Q&A with Kelley Deal

photo courtesy of the artist

We Love DC guest writer Jonathan Druy had the chance to interview Kelley Deal. Read his account of it all here!

Breeders guitarist Kelley Deal is touring with her beautiful new acoustic project R.Ring, and they’re stopping by DC9 on Tuesday night, in what may prove to be a truly talent-rich night of acoustic-based indie-folk-rock-thingies, with Mike Ganancias and Mean Season. A new release from Misra Records is on its way.

From Dayton, Ohio, R.Ring is Deal and Mike Montgomery of the band Ampline, performing acoustic, spare, melodic explorations led by Deal’s unique and sometimes distorted vocals, her voice familiar to those who remember the once-ubiquitous Breeders. If you were sentient 20 years ago, you probably owned “Last Splash”, with it’s beautiful singles “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer”, and its surfy instrumentals, and the sweet chick-rock vocals led by twin sister and Pixie Kim, and harmonized sweetly by Kelley. You probably also loved the “Cannonball” video on early-90s MTV, an unimaginable pre-WWW/Youtube/Smartphone era when the cable network stumbled into post-Cobain indie-land, and played these things called music videos, because it was the only place you could see them, kiddies.

The lead-up to our interview lead me to revisit “Last Splash” and “Pod” and “Safari EP”, and well-up all nostalgic-like with my memories of seeing the Breeders ’92 show at the old 9:30 Club, which almost made me forget that Deal has had plenty to do since then; first with Kelley Deal 6000, then with the reformed and rejuvenated Breeders, first in ’02 then in ’08. And while I did just see a friend of mine sing “Cannonball” at karaoke, fear not, middle-aged geezers, the Breeders haven’t gone away, but the other day Kelley talked to me about her new project and about being among the current crop of veterans that are still doing it and doing it well.

She also got curious about the Ethiopian food I told her about on 9th St. You haven’t lived until you’ve explained Injera to a Breeder…

Jonathan Druy: Are there any memories or feelings about DC you have from past tours?

Kelley Deal: I do remember our ’92 show at the old 9:30 club – DC at the time was considered really hip and really happening, and I just remember being a rube from Dayton, and I didn’t know about any of this stuff and I remember thinking “wow, this is really cool!”.

R. Ring

JD: What is your idea for your new project? Your new songs “Fall Out and Fire” and “Hundred Dollar Heat” have a very nice sense of melody, as well as a spare, haunting quality; what are you conjuring?

KD: Well, since we both have other bands that we can do full band ideas with, it’s really important to me to do something that was just different; one of the songs we do is a cover of “Ghosts” by Shellac – we do it on acoustic guitar, which cracks me up! I love the idea of taking that song, deconstructing whatever song it is, and finding what is it that makes that song move, what is it that makes that song sing, what are the sweet spots, what are not, and understanding it – I don’t know, I just find music fascinating.

I’m not talking theory, because I don’t know theory, but it’s all very selfish, when I hear a piece of music. What is its relationship to me, what is it doing to me, what’s it talking to me about? And I like exploring that, and what we’re doing now is just a different way of using different tools of exploring.

It’s weird because another song we do, there’s a song by [sister Kim’s band] The Amps called “Mom’s Drunk”, and it has this lovely chord progression deep inside this fuzzy droney stuff, but it’s an absolutely lovely chord progression, and what we’ve kind of done is kind of taken it apart and rebuilt it back with a lot of tension in it between what one guitar does and what the other guitar does, just to find out where are the tension points. I just find it really fascinating.

JD: Your website also features your cover of another Ohio band, Devo, and their song “Mr. DNA”. Are there any other covers you’re interested in doing?

KD: I thought it would be really funny to do a cover of Fear’s “The Mouth Don’t Stop (The Trouble With Women)”. I heard a little of it and I thought that might be funny, a punk song about women, but then it wasn’t that good of a song.

JD: Are there any other Ohio bands people should know about?

KD: There’s a band called Motel Beds, they’re really good, and of course the Buffalo Killers, and there is a band not from Ohio on Misra called Waterliars, they’re fabulous live.

You know Brainiac is making quite the resurgence right now, for awhile in Ohio it was “Breeders, Breeders, Breeders”, then it was “GBV, GBV, GBV” and now it feels like it’s “Brainiac, Brainiac, Brainiac”. That’s been kinda cool, that’s been really interesting. There’s a lot of Brainiac love going on, people have been really bringing up the idea of Brainiac, who they were, and who they are, a lot.

JD: “Last Splash” is such an important, iconic piece in its time, I’m wondering if you think that there’s anything today that would have the same impact, or if there’s anything for you personally that has an impact on you the way “Last Splash” did to people.

KD: Well there apparently is!! What is it, aren’t there a couple new boy bands coming from England? One of my nieces got tickets to see one of those boy bands for a show in June 2013. 2013 is when the show is, and it’s sold out! So I guess it kinda does happen. Will that happen with anything that I find that has merit? I don’t know, everything kinda seems very niche oriented now, so I think that’s what everybody talks about a lot.

JD: Right now you have all these indie/alternative bands from the 80s and early 90s reuniting and touring, like the Stone Roses, the Feelies, Firehose, and even Pavement a few years ago. The Breeders never went away and are still going – what’s that like to see your contemporaries doing the same thing that younger indie-bands are doing. How do you feel about having everyone still around?

KD: I think it’s really interesting. We’re playing in Pittsburgh tonight and there’s a local band there called Food, and it’s with Ed From Ohio, the guy in Firehose, it’s his band, and we’re gonna be playing with him tonight, which is really interesting because Firehose is also back at it! I think it’s awesome that this guy is still involved and people are still making music if they want to.

JD: You, along with your sister Kim, were part of the iconography of the early 90s indie explosion; What’s kept you in music after this long?

KD: I really like it! I like actually doing music, and that’s kind of something you figure out as you play; there are lots of elements to it, and you kind of decide what it is specifically that you like about it, and from there you can then decide to either continue doing it or parlay maybe the kinds of things that you like into something else, or just abandon that kind of thing altogether.

So for me the reason why I continue playing shows and actual music instead of just booking bands or writing about it or creating a blog, or going into photography – which is all very music related and has a wonderful artistry all on its own – but for me the thing I like specifically about it is the actual music portion of it, so being a photographer of music or something like that, I wouldn’t be passionate about it.

JD: Do you see a lot of older people at your shows, people who were twentysomethings back in the 90s?

KD: You know it really varies, I’ve seen some older cats there, who come up and say, “I saw you guys play at…” and then other people that come up, a couple guys last night had seen a show The Breeders played two years ago. I’m happy to help them walk down memory lane!


You can see Kelley perform with R. Ring Tuesday night at DC9.

R. Ring

w/ The Mean Season

Marc Ganancias

Tuesday, May 15th

DC9 /doors 8pm/show 8:30/18+/$10


Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

2 thoughts on “Q&A with Kelley Deal

  1. Thanks for te interview with Kelley. Her new songs are so beautiful. I’m so grateful the Deal sisters are still out there making great music today. Love them.