I knew immediately that Kelley Deal and I were going to get along, but I don't think it had anything to do with me.
Lately, I've been getting a little bummed out on bands. I've gone to enough house shows starting three hours late with five bands on the bill. The magic has worn down.
But from the second Deal answered the phone with a wild hello, the excitement was back. Her warm-hearted ecstatic energy lifts you up. By the time our call ended, it was obvious to me why there would be people lining up to collaborate with her
This positivity radiates from her newest band R. Ring. Both Deal (The Breeders, The Last Hard Men, The Kelley Deal 6000) and bandmate Mike Montgomery (Ampline) are decades into careers putting out music that is consistently idiosyncratic and innovative. Their combined superpowered songwriting ability comes through on every new R. Ring song.
It would be easy for someone with as prestigious a career as this duo to slip into nostalgia, to coast on their own success. Instead, they created a musical world for themselves that is not centered on spectacle and self-aggrandizement, but instead rooted in creating and engaging with other humans around them. They maintain a relationship with music that makes it about connecting and communicating with the active community of people in their lives.
R. Ring performed at the Bishop in Bloomington on Thursday.
NUVO: You recorded a song with Lil Bub, right? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Deal: Well, how I met Mike – well, there are a lot of Mikes in the story. So Mike Montgomery of R. Ring and I got invited to play a show at Russian.
NUVO: Russian Recording?
Deal: Well at the time I didn't know it was a recording studio. I just thought it was a venue. So Mike either knew already or looked it up and checked it out. So we went there and the whole outfit, the whole venue was so nice and the opening bands were fantastic! You could tell there was a ton of talent in the room. Later we were sitting [in the studio] and Mike [Bridavsky] was working on his computer and I asked him, "What exactly are you doing?" And he said, "Well I have an online store and it's getting busy." And I said, "Really, what do you sell?" and he was really downplaying the whole thing and he said, "Well I have this cat..." and I looked at the cat and I said, "OH MY GOD IT'S LIL BUB! I KNOW THAT CAT! IT'S REALLY SWEET!"
So he invited me over to see Lil Bub the next day. Then when they were getting ready to do the show Lil Bub asked if I could do an episode and I was really honored to get to be a part of it.
NUVO: So you moved to Ohio at one point right?
Deal: Well I grew up in Ohio, in Dayton. And I did work at Hughes Aircraft in the '80s. And at that time I had like a top-secret clearance and shit? [laughs] isn't that weird? Then I moved back home, because I was homesick, and I worked for some defense contractors here. And then that's when I was asked to play with The Breeders. And then I did move to St. Paul for six or seven years when I went to rehab
Speaking of cats, I gotta tell you, my cat and I are in a love/hate relationship.
NUVO: How so?
Deal: We both have cabin fever and she's kind of mad at me all the time so I'm looking forward to going on tour and letting her have the run of the place.
NUVO: Do you feel cooped up when you're not on tour?
Deal: You know, I'm ready to get out of town, oh yeah. It's really nice. When you're touring you're like "Phew! I'm ready to get home." But when you're home you're like, "Man. Can't wait to go out on tour!"
NUVO: Do you think that's a Midwest thing? 'Cause Dayton's not the biggest town in the world. Do you think being a musician in the Midwest makes you want to go out into the world more?
Deal: I think so! It's not to say people in New York or LA don't like to tour but there is something about when you get to those bigger cities there are so many people and so many opportunities really close to what you are doing that you don't really have to go anywhere. It's kind of nice that we've got to get going.
NUVO: So you live in Dayton, Ohio. Mike lives in Dayton, Kentucky. Can you tell me a little bit about your songwriting process, since you don't live in the same place?
Deal: Well, when we first got together, we both brought songs to the union, and it started really slow. We got six songs to open up for our buddies' CD release party. I had a couple new things that happened to have been released and also some Kelley Deal 6000 songs and he had some songs he'd been working on, and things he'd been working on with other people but hadn't been recorded for anything. So it was really fun to take those songs and rifle through them, find out how we could arrange them, and make them compelling enough to do live. And that was really fun! And of course we have the awesome Shellac cover that we do. I was like, "We gotta do this song and you have to sing it Mike." And he was like, "What? I can't sing a Steve Albini song. I'll be an asshole. Who do I think I am?"<</p>
NUVO: Has Steve [Albini] heard you sing it yet?
Deal: I don't think he has. I know his wife has, Heather. But I don't know if she likes it. She hasn't said anything.
NUVO: These R. Ring songs seem to have a uniqueness to them because since there are just two of you, each song seems to be approached a little differently with the setup. Is there freedom because it's just the two of you?
Deal: Yeah! So we did a cover with the skateboarder Kristian Svitak of "Mr. DNA" by Devo. So Kristian joined us on drums and so we started incorporating this element of having another person around and so we invited other drummers to play with us. So we started playing with drummer and sometimes we don't. On this tour we're going to be playing with a cellist and a drummer. The drummer is this guy Leo Deluca (Misra Records) and he plays a Cajon.
And we have a gal named Lori Goldsmith. I first met her because she was the cellist touring with Nirvana. And The Breeders did whole tours with Nirvana during their In Utero tour when they had a lot of cello. Mike and I ran into her again when she and her friend opened up for R. Ring in Seattle and we invited her to join us that night. She asked, "Well what do you want me to play?" And we said, "Anything!" Cause she's got this noise thing going where she puts it though an amp and adds effect. It sounds really cool. So she's joining us on these four shows and we're doing this so that we can organize and put some music out there so we can do some recording. Cause we're going to go into Mike M.'s studio to do some recording after that.
NUVO: And you've recorded in Mike M.'s studio before right because you did a split with Protomartyr right?
Deal: Yeah I've done a lot of recording there. But that was really fun. Those guys are really nice and very Midwest.
NUVO: What makes a band "Midwest?"
Deal: It's something about work ethic. They show up and they do the work and they're ready and they have their gear and they didn't forget anything or expect anything. I don't know, it's just some sort of work ethic that the Midwest people have. Maybe it's a bad thing almost. Maybe we should be way more "whatever." But I really liked it.
NUVO: I'm a big believer that there is a special intimacy between people who are in bands together. Do you think it's a unique type of intimacy?
Deal: It really is! I've been reading about David Bowie's death and one the things that someone pointed out to me that really got my attention was that he was a great collaborator. I think that's what got him up in the morning. That's what he did. Whether it's playing sax on Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" or getting Stevie Ray Vaughn to go guitar on "China Girl" or whether it's playing with Iggy. And he can be like, "Whatever, I'll play keyboards with Iggy on this tour." I love that!
There is this really pure form of sitting down with a guitar and singing and writing where the whole creative process happens within that circle. And I respect that but that doesn't vibrate for me. That doesn't hum for me. I really like other people. I loved doing the Short Crush song with Anna and Ben, and my neighbor Nick Eddie. That's a song we just did during football a game. We just did it on my little recorder. And we came up with this song called "Short Crush." We were like, "Let's do this song with Ben, who opened in a band when we played at Russian Recording! Let's get that drummer to drum for us because he's amazing!"
NUVO: Whom do you want to collaborate with next?
Deal: My next person I'd really love to collaborate with is this chick called Kim, to get this Breeders album done.