Kelley Deal is a true rock and roll survivor. She experienced mainstream success as a member of the Breeders, but he band went on hiatus when Deal was arrested for heroin possession and entered a treatment program in Minnesota. She emerged with songs that formed the basis for her solo group, The Kelley Deal 6000, which released Go To The Sugar Altar and Boom! Boom! Boom! The Breeders returned in 2002 with Title TK and followed up with 2008’s Mountain Battles. When her sister Kim reunited with the Pixies, Kelley got serious about knitting to the point where she wrote a book on the subject. Soon, though, she began seeking out another musical venture. In the way fate sometimes works, she found it almost without looking. While recording a track for a GBV tribute album with Ohio’s Buffalo Killers, Deal hit it off with studio owner Mike Montgomery, also a member of the Cincinnati band Ampline.
The duo, now calling themselves R.Ring, has taken a casual approach to their collaboration. They split practice sessions between Dayton, Ohio, where Deal lives, and Cincinnati, McCarthy’s home. R.Ring recently finished a short tour where they were backed on drums by pro skateboarder (and ardent Deal fanboy) Kristian Svitak. On an unseasonably warm evening at East Atlanta’s Club 529, the newly reconfigured R.Ring and I talked about the genesis of the band, the excitement of playing with new partners, and the perks of musical nerdiness.
How did R.Ring come into existence?
KD: I had just decided to start saying “yes” to more things, and this sweet girl sends me a message on Facebook about doing a Guide By Voices tribute record. At first I was like “No thank you,” and didn’t think a thing about it. Then I went back and did some research. It was this little label in North Carolina that she ran out of her living room, and it seemed like she was doing it for the right reasons, which is for no reason other than she’s a fan. I agreed to do it and listened to some things. I heard that song “Scalding Creek,” which is like a minute long but very lovely. My first thought is to get with a violinist and play it very tenderly, but you know.
You went another direction.
KD: I did. I remembered the Buffalo Killers, who are also Ohio boys, and it’s starts to really come together. The song reminds me of this quarry where we’d go in high school. You bring some Little Kings cream ale and drink warm beer and go swimming in the summer- this song evoked that for me. The Buffalo Killers definitely do a hat tip to the groovy sounds of the Sevs, so we went there with it. They said there was a great place to practice in Cincinnati, which turned out to also be a recording studio. That’s the first time I met Mike.
So you’re from Dayton, Kentucky but living in Cincinnati?
MM: Yes. I’d been living in Cincinnati and working on recordings for the Buffalo Killers. They called and said that they were coming in, but were bringing this lady with them. I missed her name, they said it could be fun, whatever; they were still trying to learn the song. I was there setting up the studio while they practiced, and after about the third time through, I told them I thought they were done. They did some vocals and a couple of tweaks, and it was finished. Kelley, not wanting to leave well enough alone decided to take that magic that happened in the studio and caress it into the dirt over the course of the next two months.
KD: It’s horrible but true.
MM: I’m glad we did, though, because we became better and better friends over this drive you had to ruin this song.
KD: It was the chorus or the bridge- whatever you call that thing. It wasn’t right.
MM: We ended up going back to the original quickie faders up version of the song that happened that very first night, and it was great.
KD: And then you were invited to open up for a CD release party for a band that you know- that’s the real reason we’re doing anything.
MM: They asked to play solo, and I didn’t even know what I’d play- I hadn’t done something like that in years. Kelley happened to call or text, and it was really late at night. You (KD) asked what I was doing, and I was wrapping cable. I told you I had to play and that it was freaking me out. You (KD) said that I should just ask her next time.
To go back a little bit, you said that the Buffalo Killers said they were bringing “this lady.” Did you know who had just walked into your studio?
KD: I’m sure he knew the Breeders.
MM: I knew her name, and I knew of the Breeders. Full disclosure, you would reference a lot of your work with the Breeders, and I didn’t know what you were talking about.
KD: How would I do that?
MM: You would talk about a certain song or album, and I wouldn’t have any idea what you were talking about, really. I’m kind of glad, because it allowed me to approach writing songs with something other than a nerd mentality.
KD: I figured he was more in to the down-tuned, Archers of Loaf thing, but this is new to me.
MM: I don’t want it to seem like I was totally unaware of her existence, but it’s only through travelling and playing these shows have I been able to really find out about the impact that Kelley and her sister have had on people. When I see how people talk about her and look at her and treat her…
KD: It makes you want to treat me better.
MM: Let’s not get carried away. It puts things into better perspective.
KD: So we started playing together.
You started playing together.
KD: And it was a very formal producer/artist relationship at the beginning, which was nice. Actually, do you have any questions? Should I respect the questions?
This is fine.
KD: Well, the other thing I really like about this is that we both have other bands. Look at the sign- it says “ex-Breeder.” The guys here were giving me shit about getting kicked out of the band. That’s not the case. I have a band with drums, bass and all the loud stuff. So does Mike- the interesting thing is doing this duo thing. What makes up a song when you’re writing in this configuration?
That’s one of the questions I had. You’ve been in the front and you’ve been on the side. You’ve played with a lot of people. Where are you in this group?
KD: Well I’m in front, because I’m the girl. Having said that, when there are only two of you up there, both of you end up being front men by default. You have find the right role in each band that you’re in.
On a tangential note, you were in The Last Hard Men with Sebastian Bach. Is he as fun as he seems, or just a complete douche?
KD: (strange noise) He is…both as fun as he seems and a complete douche. Yeah. Give yourself five minutes, and you’ll have either one of those.
MM: You just asked this question, and it wasn’t until this exact moment that I knew you had played with him. I didn’t have your dossier.
KD: Dossier. I wish.
So Mike, what does this band offer you that Ampline doesn’t?
MM: I’ve been in all loud, male bands with this one exception. Everything has been loud and charging, and if there were tender moments, they were knocked under water by a loud noise. That’s limited my writing to a degree in that I would quit working on something if it didn’t fit my band. Playing with Kelley allows me to try to sing. I’ve always wanted to be able to do something like that. In my other bands, hearing the voice was a bonus. To build a song around a voice is a new and exciting thing for me. To see just how sparse you can make an arrangement is really interesting.
KD: And yet to still make it sing and say what you want it to say- that’s the challenge.
At this point in the interview, a blonde man who I would later determine was professional skateboarder Kristian Svitak sat down at the table.
MM: Hey, this is Kristian. He’ll be playing drums for us tonight. We’ll go down a whole other road with Kristian.
KD: Yeah, I hope you have a few more hours. I find this particular story very interesting. Why crazy Seventies guy (who walked by at this moment) is riding around with us. Why we’re in this van- the big blue.
That’s a beautiful van.
KD: Tell me about it.
KS: Who are you with?
Tell me about it.
KD: Kristian is just another example of something fun that has come out of this band. How did we even get with Kristian?
MM: Kristian Svitak was a young nerd outside a Breeders concert, too young to get in.
KS: Kelley Deal 6000.
MM: Kelley Deal 6000. And Kelley let him in.
KD: I didn’t let him in. He just snuck in. It was his town. ‘
KS: Kelley Deal 6000 came to town twice, and I was just a little nerd.
KD: I met up with him again years later in San Diego.
KS: I waited to talk to her after those first shows in Cleveland.
KD: I was super nice. Write that down.
It’s being recorded for posterity.
KS: That’s super nice, just in case. Fast-forward a bunch of years. I moved to San Diego and The Breeders come to town.
KD: I remembered you, didn’t I.
KS: She says she remembered me. I call bullshit on it.
She’s really nice. She would totally remember you.
KS: From there I came back to visit Cleveland, and called her about playing some music. She invited me down to Dayton, and we ended up sitting all night on her parents’ back deck playing board games. We never played music, but that’s the start of it.
KD: I had already met up with Mike, and Kristian and I did this thing for Thrasher.
MM: I have some decks hanging up in the studio, and Kelley comes in and points at one and says she knows that guy. She then asks me what she’s supposed to talk about in an interview about skateboarding. We talked for two or three hours. She did the interview. Kristian would come to town, and then we took him on a tour in December just to skateboard and hang out, and now he’s playing with us.
KD: This is another example of how the process is what I find the most interesting.
So you guys have been pretty casual about this so far, but now you’re on Misra’s website. What gives?
KD: The weird thing is that Mike owns a recording studio, but I didn’t want to record anything early on. I think it’s held over from when Kim and I were getting started, and it was such a scientific process to get anything down on tape. Whatever notes you put on there had to be important notes. You had to believe it. It was kind of a big deal. There was a lot of agonizing of seemingly simple things, like individual notes. Now everything is very easy. I can record in my living room. I used to have to do that with a tape recorder, and the fidelity was nonexistent. It wasn’t anything you could release or market.
MM: It used to be to go into a proper studio and make a record was a really big deal.
KD: And it still feels like I have a lot of baggage when I go into the studio. We’ve even talked about just using an iPad to record. People do that.
MM: I think what Kelley is getting at is that the technology is there for everybody to make an album. That’s great, but there’s also not a lot of weeding out of ideas. Recording is so immediate, it’s almost daunting to think that that’s version that will represent the song forever. But when you go into the studio, it feels like there’s a weight; and we don’t want that weight for these songs. We’ve been recording everywhere but the studio, and trying to figure out the essence of these songs. Really we’re just nerding out. We could have recorded these songs a year ago and had something out.
KD: Or not. Why?
MM: It’s a constant philosophical battle.
KD: I’d rather go play a show.
MM: We do have three songs recorded, and our first thing will be a seven-inch for Misra. That will come out hopefully in late spring.
KD: Or not. Don’t care.
I assume you’re writing these things together. How does that work?
KD: I’ll write something, and take it to him for Mike juice.
KD: That was me after travelling for a week with four guys. It’s getting a little weird. I’m not used to being in a band with so many fellas. But that’s how it works for Mike too. He’ll write something and bring it to me. That’s how it usually works, but we’ve also done some things where he just grabs his guitar and then we knock it out together.
MM: Since we live in separate cities, a lot of the time we spend together is given over to working on the songs that we already have and making adjustments to arrangements. We’re new to each other, so we’re learning how to work with one another. It’s really just whatever sticks at this point.
KD: The most special part to me right now is hanging out, watching these guys skate, and then going to play a show that night. Then getting up and driving for a few hours in the morning and doing it again. That is music to me. That is your life. I don’t want to get all weird and deep about it, but that’s what I wanted to reconnect with. Or not.