Resound caught up with R. Ring’s Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery this week to chat about new release War Poems, We Rested, Mike’s great ears, touring plans and why Cannonball will always be played live.

Kelley’s of course no stranger to the spotlight and probably best known as a member The Breeders alongside her twin sister Kim (yes, ex-Pixies Kim) while Mike Montgomery is more used to working on the other side of the ‘business’, running Candyland Recording Studios in Kentucky, where he’s worked with numerous artists, admitting that it was “both daunting and startling at first to be mentioned in the same sentence as Kelley ie Kim ie Charles ie The Breeders, Pixies and so on.” He’s also been up on stage himself with various bands including Ampline , but at the end of the day acknowledges that he comes from “a world of playing small clubs, always losing money, and sleeping on floors and vans”, adding “I never knew anything other than that, and for that reason I will always be both respectful and grateful for the opportunity that playing with Kelley and working for The Breeders has provided me with.”

Songs that would normally just be mine or heard within a smaller circle now have the chance to stand in front of slightly larger audiences, and, to me, I will never, ever not appreciate that.” 

Unsurprisingly, the feeling’s mutual, Kelley explaining that Mike was The Breeders’ guitar tech for many years and she “trusted him because he’s great with gear and great to hang with.” This trust lead to much of The Breeders’ demos and last album, All Nerve being recorded at his studio. She says it wasn’t a case of them giving some guy they knew a bit of work, rather “because of who he is and who he’s shown himself to be. His ears are perfect, and he’s pretty much got perfect pitch, which can be so annoying in a studio,” she grins, “but of course that’s also so great in a studio so it’s just one of those things – he belongs there, he belongs with us.”

War Poems, We Rested is R. Ring’s follow up to their first album, 2017’s Ignite The Rest. It’s taken a bit longer to surface that originally planned due to the birth of Mike’s son and of course, that old bottleneck, the pandemic. It’s been locked in for the last three years now so in the run up to last week’s release date there’s been no last-minute tinkering, which must surely have been difficult for mixer-man Mike. “Often I listen back to stuff and can’t stand it,” he says, “but with this album, do I still like it? I love it! I can listen to it without hearing my fingerprints all over it, which is rare, and I still think that it holds up like it did three years ago, and am just so excited to get it out into the world.”

With no egos at play, there’s no sprawling acts of self-indulgence on the album, rather it’s a tight-knit confessional which unveils itself through a mix of styles reflective of the duo’s spirits. There’s something timeless about it, not lunging towards current trends in music, but by the same token not clutching on to the past anymore than is natural.

“That’s a nice thing to think,” says Kelley, who admits she’s aware that she should perhaps be more mindful of the direction popular music is taking today. “There’s a new show out called Extraordinary (on Disney+ in the UK and Hulu in the US), and it’s so cute, with all this exciting, current music and I listen to it and think ‘wow, l’m not really doing that’ and sometimes feel bad about that and feel, gosh, maybe I should do more stuff where everything is just swamped in reverb and strange distortion, you know, just take the whole song and put it through a distortion pedal ‘cause that’s really cool.” But she goes on to say that at the end of one episode, as she was thinking about the “really cool new music” on the show, Nights In White Satin came on (that’s The Moody Blues’ 1967 classic for any youngsters out there). She goes on, “and there was this moment of clarity – and not just around the song but the actual sound. It was panoramic and epic sounding,” her hands expressing the enormity of the moment, “and I thought to myself ‘and then there’s that!’”

It’s something most musicians struggle with, whether something is current or if you’re just going back to the same old shit you always did. It’s a push-pull, really, but my god, I just love distorted guitar!” 

Mike goes on, despairing slightly as he tells us that some feedback they’ve had on the new album mentions it having a 1990s sound, “I’m forty f**king six mother f**ker, of course it does!” Nicely put, Mike. “These are the sounds we know how to make – all that stuff’s in my DNA and I still listen to it. My body’s already full of music and art that I love and as I get older everything else that I hear has to measure up to a lifetime of stuff that I’ve fallen in love with. I do slowly add stuff into the catalogue in my heart and brain, and I’m always looking for new stuff but I’m never going to throw away the stuff I fell in love with.”

In War Poems, We Rested they broke with their normal conventions on one song in particular. “Embers On A Sleepwalk has this very nuanced piano just going through the tremolo pedal and the whole feel of it is very quiet, and that’s not something either Mike or myself do…we don’t play piano!” Kelley laughs. “We don’t write in terms of piano, so I guess that’s us breaking out of our mould.” A raw, exposed sound is very much apparent on the number, Kelley explaining that the juxtaposition of the “very affected, processed vocal and the natural acoustics of the piano create an interesting sound, along with Mike’s very singular and intimate delivery.”

Another number which has seen them experiment with a different sound is Def Sup, the second single to be released from the album back in December, which is frankly a bit of an ear-worm, Kelley’s velvet-lined vocals breezing over the irresistible driving groove of Laura King’s baseline. Bat Fang and Speed Stick drummer Laura brought the drums to the album, and also brought the core of this track, Mike admitting that neither him nor Kelley write songs like that (even though it has a bit of a Don’t Call Home vibe, from The BreedersSafari EP) but rather they both saw great potential in the number, describing himself and Kelley as “sounding board sonic producers for ourselves and other artists.” He goes on to explain, 

you’re in a room with these people for hours on end and they serve you your songs so you really want them to have a say. It’s great to honour everybody’s art.” 

Speed Stick’s guitarist Charles Chace is also on the track, Kelley saying “I think that when we decide to work on a song it’s because we hear something that’s worthy, and Charles Chace’s scronky guitar on this track is what he called his ‘throw away hack’ but what we call perfection!”

Mike sees it as simply a case of “a good song is a good song and I think we all enjoy the work of trying to bring it to life, and helping it exist, whoever writes it. I mean, I don’t play a thing on Exit Music, but I spent hours mixing it…I’m committed to helping Kelley bring whatever she has in her mind to life, however many thousand hours it takes.” Ok, Mike for President? PM? 

Talking through the album, Mike describes Hug, its intoxicating third single, as “classic Kelley” going on to say “I hear her singing it, her interrupter distortion guitar comes in and it’s just a classic Kelley, smartly constructed rock song.” He goes on to describe Exit Music as also being “very Kelley, but more in your ear, a very strange, pokey sound with raw, noodling guitar”. He nails it there, and I mention that for me there’s both a warmth and chill to the song, almost like a Christmas song where something bad’s gone down. I’m surprised to see them nod in agreement, Mike adding “yes, it’s a Christmas song where Santa’s dying.” As Kelley’s breathy vocals cry ‘kicking the life into you’ on the number, could it actually be Mr Claus she’s singing about? Oh dear, I hope Mike’s wee kid, who’s currently building a cushion castle, is safe inside its walls and can’t hear that comment, but just in case, we reassure him that the other bearded chap in his life is in fact alive and kicking in the North Pole.

Kelley explains that their approach to building a song is what kicked off their collaboration back in 2010. In essence, they wanted to see if they could use just voice and guitar for whatever instrumentation they wanted, taking things away to see if a song would still be supported, in order to relay an emotional vibe. This vibe shifts throughout War Poems, We Rested but Lighter Than A Berry genuinely brims with a visceral emotion you rarely come across, Mike’s vocals soft and aching, the lyrics something you need to listen to for yourself. It’s a beautiful song which will resonate with so many people, Kelley adding, 

one of my favourite lines on the album is on Lighter Than A Berry. ‘There’s comfort in the chaos at home’ is something that a lot of people can relate to. I think it’s just the best line ever, it’s my favourite.”

Mike reflects on writing the song, saying “it came like a lightening bolt in my head. That doesn’t happen very often but as fast as I could think it, the whole song was there, the words, music and everything and I had to find it on an instrument as I wanted to honour it by recording it.” It’s obviously an extremely personal number but Mike wants it to be whatever the listener wants it to be.

Mike and Kelley – R. RING

But really, the whole album is a joy, each track its own master and numerous flashes of brilliance revealing themselves like the ‘slow drip pillow talk’‘ Kelley sings of in opening number, Still Life, which itself is a gloom-stained delight.

With Kelley Deal looking straight at me in my living room, if I screw up my eyes her twin could be there too…and double Mikes! She’s no doubt been asked this before, but did she ever pretend to be Kim on stage back in the day when Kim fancied a duvet-day? Sadly no, but they did swap classes at school, playing each others instruments which meant the drums for Kim and saxophone for Kelley. Well good job that didn’t work out!

Of course things could have turned out so different if Kelley had stuck at it with her drums. Although she’s best buddies with her guitar these days, Kim tried to get her to play drums for both Pixies and The Breeders. “Kim’s always been super supportive,” she gushes, “she and Charles (a.k.a. Black Francis) flew me out to Boston before Dave Lovering joined the band. I don’t think they were even called Pixies then. So they split the plane ticket and I went out but when I heard the songs they were playing on acoustic I though ‘oh my god, they need a real drummer, I can’t do this!” She lowers her face into her hands as she says this, her disappointment clear… before brightening up and commenting that she enjoyed her trip. Yes, that’s because Kim and Charles paid for it, result! She goes on, “after that, Kim invited me to the Pod sessions in Scotland (the album was recorded at Palladium Studios, Edinburgh) but I was working so couldn’t go. Then she invited me to the Safari sessions in New York and I did go to that. That’s the first time I recorded with The Breeders (on guitar not drums) then I did some touring with them and eventually quit my job.” See, what’s for you won’t go by you…or something like that. 

But does any of this overwhelm her as she seems like such a laid back woman, more content with her knitting than any showbiz lifestyle. “It’s hard to see outside of who I am but I read about an actor who was in a super-famous TV show or whatever and was constantly being talked about in the media. They really resented it at the time then twenty years later they’ve really come back around to appreciate it and how many people they’ve impacted… I guess it’s like saying am I mad at the song Cannonball (the song which really put The Breeders on the map)? But the answer is absolutely not. 

Cannonball is a fantastic song and super fun to play. We always play it and always will!”

So, can we expect any R. Ring gigs in the UK, with the emphasis on Scotland? Sadly, it appears not at the moment but Kelley should be out on tour soon with post-punk outfit Protomartyr which she’s pretty excited about. “They’re releasing a fantastic new record in June and I’ll be joining them on tour when I can. I can’t wait to play the new songs, Domino Records sent me the stems today so I can actually listen to them and translate the recorded material to stage material so I’m downloading them soon to listen to. There’s a lot of textual slide guitar which is really fun to play around with. It’s really atmospheric and adds excitement.”

And what about Mike’s band Ampline? “Over the last few year we’ve been less active as band but talk more as friends. We’ll maybe do something different and not just return to the old familiar equipment set up with loud amps and all that bashing away at the songs, but maybe get together and try new stuff.” 

As for The Breeders, there are already some dates lined up this year in the States, and although nothing’s planned over here, it sounds like something could be in the pipeline, Kelley revealing that with it being the 30th Anniversary of Last Splash this year there may be some anniversary shows and possibly “an interesting, special release, ‘fun thing’ happening.” Aha, so now we know. Sort of!

War Poems, We Rested by R. Ring is out now on Don Giovanni Records and available via R. Ring’s Bandcamp page and from all reputable music retailers.

Words and interview: Shirley Mack @musingsbymarie