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Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery from R. Ring recently hopped on a party line to talk about their sophomore album, the long-delayed (for good reason) War Poems, We Rested, the unique packaging including a limited edition chapbook featuring poems by Sadie Dupis, Hanif Abdurraqib, Jackie Clark and others, Ohio pride, and some potential Breeders news involving the 30th anniversary of Last Splash.
Kelley, I had a chance to see you perform with The Breeders at the VetsAid show that Joe Walsh put together. What a cool event and a great lineup with The Breeders, The Black Keys, Nine Inch Nails, The James Gang and Joe Walsh.
KELLEY: Wasn’t that fun? It was such a great vibe. The whole thing – backstage, the crew, all the bands, Joe Walsh and his lovely wife. Everybody was there to support this organization. We just had such a lovely evening.
You’ve done some Breeders dates in the last couple of years. With the release of the new R. Ring record, will there be any shows?
KELLEY: I bet you more towards the second half of the year we might. I’m imagining that. It’s so funny. I was thinking about it. Mike and I got together in 2012 and the number of shows that we have done, we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of shows between then and pre-Covid. We played all the time. I don’t ever think to myself, “We need to get out there.” I just think to myself, “God, we played a lot.” I’m looking forward to doing it again.
MIKE: Putting out an album now, making one before and during the pandemic, and that whole question of “How do bands release music now? Do they go out and play? Do they have to go and play gigs? Is that still what you do?” I don’t think anyone knew what to do for those couple of years.
KELLEY: I do remember when we got together, Mike owned a recording studio. Usually that would be a thing where you’d say, “Okay, let’s go record.” But, I did not want to do that. I did not want to step a foot in a recording studio. I wanted to play. I wanted to take this weird, acoustic/electric vocal duo and see what we could do with it and tour that. I wanted to play songs and create songs. I’ve spent a lot of time in recording studios in my life and I really just wanted to breathe and let the songs emerge. We spent a lot of time play shows and not recording. This time, it kind of feels like we’re coming at it the opposite direction where we recorded everything. Most of these songs we didn’t give a dry run to, only a couple of them did we play live. It was really interesting being in the studio and creating most of this stuff in a studio.
The songs on the album were all written and recorded pre-pandemic. As you approach release day, are you like, “It’s finally coming out!” or are you anxious and nervous about putting it out?
MIKE: We sat on it for so long. We finished it and were mixing it and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to have a baby and then we’ll get whatever time that takes to get stuff situated at home to where we can go play some shows.” We just imagined we’d do the same old thing we had always done, not because we had to but just because that’s what we knew. That’s the way we did things. We weren’t at a point in our career where we had to go do things like that. And it’s not that we’re at a point now where we don’t have to go and play. That’s just how we knew how to do music – go play shows, make songs, record them when they’re ready. We thought we would take a break, I’d have my son, then we’d pick a release date and get back to it. Then the pandemic hit and we were like, “How do we even put out a record? What do we do?” And we just sat. And we thought, “Nobody is doing anything now. There’s no hurry.” We sat on it. Sat. Sat. Sat. We were filesharing and recording. I was working at home now, not at the studio. Kelley and I started sending music back and forth. We actually started a new band via Zoom with some people that live in D.C. That entire band, we’ve never been in a room together, it’s all been through filesharing. We’re going to start recording for that record in the beginning of February.
You waited to release the album initially because you were waiting until your son was born and now your son is probably getting ready to start pre-school since the pandemic took so much time!
MIKE: He just turned 3! So, we are anxious. We waited so long. It’s like, “Oh my God, this is real. It is time to start doing this.” It’s exciting to finally get it out there.
Because of the pandemic, did you wind up tinkering around with the songs and doing anything to them since you had the time?
KELLEY: No. It was done 3 years ago.
MIKE: We might have tweaked the mastering. We might have messed with the sequence a bit. We just took our time working on art and videos because we didn’t have a a deadline.
KELLEY: One of the things we spent some time on was the chapbook.
MIKE: My buddy Matt Hart is a poet, a many-times-published author, and we had asked him to maybe write the liner notes. He’s a big music fan, plays in a band himself. Instead of writing the liner notes, he twisted the idea and decided he would take each of the songs and send them to different poets and then let them riff off the song as a jumping off point to create a work of their own. There’s 11 tracks and he sent them to 10 different poets and then he took a song himself. It really was a creative call-and-response thing. Then he printed up about 150 copies of a little poetry chapbook and they are all handbound. It’s just a really neat project and the first 150 orders of the LP had the option to get one of the chapbooks.
KELLEY: Within that chat book there was this stuff that we called “typewriter art” which Sam Cormac created. We pulled some of that, we just loved the art work, and we incorporated it into the record sleeve design and on the cover as well. It’s odd. All the music was done pre-Covid but the design and this wonderful chat book of poetry was done later.
MIKE: I think Kelley and I are anxious and excited. Because we had all this time during the pandemic in what was just initially she and I and Laura King, who drummed and helped with writing songs, it was the three of our baby. The extra time we had allowed us to explore other ideas of how to expand it beyond our own vision of just making a music album. The involvement of all these different authors and renowned poets really opened it up into something that was much larger than we had ever imagined. A lot of our excitement is about trying to talk about what we did and how we did it and share the work of all the other collaborators.
Do the poems use the same titles as the songs? Or, are the poets using the titles or lyrics as inspiration and creating something totally different?
MIKE: I don’t know if there’s a specific technique people do. I think Matt just selected the poets and selected a song for each of them. The poets didn’t get to hear the record in its entirety. He just said, “Here’s a song, listen to it. Use that as a creative jumping off point.” Some of them may have incorporated a lyric or the vibe of the song. Some of them may have just put them into the mood and they started writing. It was really up to them to respond in whatever way interested them.
We really felt outclassed. We really felt like, “Why are we even attaching our music to these great works?” I’m trying to use hyperbole, we really felt so lucky and special. We felt like we were lucky to be included in their project. They really upped the ante so much and made it such a special thing. I don’t know how to verbalize how Kelley and I felt about adding this component to the record. They literally wrote a book that jumped off of our album. So then we thought, maybe we need to write another album that jumps off their poems.
KELLEY: Wouldn’t that be great? Leap frog!
MIKE: I’ve done this to people. I’ve gone to a show where I’ve been like, “Oh my God, you’re my favorite whatever and I wouldn’t be doing this or this if it wasn’t for you.” You’re just smashing that person with compliments and feelings that they can’t really take in at the time. They have no idea that something they wrote 20 years ago was the reason I started playing guitar. You never really get to see what you did and how it impacts somebody else. In this particular instance, we were literally trading ideas back and forth. It’s neat to think that something that you did was the genesis for a creative piece that somebody else launched into the world. It’s really humbling.
Was there anything that came back to you from one of the poets that made you rethink your own songs?
KELLEY: The poem for “Volunteer,” the one thing that Jeremy Michael Clark did which I wish I had done, he called his poem, “For All This.” I was like, “Why didn’t I call the song ‘For All This’?” What a great title. That’s just one example.
MIKE: It made me think about this circular aspect of things. Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth wrote a poem jumping off of one of my songs. I’ve been listening to Sonic Youth since I was 12! In what world do Lee Renaldo and I stand on the same page? It’s super weird. We’re from different generations, from different states. The idea that art or music or whatever can tie people together, it’s really weird to see it get laced up so succinctly in our record packaging.
KELLEY: There’s a poem by Rose Zinnia for “Cartoon Heart.” I was invited to do this song for an album called Land Trust: Benefit for NEFOC which was a benefit for minority farmers. They had done the music and I was going to sing. They said I could do whatever I want. I played a keyboard and I was writing the words and singing. The song was called “Bodies” and some part of Rose’s poetry inspired those lyrics.
Could you see yourself asking the poets to submit lyrics for your next album that you’d then put to music and sing yourself?
MIKE: We’re interested in anything. We’re definitely down to collaborate. We were just talking to [R. Ring drummer] Laura [King]. She showed up with a little bit of music and we wrote with her more music and more words. So, collaborating with people is super interesting to us because it makes us write in a way that’s different than if it was just Kelley and I. On my own, I write words and music and the song grows as you’re writing one or the other. When someone shows up with some bumpers, you’ve got to work within that. It makes it really interesting and it’s a different way to write. We would try whatever. We’re interested in the creative process above everything else.
I know you’re both fans of Superchunk. Mike, one of the songs you sing, “Likeable,” might be one of my favorite Superchunk songs of the last 10 years. I mean, it sounds to me like what I love about Superchunk songs and could easily be on one of their albums.
MIKE: That’s so funny. Our ties to Superchunk are deep. I’m a giant fan and then Laura has toured with them before, working for them, and she tours with Mac as his drummer. She’s really good buddies with that whole band. Their touring bass player, Jason Narducy, is a buddy of ours. R. Ring and his band, Split Single, have toured together. It’s a super small world in that regard. Superchunk is another band that I found when I was young and I always stay tuned in to what they’re doing.
As an Ohio resident myself, I love that you’re from Ohio and have stuck around when you could have moved out of the state. Do you feel like the Ohio values play into the music you write?
KELLEY: I was just talking to somebody about Brainiac and the period of time where they were around. When I think about the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was so much wonderful music brewing in Ohio. And, let’s just talk about the amazing funk music that started in Ohio. I do think there’s something. Obviously, I’m going to say that because I’m from Ohio, but I do think there’s something amazing about Ohio bands. They push boundaries, they take risks, they seem to be going after their own thing. I really like that. If Brainiac came out now, they’d be fucking huge. Nine Inch Nails. We saw them at VetsAid. They were great. I thought it was fun and exciting music.
When you’re putting together an album, what comes first? Is it the songs? The title? The cover art?
MIKE: The songs. We just worked on songs until it felt like they were telling a story. Then we followed that and it was like, “Okay, maybe we do have enough material. Should we make an album?” We just go one song at a time. We scored a film once and that might have been the one time where we had an overarching objective, do this thing for this purpose. But when we write, I don’t think we’re writing to fill up two sides of a record.
KELLEY: We always seem to stumble over the graphics for the what the actual record is going to look like. Laura had this song called “Def Sup” and she was in charge of creating a video for it. She asked us for some video clips. Mike sent some stills and some video clips of him wrapping foil around his head in a mirror and he gouged out the eyes. He looked insane. He looked like a serial killer. But, that image was so arresting. It wasn’t like, “Oh, there’s the cover.” But it was like, “How are we going to use this? Is this the cover? This has got to be used somehow.”
With the rest of the design of things, when we started with Matt Hart and the people who designed the chat book, we incorporated a lot of that as well. That sort of happened with Ignite the Rest as well. Clyde Peterson had done his video for “Cutter” and we saw the imagery that he had created for that. It’s fantastic. We ended up using those images sourced from that video for the artwork for that record.
What else are the two of you working on? I know The Breeders are playing Coachella. Anything else?
KELLEY: The Breeders are playing the Innings Festival in Tampa in March. It’s got a baseball connection and I’m excited to see how they mix these two things together. It’s going to be fun.
Also, Last Splash is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary. Maybe we’ll do some Last Splash shows or a re-release or special edition or something. That’s up for grabs.
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