Deer Tick has been called many things by many people over the last seven years. Gruff, raw, immature, full of potential – to name a few. There are bands that try to fit into a more popular mold and there are bands that stay true to themselves and define a sound. Deer Tick keeps it real.
NBC’s Brian Williams profiled the band after the release of Born on Flag Day in 2009, another step in solidifying their cross-generational sound. Front-man John McCaulley speaks with sage wisdom beyond his years. He’s travelled a hard path, from long years on the road to addiction back to indie-rock stardom; and now Deer Tick is on top of their game.
I’ve been listening to their most recent album Divine Providence and it’s as true to their live sound as you can get. It’s a rollicking alt-country folk rock rollercoaster that mixes in anthems like “Let’s All Go To the Bar” with slower, deeper cuts such as “Chevy Express”. The album is well-rounded, but leans towards the loud and raucous. It’s high energy, it’s passionate, it’s about having a good time. The band mixed up singing duties with drummer Dennis Ryan taking over lead vocals on “Clownin’ Around,” “Walkin’ Out the Door” and “Now It’s Your Turn”.
I caught up with John McCaulley the night before Deer Tick’s show in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Of course, like Deer Tick’s lyrics, it was more nuanced and complex than that, but I’ll let John speak for himself…
STREAM: Deer Tick – “Miss K”
Dave Turner: When did you find out about Occupy Wall Street and how did the idea for the show come about?
John McCaulley: I was kind of oblivious to what was going on and then my manager sent me an e-mail and I checked it out, and I was more concerned with police abusing their power rather than their big statement they are trying to make with their protest and I think they have the right to protest and I think the NYPD has been a little rough in trying to control the crowd and all that.
DT: Is there any previous history you have with police brutality?
JM: Not with me personally, but I do value the idea of police officers serving and protecting us and you know I have law enforcement in my family, it’s something I respect, but at the same time I expect the same respect in return.
DT: Getting to the new album, it’s a little different production quality than what you’ve done before. How did you decide to go in that direction and you said before that it was your favorite album so what makes it more special to you than the previous albums?
JM: I actually like listening to it. I haven’t really gotten there with any previous recordings and when we did Middle Brother I had a lot of fun with that too so I thought maybe it had something to do with Adam and Justin’s productions or maybe I was sort of shifting as a songwriter/performer/recording artist but whatever it is it worked out great on this record and it’s a lot more accurate as to what we enjoy listening to and the kind of bands that are inspirations and the reason why we pick up our instruments.
DT: How did Deervana come about? Not a lot of bands could pull that off.
JM: Dearavana was our friend Mike’s idea and we thought it was so fun and awesome and humorous that we decided to continue doing it a little bit but it kind of spiraled out of control and we started getting too many offers to play dearavana shows and we thought it might be a bit distracted if we continued doing them.
DT: So tell me about getting linked up with Middle Brother. Dawes and Delta Spirit are two of my favorite bands. I went to the show you played at 9:30 Club and I’m really interested in how all that started when you guys met.
JM: We went on tour with Dawes a couple of years ago we share the same booking agency and we just sort of dug each other’s writing and thought it would be fun to write some songs together and didn’t really know what to expect when we did it but we set a time and a place and it just so happened Matt wasn’t doing anything so he heard about what we were doing and he asked if he could come play with us and yeah it took a while for the record to come out but other than that it was a pretty smooth process.
DT: Can you tell me the story behind “Miss K” – she sounds like she was pretty awesome, impactful.
JM: I wrote that about my ex-fiance (laughs) before she was my ex-fiance.
DT: We can leave it at that. Another song I liked on the record is “Clowning Around”. I like the fact that the rest of the band is singing and I think that’s a cool new aspect throughout the new record. The first time I listened to it I started laughing at the outro circus piano music. Did you write that or did Dennis write that?
JM: Typically 95% of the time we’re both singing the song and in this case Dennis wrote the whole thing and he sings lead on it and yeah we just played our guitars and stuff and it came together like that and that outro thing was just kind of a joke but we ended up really liking it so Rob just started playing it after we finished the tape and it was just sitting there on the tape and Dennis was like let me go in and overdo some percussion on that and then he started screaming “step right up!” and then we all really fell in love with it and had to keep it on the record.
DT: Another song I really like is “Chevy Express.” It seems fairly deep and makes me pause and think. Can you tell me about that?
JM: It has the intro the chorus I wrote that down and then I just kind of wrote the lyrics stream of consciousness about shit that either pissed me off or confused me so I was just kind of bouncing around subject to subject almost every other line and it covers everything from a bridge that’s been under construction for the last 5 years in Rhode Island to Jon Benet Ramsey’s murder investigation to the failed war on drugs to the war on terror, whatever that is so yeah it’s kind of me just rambling about shit.
DT: You guys tour incessantly all the time, it’s great for the fans. What’s your favorite dining experience you’ve had on the road? Favorite meal or just the whole experience?
JM: The food in Austin. I’ve never been to Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC. I think one of my favorite meals was over in Spain and the people who put on the show made us a really good meal. Barbecued duck legs and it fell right off the bone.
DT: I hear Johnny Corndawg is quite the master of leather and I was wondering if you had a favorite piece he’s made?
JM: He sent me a guitar strap in the mail. I was going through a bit of a rough time with drugs and he wrote me a really nice letter and made me a really nice strap that said “Don’t kill yourself, Big Boy” he calls me big boy. I always travel with that strap and it makes me smile every time I put it on
DT: That’s a pretty powerful story right there
JM: Yeah he’s a real sweetheart