Something to Brag About: An Interview with Deer Tick
Hundreds of disposable cameras? Alter-egos known as "Captain Tipsy"? Determining what makes a Tickhead? All in a day's work for Deer Tick, who tells PopMatters all about it while still basking in the critical glow of its latest disc.
Deer Tick: transmitter of Lyme Disease or a brotherhood of musicians with a penchant for rock 'n' roll and cheap beer? It may have started off as a disease, but since 2004 Deer Tick has represented singer/song writer John McCauley of Providence, Rhode Island. Originally a solo project specializing in East-Coast Americana rock with an indie-folk glaze, Deer Tick has gradually evolved into a full five-piece band with somewhat of a split personality.
Deer Tick's first three studio albums carried alt-country tones complete with guts, grime, and a knack for solid songwriting. Live the group became a raucous rock band whose music grabbed fans by the collar to kiss them, then spray in the face with beer. Then in 2011 Deer Tick released its fourth studio album Divine Providence, which encapsulated everything from its past mixed with its live rambunctious self.
Divine Providence is gritty, boisterous rock music complete with boogie-woogie keyboards, slick guitars, plenty of harmonies, and rockabilly grooves. Deer Tick recently wrapped up a US tour in support of the new album. I caught them in Chicago mid-November at Reggie's Rock Club, where I realized the quintet is everything one could ask for in a rock n' roll band: it is loud, raw, and sweaty, with an unquenchable thirst for Budweiser. Its music challenges audience intuition, making individuals want to simultaneously head bang, scream, twist, and shout. Before you are out of breath, the group may lay you down gently by grabbing your heart with romantic lyrics of the human experience. I briefly caught up with McCauley by phone at the tail end of Deer Tick's tour where he spoke about the new album, bars, fans, and more . . .
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So you're touring in support of your new album and I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the album, Divine Providence.
Well, we did it back in the spring, we recorded for 20 days, we made 22 songs, and we picked them over and picked the ones that sounded like an album I guess.
What did you do with the leftover songs?
One's a hidden track, one's an iTunes exclusive, shit like that. We have some leftover ones that we are gonna put an EP out early next year.
Can't wait to hear it. You're from Rhode Island and you returned there to record your album--what made you choose going back to Rhode Island?
We had demoed a couple of songs in that particular studio. It just felt right, felt like maybe it was time.
Did being in your hometown influence the sound or tone of the album?
Ehh, I doubt it.
What made Ian [O'Neil, guitar] and Dennis [Ryan, drums] approach the mic with lead vocals?
Well the songs ["Clownin Around" and "Walking Out the Door"] we have been doing live for a while so . . . Black Dirt Sessions was recorded a lot longer before it actually came out. It's kind of a really frustrating period of time for us to be a band because you are gonna want to play those songs live. And for the most part we didn't.
You went after a live aesthetic for your album, how did you successfully capture that?
We recorded all in a studio and all played together in the same room and stuff. There wasn't any isolating people or instruments. And we tried to keep overdubbing to a minimum.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
I think "Main Street" is my favorite sounding song on the album.
Is that because it's the single?
Yeah I guess; production-wise I think that song sounds the best.
On "Funny Word" who is the "fucking douche bag" in the beginning?
If you listen really closely you can hear Chris [Ryan, bassist] in the background call me a pansy, so I called him a "fucking douche bag". I think a lot of listeners think I'm talking to them but they're obviously not listening close enough because I'm talking to Chris [laughs].
I absolutely love the song "Let's All Go to the Bar". It was a great song to end your show in Chicago and it's been stuck in my head for days. Because of it I have a few bar questions to ask you, if that's OK?
Yeah, go for it.
Favorite bar you've ever played at?
Ooh, I don't know how I'm supposed to answer that question because there are so many . . .
Have you ever written anything directly inspired by a specific bar?
I can't think of anything really specifically. One of my favorite bars is in Providence that we hang out at, the E&O Tap, a lot of the staff there came out to do the group vocals on "Let's All Go to the Bar", so that was kinda cool. A couple of my favorite bartenders are singing on the record with us.
What's your drink of choice?
Budweiser, Coors Banquet, and Kettle One.
I noticed in Chicago you brought out a palette of Budweiser, and I was wondering how many beers does it take for you to get drunk?
I would hate to face you in a drinking challenge . . .
I don't drink competitively [laughs].
You refer to your fans as "Tickheads". What makes a Tickhead?
You can kinda tell by how drunk they get at our shows.
So is it how much you can drink?
No, not necessarily. It's also how much of an ass you can make out of yourself.
With your new album you offered Tickhead packages, one of which included used disposable cameras. Do you know what was on any of the cameras?
There's a lot of stuff that is backstage and shit. I'm sure there are some really boring cameras that made it out there. There was one night where we were hanging out with Jack Lawrence at Danger Mouse and we took some pictures. In a couple of them, you know there's some cool stuff like that.
Have any of the images made it back to you or have you heard about any of them?
Somebody posted all of the photos that they developed on our Facebook somewhere, and somebody posted a picture of me picking Jack Lawrence's nose.
Nice, did you find anything good?
[laughs] Yeah actually, after about 15 minutes I finally found that eraser head that was stuck in his nose his whole life.
I hope he's breathing easier these days. How many cameras did you send out with your records?
How many cameras?
Oh, I thought you said something totally different.
What did you think I said?
I thought you said drummers and I had no idea what you were talking about [laughs]. I think there's maybe 50.
I'm sure there are some good shots on those, they can't all be boring.
Yeah, I hope so.
Speaking of pictures I keep seeing a band image of you wearing a captain's hat, and I was wondering if you are the captain?
We were at the Newport Folk Festival. I got pretty hammered and I wore a bear costume with that captain's hat. I was trying to cause some trouble and Ramblin' Jack Elliot called me "Captain Tipsy", so I'm Captain Tipsy.
What kind of trouble did you cause that night?
If I could remember I would tell you.
I'm going to end this with an open-ended question: is there anything you have never been asked during an interview, that you wish someone had asked?
I wish they would just ask me to hang up the phone and I wouldn't have to do the interview, honestly. Actually I'm just fucking with you.
If you've got nothing else to say we can hang up the phone, and that's alright.
[laughs] Yeah I don't know. I'm not the best giver of interviews and I'd be worse at asking the questions, I'm sure.