Milwaukee's the Promise Ring are considered one of the great "emo" bands of the 1990s. But the breadth and range of the band's recorded output speaks to the vagueness of that term, which has followed the Promise Ring from their sloppy earliest recordings through 2002's confident and measured Wood/Water. After breaking up that year and playing a single one-off show in 2005, the band unexpectedly resurfaced last month with a series of characteristically oblique messages delivered via Twitter from @ThePromiseRing. After a couple days of quietly ramping up their online presence, the band announced a pair of late February reunion shows in Milwaukee and Chicago, and a rarities compilation to be released next year on the Dangerbird label (the current home of Promise Ring singer Davey Von Bohlen and drummer Dan Didier's new band Maritime). Rolling Stone spoke with Didier about the band's initial breakup, the reasons for their reunion and the tensions that fueled their 1997 masterpiece Nothing Feels Good.
Why are you guys getting back together now?
We did a one-off reunion show in 2005, and every year since then we've been approached by promoters asking us to do stuff. Everything aligned this year, all of our personal and professional lives. It's doable because it's pretty low-commitment; we play a few shows, rehearse a few weekends, then after the summer we'll see what happens. It's weird, because it does seem like there's a market for it now. It's the perfect amount of time to be away from something to be interested in it again. In the 2000s, the Eighties were back, and now the Nineties are back. These things seem to happen every 10 years – we're just following the market trend!
Has your relationship with the band changed now that you've been away from it for a while?
Yes, we definitely found that out with the show we did in 2005. Even that was a little soon for all four of us to be back together, just because of the way things ended with [bassist Scott] Schoenbeck and Wood/Water, and at the end of the band with [guitarist] Jason [Gwenikow]. 2005 was right on the cusp of all of our wounds being healed. The reason that we broke up is that we needed to be friends. As a business, we would have been fine, but as people it would have been horrific. We cared enough about each other to break up the band when we were still relatively successful.
Are the old albums getting reissued on vinyl?
Dangerbird is doing the rarities, and they're in touch with Jade Tree to see what we can do with the old material. I don't know how much it would actually change, I don't know what we could add aside from rereleasing the vinyl. I actually still have some Very Emergency records – why are we doing these reunion shows, we should be selling our vinyl collections!
Is the rarities compilation finalized?
No, we're still bantering back and forth.There's not a ton of stuff. We weren't that prolific at all – it was like, "We have 10 songs, we're recording!" There's one song – the last song we ever recorded actually – and I'm pretty sure the Pro Tools files are on one drive that I have. So, it's gonna be interesting! There's a bunch of one-offs that we did that were released, but I'd rather it have more unreleased stuff, to make it really special. There are certain songs we wrote for Wood/Water that didn't make it because they didn't fit. So hopefully it will be interesting for historical purposes – "These didn't make it on to Wood/Water – and here's why!"
Are you going to record any new material?
No. I can't say definitively that we never will, but right now we don't have any plans.
Any plans for more shows?
These two shows are just to get it out that we're doing stuff again for 2012. After that, we'll see what we can do for the summer, maybe into the fall. We're figuring this all out as we go.
The reunion announcement on Twitter seems particularly thought-out and substantial. What was the process behind putting it together?
A couple years ago, we were thinking about doing something for the A/V Club Festival. I went on Twitter to see if [@ThePromiseRing] was available, and it was, so I sat on it, knowing at some point that we were going to need it. The idea was just to promote it via our personal Twitter feeds and see what happens. And the response has been great, because we can control the narrative. We're adamant about just having fun with this. So we started doing weird things, these real cryptic, silly things, because we could.
This isn't orchestrated, it's totally by the seat of our pants. And that's how we've always been, in a way, even with our writing and recording. There was definitely an "oh, shit" moment when we started promoting the Twitter account like, "OK, wow, we've gotta do this." This isn't something we were planning to do for months and months. The idea has been there for years and years, but now that push has come to shove, it's not like we knew what we were doing . . . or know what we're going to do.
The tone of the announcement made sense. Nothing Feels Good was also cryptic and silly in some ways.
In our youth, we were trying to be coy. We were labeled things from the get-go, so we were trying to be cheeky about it. That record is the documentation of a band figuring things out, and trying new things. It was basically just us throwing spaghetti at the wall. There was a lot of experimentation. It was a very tumultuous time, at least for me and [original bassist Scott Beschta]. We had basically stopped communicating at that time.
That's surprising to me! The rhythm section sounds super-tight and communicative on that record.
Again, you know, a lot of time has passed; we've exchanged emails and it's totally water under the bridge. At the time, though, we couldn't stand each other. [That tightness] is kind of how we dealt with it; it wasn't competitive exactly, but there was an element of, like, playing really well out of spite. If we were too friendly, maybe it would have been a little looser. We would have been more forgiving. At the time, there was no forgiveness between us. That may have helped the record, in fact!