Photo by CHRIS GLASS
BY JONATHAN VALANIA A word of warning: This intro is gonna be one of those pieces where I go on and on about my little monkey shines with famous alt-rock personalities. Millions of people love it when I do that, but others seem to get very, very angry about it, stomp their feet and write mean letters that hurt my feelings. If that sounds like you, stop reading right now. I’m serious. I don’t want to even see you in the second paragraph.
The year is 1994. The Breeders had just broken huge, and somebody had given Kim’s sister Kelley a copy of my band The Psyclone Rangers‘ debut album. Kelley listed one of the songs as one of her 10 favorites that year in Rolling Stone’s end-of-the-year wrap-up. So I get her on the phone and we hit it off, and she invites me and the band to come hang out backstage at the Philly stop of Lollapalooza. I don’t remember much except it was hot and muddy and famous back there. The Psyclone Rangers were about to record our next album down in Memphis. We had a song we wanted that patented Deal-sister vocal on, and Kelley quickly agreed to sing on it. The night before she was supposed to fly down she called to say she was too sick to leave town. She sounded pretty out of it. Boy, were we bummed. Was it something we said or did? A few days later, when a newsflash came on MTV News that she got busted for receiving a FedEx envelope full of heroin, we put two and two together.
Fortunately, Kelley got her shit straightened out and in 1996 we did a short tour of the Midwest with Kelley Deal 6000, her side band at the time. Somewhere along the way we recorded a cover of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla,” with Kelley and I duetting, that never saw the light of day. Fast forward through 19 years of Breeders tours, break-ups, reunions, a 20 anniversary reissue of Last Splash and the ensuing tour, to a couple weeks ago and I’m talking to Kelley on the phone about her new side band R.Ring, who will be playing at Johnny Brenda’s on Monday July 27th in support of a pair of split 7-inch singles that just dropped. The first is with the Detroit-based post-punk band Protomartyr (out now on vinyl via Hardly Art) entitled A Half Of Seven, and features R. Ring’s “Loud Underneath” (available now digitally here) and Protomartyr’s “Blues Festival” also featuring Kelley Deal on vocals (stream here). R. Ring’s second 7″ split-single is with Kentucky-based garage rockers Quailbones and will feature the two respective songs “Singing Tower” & “A Tip to Trick the Tide.” This single was released onJuly in 7″ vinyl & digital formats via Sofaburn Records.
DISCUSSED: Sewing, heroin, cats, the head shops of Murray, Kentucky, R. Ring, Guided By Voices, The Hollywood Bowl, the long awaited new album by The Breeders, CBGBs, Big Cartel, The Pixies, vaping, resentment, the two Daytons, Codeine, 12-stepping, juvenile delinquency and Cincinnati.
PHAWKER: How are you?
KELLEY DEAL: I am doing really well in Dayton, Ohio.
PHAWKER: I’m doing good. You look great! I was just thinking about this: it’s like 21 years I think since we first met up in ’94 and you don’t look like you’ve aged a day.
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, you’re sweet!
PHAWKER: I’m not just saying that, and I do often just say that, but this is not one of those cases where I’m just saying that.
KELLEY DEAL: Well, good. Thank you. Good living, Jonathan, good living. Good clean living.
PHAWKER: Very good. Did I hear you sewing machine going in the background when you called a minute ago?
KELLEY DEAL: Yes, yes.
PHAWKER: So, you’re still sewing?
KELLEY DEAL: Yes, I am. I’m still doing some sewing.
PHAWKER: Good for you.
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, thanks. I like sewing.
KELLEY DEAL: Yes and my buddy Mike Montgomery named it. I met him through the Buffalo Killers.
PHAWKER: The Buffalo Killers?
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, do you know them?
PHAWKER: I do not know them, tell me about them.
KELLEY DEAL: Okay, southwestern Ohio band. They’re on Alive records and I was invited to contribute to a Guided By Voices tribute record from something called “No More Fake Labels” or something. It was through Facebook and I was like “nah, I’m not going to take that.” This was in like 2010 or something. You know, the Pixies were doing stuff, the Breeders were not. The Breeders would do something and the Pixies would not and I started feeling like I wasn’t doing anything because I was playing the waiting game. This is not anybody’s fault, other than my own, this is my deal. Do you have the hiccups?
PHAWKER: No, I just said ‘sure.’
KELLEY DEAL: [laughs]
PHAWKER: I guess I need to come up with a manlier ‘sure’ if it sounded like I was hiccupping there. Anyway, I’m following you, go on. It isn’t anybody’s fault, only your fault…
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, completely my thing. So I was like you know, I need to do something. So, I said “certainly! I’m going to do a track!” And so I picked a track to do and I thought: okay, I know what I’m not going to do is do it all by myself with that sweet guitar or some shit. So, I thought ‘I need a band’ and I thought about Buffalo Killers as being my backing band. It was a great bit and we did this song called “Scalding Creek” for this GBV tribute record. I hooked up with them and then I met this guy named Mike Montgomery. We recorded it at his studio in Cincinnati and that’s how I met Mike: through working together on that song. He had really cool ideas – I don’t know why my phone is blowing up right now –
PHAWKER: I don’t hear it on my end. Do you need to take it?
KELLEY DEAL: No, thank you though. It’s just texts. Probably really really important nonsense texts. So, that’s how I met that guy. Then I asked him what he was doing one night and he said he made a mistake and said yes to opening up for a friend’s band’s CD release party or something. I said ‘What’re you gonna play?’ and he said ‘I’m just going to sit there by myself and sing with a guitar.’ I said ‘Oh my god, that sounds awful. Next time you should invite me and I’ll do it with you or something.’ Then he did invite me to open up for something else he was doing. SO we did six songs and when he sent me some songs to maybe do or cover, the name of the artist was R. Ring and I thought: oh, maybe this is his band mate’s or these are his cover songs we’re doing. When he talked about it he laughed about it and said ‘no.’ He always had this idea for a band, or a project, to call it R. Ring, which is your right ring finger on the fingerprint card. Then he kinda waxed poetic. It was really lovely how he explained it, like your left hand, your left ring finger is a certain type of love and then your right ring is your other passion, you know, like a music passion or that kind of commitment or something like that. It was really sweet and as time went by, it was so funny because often people would ask: ‘Hey, what’s the name of your band? How did you get it?’ Then you could just see the level of detail increase exponentially everytime he would try to explain this. So, now he says ‘I thought it sounded cool.’ He doesn’t get into it all. So, anyway, that’s how I met him.
PHAWKER: And this has been going on since when?
KELLEY DEAL: 2010.
PHAWKER: Okay, so it’s like an intermittent thing? It’s not like an everyday thing?
KELLEY DEAL: Correct. It was busy and then I took some time off for the Breeders and then we got busy again. It just so happened that when I got busy to do the Breeders thing we wanted to do a warm-up show. So we did that and we were like ‘Well, we should do it somewhere in Cincinnati.” And I was like ‘Well, I know a Cincy guy, he knows everybody, he’s been doing sound and recording there for forever. Let me ask Mike.’ So, Mike started talking to our tour manager, Sam. Her name is Sam even though she’s a girl. He and Sam were kind of organizing this stuff. At some point Sam says to me, and this is my Australian accent: ‘Kelly, Mike is lovely. Do you think he’d be interested in working with us?’ Anyway, we hired him to be our guitar tech for the Breeders shows and it was a big deal because I was like ‘Let me think about it.’ I didn’t know if I wanted my roles to collide and I was like, man, I’d love to be touring and going to Spain and Ireland with Mike. He would dig it and I would have a really good time with it. So, he was our guitar tech during that period of time.
PHAWKER: So, you both live in Dayton. You live in Dayton, Ohio and he lives in Dayton, Kentucky. Is that like a suburb of Cincinnati? Is that the deal?
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, it’s right across the street or, excuse me, right across the river.
PHAWKER: Tell me about the two split 7-inches you’re touring in support of.
KELLEY DEAL: So, Protomartyr. Do you know Protomartyr?
PHAWKER: I didn’t know them before I set up this interview with you, I know who you’re talking about though.
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, check them out, they’re very good. They’re from Michigan and we played with them in 2012. No, 2014. No, fuck I don’t know. Who knows, who cares? We met them at South by Southwest, we played with them. Oh my god, it must’ve been last year. Yeah, 2014, and we both were like ’DAMN, man, they good!’ And we talked to them afterwards and were like ‘Damn, we should do something, you guys are right in Michigan. We should do something together.’ And yeah, I’m saying it like that. You know how you do that with bands? ‘Sure, yeah, yeah, we should work together.’ And nobody ever does anything, nobody ever follows up? Well, we happened to follow up. They followed up, we followed up. This is in December, they came down and recorded their side and I sang on that and it’s a really cool song.
PHAWKER: Okay, yeah, I have heard that. That’s quite a bit louder and rawer than R. a href=”http://www.phawker.com/?attachment_id=86602″ rel=”attachment wp-att-86602″>Ring’s song, right?
KELLEY DEAL: Yes, so true, yes. And then we recorded our side. That’s how that went and then the other split single that we put out is with the Quailbones, the one that’s Sofa Burn Records, that’s a Cincinnati label.
PHAWKER: That’s a very funny name for a label.
KELLEY DEAL: It is, isn’t it? I think it’s good, too. It’s got a terrible logo but I think they changed it since then. It looks like that Triumph you know, motorcycles? Mike, he’s been like this trim road dog forever and ever especially right around the Midwest and these places. He and another band he’s in called Ampline, they do a lot of touring and one of the places they used to go to was Murray, Kentucky which is a dry county. The only thing that’s kind of happening there is Murray State University, Murray University or something, and they have this one record store/head shop where all the kids kinda go to and listen to music, talk about music and everybody is in everybody else’s bands. So, R. Ring went there and played a show, and since then we’ve done several shows there. Everytime we go there the head shop/record store is completely full. It’s usually better than any gig that we are actually playing at any club. The bands that are opening for us or playing with us that night, it’s usually like six bands are crammed in, and everyone of them is awesome.You know, then that drummer gets on bass for that band and it’s just crazy! There’s so much just really good juju down there probably just because they’re so isolated and they gotta do their own thing.
PHAWKER: Well, we have a head shop here in Philadelphia you guys can play: Wonderland. You guys should do a tour of head shops around the country.
KELLEY DEAL: The thing is, I don’t smoke pot.
KELLEY DEAL: True. But I actually am really pissed that I missed this whole legalization thing and this whole vape thing. I’m kind of annoyed by it. But, me and pot is just no good, it’s no good.
PHAWKER: Were you ever a pot smoker?
KELLEY DEAL: I was in high school. I smoked my face off in high school and i kinda just got over it, I quit enjoying it.
PHAWKER: Why am I not surprised to hear. I’m assuming both you and Kim were big stoners in high school, am I right?
KELLEY DEAL: I was, Kim was not. She was a really good student and I was a hood.
PHAWKER: You just smoke cigarettes, right? Or do you even smoke cigarettes?
KELLEY DEAL: No, I don’t anymore. I quit about 8 years ago but I still chew nicotine gum.
PHAWKER: Good for you!
KELLEY DEAL: Thank you, thank you. But I still chew nicotine gum 8 years later and I’m ok with that.
PHAWKER: And that’s your only vice?
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, yes it is.
KELLEY DEAL: And I have sugar and coffee.
PHAWKER: I don’t know if you want to talk about this, we can keep this off the record if you’d like but I gotta hand it to you, you know? I don’t know many people who shook a heroin habit and bounced back and are doing well and making more interesting music. I know some people that get clean and sober and then they just kind of lose it artistically or are just not as interesting. A lot of people I know, too, seem to struggle forever just constantly relapsing. So, I gotta hand it to you. I’m very proud of you, my friend.
KELLEY DEAL: Thank you very much, I appreciate it Jonathan. You know, that’s not to say that I haven’t relapsed over this period. I mean, I haven’t drank since 1995 and I really don’t have the urge to drink. I mean, I was completely an alcoholic, I drank alcoholically but that’s not the thing that gets me. And pot, too. I used to, as I said, smoke my face off but that’s not gonna take me over. I’m like ‘Ehh, never mind.’ But, I tell ya, the opiates are really what I struggled with. Not now because I feel pretty good nowadays just really having understood — and this is a whole 12 step-y thing — it’s the first one that gets me. I mean, I really can’t have any codeine at all. I can’t go to Europe, or France has really good over-the-counter Codeine, I can’t say to myself ‘Oh, I have cramps. I really need some Codeine just to take the edge off.’ Then I take that entire addiction back and I’m looking for pills, pills are hard to find, it’s way easier just to find heroin, you know? And then I’m back on it!
PHAWKER: That’s so common now. People develop Vicodin or Oxy habits from prescription use, they get cut off from the prescription and the only thing they can find is heroin.
KELLEY DEAL: And heroin is so much cheaper!
PHAWKER: Yeah, it’s cheaper and easier to get and that’s why there are so many people with heroin addictions.
KELLEY DEAL: And ODs! And Fentanyl around here! It’s terrible. Yeah, I don’t know.
PHAWKER: Yeah, and I guess we identified that some people are really prone to opiate addiction cause I can take some Codeine and I’m not sure I’d even feel like I was high off of it. Apparently though, when you try it you feel really good and it brings back good memories of good feelings and that kind of stuff.
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, I do think it’s completely biological and I do think it’s genetic.
PHAWKER: So, not to turn this into a whole rehab story, how do you keep on the straight and narrow? Do you go to meetings?
KELLEY DEAL: I do. I absolutely do.
PHAWKER: And that helps?
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, yeah it does. It really helps. You know, for me right now i have no desire to but I think if I quit going, it wouldn’t be tomorrow or months from now, I would follow this pattern: I get, I’m doing good, everything’s feeling tight and stuff then I quit following up and stop hanging with people who are sober. It’s more of just reminding yourself, you know? Just reminders.
PHAWKER: And I’m amazed that you’re able to keep it together with all the touring with the Breeders and stuff. Rock n’ Roll is nothing but temptation, right? A touring rock n’ roll band is just rolling temptation.
PHAWKER: Was she totally straight? Jim was a big drinker too?
KELLEY DEAL: Well, Jim was actually sober at the time and was in recovery so he wasn’t actively drinking at the beginning of the band. And then Josephine, God. She’s just normal, normal as can be. You know what? She’s as normal as she can be. You know? She’s a kook.
PHAWKER: How normal is that?
KELLEY DEAL: Not very normal. She is one of the most interesting people I have ever met.
PHAWKER: And where is she living?
KELLEY DEAL: She’s living in Brooklyn. Yeah, she’s been in the States since the early 90s. She and her girlfriend live in Brooklyn. She’s coming next week and we are, in Tim’s basement, doing some tapings. We’ve got a 16 track reel-to-reel there and we’re gonna try to do some taping and stuff. You know, just trying to get some really cool sounds because Josephine really loves digital music and she can work all that, she’s got everything. And Kim is the other side of that.
PHAWKER: Which is what? Guitars and drums you mean? What’s the other side of that?
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, tape. Analogue, everything analogue. I think what we’re going to do is figure out how we can do this together using both of those things, maybe. Which is kind of a big deal, you know, for us.
PHAWKER: Now are you talking about doing work on another Breeders record?
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, yeah. We’ve been since 2003. Like last Fall we did a tour and we played the Hollywood Bowl.
PHAWKER: Oh, wow! How cool was that?
KELLEY DEAL: It was so fun! It was really cool. It was so beautiful, it was so special. And, you know, I don’t usually feel like that. I think it was CBGB’s when I looked around and said ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m playing this place.’ That place and then Hollywood Bowl are the only two places where I looked around and I was impressed. Otherwise, I don’t really care where I’m playing. It just doesn’t mean that much to me. But those two places I was like ‘Oh my God, this is history right here.’
PHAWKER: But I interrupted you, you said you played at the Hollywood Bowl last Fall and….
KELLEY DEAL: Yes. And we added some new songs to that setlist. I mean, we played some new songs that night and some other nights. Yeah, so we just tried them out and what we are doing now is some recording of those. But, you know it’s a long process like you can imagine. New Breeders record soon.
PHAWKER: So there’s no deadline or hard plans put together? You guys are just gonna get together, roll some tape and maybe come up with some songs and see how it goes?
KELLEY DEAL: And that’s the one kind of bummer thing about not working with a label nowadays; labels provided this schedule and ultimately it was contractible, although in my experience it never was the ‘You better or else’ kind of thing. But, a schedule was there and that was nice.
PHAWKER: Because you guys need a deadline to get motivated and get going.
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, Jon I need a deadline to get out of my house! I’m still in my pajamas! Jesus!
PHAWKER: So, you and Kim are still both living in Dayton, yes?
KELLEY DEAL: Yes.
PHAWKER: That’s cool. So, you said you were still in your pajamas and I wanted to ask you: what’s a typical day in the life of Kelley Deal these days?
PHAWKER: Tell me about the sewing stuff. Are you doing stuff that you’re selling or are you doing projects for people to get commission on them?
KELLEY DEAL: No. Were you around when I was knitting like a crazy fool?
PHAWKER: Knitting, yeah you were definitely knitting when we were hanging out. Go ahead.
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, so it’s just something I kind of started doing then and I have a store. I have this thing where I really like working with old felted sweaters with weird patterns and colors and I put them together and make scarves out of them. It’s not high art or anything but I’m kind of obsessed with it and that’s just kind of what I do. Then I sell them online.
PHAWKER: What’s your online store called? Give it a plug!
KELLEY DEAL: It’s on Big Cartel. I think it’s called store.kelleydeal.com or something. Yeah, something like that. It’s on Big Cartel which is this amazing platform for artists to sell things.
KELLEY DEAL: It is [private]. It’s my own, yeah. What’re you doing, Jonathan? I wanna hear about what you’re doing. Are you still in Philly?
PHAWKER: I am still in Philly. I’m not playing music, I’ve been throwing myself into writing full-time so that fell into the backseat for about the last ten years.
KELLEY DEAL: Do you miss not playing?
PHAWKER: Not really, to be honest with you. I feel like I kind of got it out of my system because I lived it so hard from like 18 to 35 or something like that. I’m fine with it. Back in the day I don’t think I could have ever imagined a time where I would not miss it and not want to do it all the time. I’m actually just very excited about seeing younger people come up and helping to support them and tell their story.
KELLEY DEAL: Well, good. Who do you recommend who is cool or somebody who is doing something interesting?
PHAWKER: As far as a young up-and-coming band?
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, that you’re like “damn! They good!”
PHAWKER: Yeah, there is this band out of Philly actually that you should check out called Hop Along. They’re like a kinda indie guitar-rock thing, they have this great chick singer, she writes all the songs and she’s the leader of the band. She’s got a really cool voice and it kind of goes from she’s got a really good scream and she’s also got a really pretty kind of hush whisper-y lullaby kind of voice. Check them out. They have a new album out, they’re kind of blowing up right now.
KELLEY DEAL: Do you know, at the [Johnny Brenda’s] show we’re going to have, who’s the guy from Dead Kennedys? He lives in Philly. Joe…
PHAWKER: Oh, not the Dead Kennedys. The Dead Milkmen, right?
KELLEY DEAL: The Dead Milkmen!
PHAWKER: Joe Jack Talcum, that’s who you’re talking about.
KELLEY DEAL: Yes, sorry. He’s going to be playing with us.
PHAWKER: I saw that, that’s very cool. I’m looking forward to it.
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, good. You gonna come, you think?
PHAWKER: I’m gonna absolutely come.
KELLEY DEAL: Oh, good. I’m glad. It’s just different, you know? Do you have any dogs?
PHAWKER: Do I have any dogs? No, I have a cat named Nico. She’s black. I hope that’s not going to be a problem.
KELLEY DEAL: Yeah, good. Is she indoor or outdoor?
PHAWKER: Indoor. You can’t have an outdoor cat in Philly. People do horrible things.
KELLEY DEAL: Really? Especially black ones.
PHAWKER: Yeah, exactly. What other questions do you have for me?
KELLEY DEAL: What about the other guys [in the Psyclone Rangers]? Are they all dead?
PHAWKER: No, they’re alive. Everyone just kind of matured into the straight life, I guess. But I will tell them you said hello. They will be very excited to hear that I talked to you.
PHAWKER: I still have that issue of Rolling Stone with you listing our record as one of your top ten favorites of 1993.. I mean, that was a huge thing for us because we were such Breeders fans. When that album came out, someone gave us Last Splash and we took it on tour and we listened to it everyday. We were like in love with you guys. And then I think a friend of mine, when you came through Allentown with Nirvana, passed along our album to you and I think that’s how the whole thing happened. Then one day we opened up Rolling Stone and were like ‘Woah, this is awesome!’ By the way, I don’t think I made it clear to you, I really like R. Ring. I really like the songs, I think they’re great. Yeah, it’s really good.
KELLEY DEAL: Thanks, I really appreciate it. That means a lot, Jonathan. Cause I had a feeling you were a son of a bitch, you know, when it comes to that shit.
PHAWKER: You mean being like hard to please in that way? Yeah, I guess I kind of am.
KELLEY DEAL: I mean, how many types of music have you heard in the world’
PHAWKER: Ten zillion.
KELLEY DEAL: Exactly, so I’m just trying to make something interesting. So, that’s good.