years before Shattuck was asked to join Pixies.) Shattuck’s stint with Pixies didn’t make much sense at the time. Although Pixies were far more famous than The Muffs, Black Francis’ newer songs were fairly unremarkable, and it appeared that their best days were long behind them. Shattuck was already the creative force and leader of The Muffs, so playing second banana in Pixies seemed like a step down. Despite admitting to disappointment in various posts and interviews about being summarily dismissed from Pixies with little explanation after the tour, Shattuck also expressed her gratitude about the experience and getting to play for the alt-rock band’s audiences, even amid bemused, ambivalent feelings about how she was treated by the group.

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The Pandoras’ Sheri Kaplan, Kim Shattuck and Karen Basset at the Casbah, Friday, June 26, 2015

Shattuck appeared re-energized when she fronted a reunited version of The Pandoras in 2015 for a few shows that ultimately expanded into tours of Europe and North America and the release of a new album, Hey It’s the Pandoras, on Burger Records in 2018. If there was anyone who could credibly fill in for the late Paula Pierce, it was Kim Shattuck. The revived version of The Pandoras included keyboardist Vammen, bassist Basset, and former Pandoras drummer Sheri Kaplan, who was later replaced on drums by Hillary Burton. In 2017, Shattuck produced Crushed, an album by Burton’s pop-punk band Honeychain.

“Kim had that ‘X’ factor, that thing that draws you to her and makes you pay attention,” marvels Basset. “What stands out to me is her ability to keep her songs interesting. Never a dull moment. Her chords change often, and you’re never hanging on one chord. She managed to weave wonderful melodies into changing chords in a lovely way.”

What was it like working with Shattuck in the recording studio? “Kim was such a pleasure to work with,” Basset says. “She would never shut down ideas or suggestions. She was a true collaborator. A total pro as well. Always showing up practiced and prepared for the job at hand. She had a great ear for melodies, harmonies and sounds as far as producing. She was a perfectionist in all the right ways.”

Looking back on it all, Basset adds, “I am honored to have been in The Pandoras with her twice! I was also surprised and honored when she messaged me — after she had already been diagnosed with ALS and was unable to engineer The Muffs record — and asked if I would engineer all the overdub sessions. … We were a great team and communicated over Viber during the recording process at her house. I was in her studio, and she was in the living room. I ran a set of headphones out to her, and we used Apple TV to put the computer screen on the living-room TV. I had a talkback mic so we could talk to her, and she would message us back on Viber using her eyes and her Tobii tablet. We made it work.”

“She spoke her mind and didn’t care what anyone thought!” Vammen muses about her longtime friend. “We inspired each other and were meant to be musical soulmates forever. Being onstage together rocking out made everything complete! … And, through it all, we were together until the end.”

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