Deer Tick Interview

Johnny Sanford :: Tuesday, June 8th, 2010 6:15 pm

Deer Tick’s latest album, The Black Dirt Sessions, was released today.

Peter Pan has the Lost Boys, and lead-singer John McCauley has Deer Tick. The first thing I notice about him is his gold tooth. It glints in the sunshine of the cold March afternoon I spent with the band at Coney Island in New York City.The second thing I notice is his roadworn voice, and his strange way with words.

The band seems restless, their eyes darting to and fro looking for something to entertain themselves. Dennis is carrying an eight ball stolen from the pool table of the bar they went to the night before, and he jokes about turning it into a hemp necklace. They are a jovial group, bringing an element of chaos wherever they go — electric, even without their guitars.

Deer Tick are sitting on the precipice, ready to make a major breakthrough with their new album, The Black Dirt Sessions, available from Partisan Records on June 8th, 2010. The new album earns its name, creating fertile ground to grow into a “fuckin’ rock and roll band,” which is all they ever wanted to be in the first place.

Deer Tick’s latest effort is a kick to the teeth of “alt-country,” a label the Rhode Island-based band rejected from the get go. It’s rock and roll tracks are offset with songs like “Christ Jesus” and “Goodbye Dear Friend,” the album’s hauntingly sparse piano and vocal tracks that echo Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series, Alice in Chains, and even Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album.

We walk along the boardwalk at Coney Island, of course, seeking shelter from the cold Atlantic wind to conduct our interview, but more importantly, we’re looking for a bar that’s open at 1 pm on a Wednesday. We settle for a gazebo underneath the shadow of Astroland’s Wonder Wheel and start talking.

So BriTunes…have you gotten to meet Brian Williams?

Dennis Ryan: Yeah! Pretty seriously. We had a really great time.

John McCauley: Did you not see the interview?

No. I haven’t seen it.

John McCauley: We all sat on a couch. We looked like the scum of the earth, and he looked all nice. He’s a really sweet guy. I’d love to hang out with him again at some time.

Have you guys been playing big shows or small shows?

John McCauley: We did a mini-tour down on SXSW. It was intense, very sexual, [Laughter] Very intimate. We play all sorts of shows.

Dennis Ryan: We played Cincinnati’s St. Patrick Day Parade, we had a secret show in St. Louis and we rocked it with our buddies Titus Andronicus.

Is it better to have an intimate show?
John McCauley: I don’t really give a fuck unless there’s a barrier between us and the audience. Whenever they set up a five foot gap for security guards or people taking pictures, that pisses me the fuck off. I don’t like that ever. Doesn’t matter the size of the show, just the degree of separation between us and the audience.

Ian Patrick O’Neil: I really like playing day shows. We did a show at SXSW, it was a huge stage during the day and you can kinda get away with different things during the day.

Do you guys ever play acoustic shows?

John McCauley: Not really. The closest I come is if I play a show by myself. Even then I still play with my electric.

Have you been playing some of the new songs ?

John McCauley: We’ve been messing around with some of the new songs. I think we’re gonna wait ‘til we really hit the road before we do a new song heavy set. For now it’s just a handful of the new stuff.

Let’s get to the back to the album. You’ve got some, I don’t want to call them ballads, but you’ve got some really soul-baring songs on the album. Are you gonna play them live?

John McCauley: I’m not sure how comfortable I feel with playing those songs. But we’re gonna try it. That album was recorded with the very specific thought in mind, it being a soul-baring album. Our interests as a band are definitely somewhere else. We’re just gonna see how it works for everything live. Some of the songs just seem too personal. I just am worried if we keep doing it every night I don’t want it to come off as insincere.

Ian Patrick O’Neil: We’re also a band that might take one of those songs and change it live. If it works better in a different way, as a fun, full band thing, that will probably happen.

John McCauley: Yeah, we’ll probably turn the saddest ballad into a rock-and-roll-number fit for Jerry Lewis in the soundtrack of a Bruce Lee movie. [Laughter] Or maybe a Bruckheimer film.

How did recording The Black-Dirt Sessions compare to recording Born on Flag Day seeing that you blew-up in between?

John McCauley: Nah, we were so isolated for the recording that we couldn’t be anything but ourselves. [Chris] Most of this we recorded only a few months after Born on Flag Day. We recorded this in January 2009 and Born on Flag Day in September 2008.

John McCauley: The only thing that was weird about it was that we recorded most of this in January ’09 when we still had Andy, and then we started doing some new sessions a few months ago with Ian.

So some of the songs made it on the new album with Andy?

John McCauley: Yeah, he’s credited as a full-fledged band member for this album.

The album has a great sense of pessimistic optimism. Even the music shifts from major chords to minor chords relentlessly. What do you want your audience to take away from this album?

Dennis Ryan: This is a seriously clean jump-off for the band to be whatever we want to be. This album cleans the slate. We’re not an alt-country band. We’re a fuckin’ rock band. It’s a good album for that. We’ve got a lot of different influences.

Yeah, I heard some Alice in Chains in the new album.

John McCauley: You heard that? Awesome!

Dennis Ryan: Most definitely.

There’s even a bit of Johnny Cash in there.
Yea we definitely we’re inspired by the new Johnny Cash records. I had the pleasure to hang out with the engineer that did the American Recordings for Cash. We just got the new album [American VI].

Dennis Ryan: It’s a really heavy album.

After having some time off, have you put together any new songs that aren’t on the Black Dirt Sessions that you plan on playing live?

Ian Patrick O’Neil: We’ve got an excess of new songs.

John McCauley:I think it’s a bit dangerous, cause it’s all we’re interested in doing right now while supporting this album that hasn’t even come out yet. We want to play all the new stuff we’re eventually gonna be recording for our fourth album.

Dennis Ryan: We wanna do so much, and we will.

Ian Patrick O’Neil: I think that’s it’s frustrating for the label.

What do you do on tour when you aren’t playing shows?

John McCauley: Pinball and masturbation.

Dennis Ryan: We’ve really gotten into Big Buck Hunter. We love to play pool. Willy Nelson has a truck stop out in Austin, TX called Carl’s Corner, we stopped their on SXSW. We love bars.

John McCauley: I like to trash-talk the most famous local band from wherever we are and create fake rivalries, has never worked out. I guess most nobody takes anything seriously when I’m wasted. [laughter] Fair enough.

Dennis Ryan: We love going to record stores. We’re also working on our cd collection in the van.

Speaking of records, you’re pressing vinyl for the new album, right?

Dennis Ryan: We’ve found ourselves in this situation where we aren’t crashing and burning like the rest of ‘em, but we’ve seen some of our friends crashing and burning, which is unfortunate.

John McCauley: Partisan records is a very different record label. A good part is that it has every resource that other good record labels have, but it doesn’t come with bragging rights or pretentiousness. They’re real people that don’t give a fuck about reputation or indie-cred, or stupid shit like that; they’re not skeezy business men, which you don’t find that often.

How did you catch their attention?

John McCauley: When the Knitting Factory was in Manhattan, we played a few shows there, and Tim [Owner of Partisan] saw us play. I wasn’t interested at all. The band wasn’t fully formed and I was pretty sure I was gonna tour the house-circuit around the country relentlessly. I don’t know what he did, but he convinced me. Once the other guys came on board, he convinced them that Artisan records was the way to go.

Ian, you bounced from Titus Andronicus a while back. Can you set the rumors straight?

Ian Patrick O’Neil: Despite what you may have seen in some poorly-worded press releases, I didn’t quit the band to join Deer Tick. I quit for personal reasons that had nothing to do with the band. I wasn’t planning to join a new band, but it worked out that way. They’re doing really well. They’re our best buddies.

So you’re all from Rhode Island [except Ian], how did growing up there affect you musically?

Ian Patrick O’Neil:It’s a wacky music scene. There’s everything, and everyone’s doing it together. No separation. No genres.

Christopher Ryan: You get the weirdest bills.

Dennis Ryan: What hilariously linked every band was that everyone was trying to get as many fucking amps as they could. There were all these different bands, but what they all wanted was to be loud and awesome. Amazing shows in my prime time of influence, crazy shows every night [John] it was Anything goes kinda shows. I saw a guy in DMBQ break his arm. He nearly lit the place on fire! Was that Cock ESP?

John McCauley: Yeah. It’s a good mixture of inner-city, trashy dudes and chicks and the whole art school thing. When you mix that kinda thing, you get kinda nutty results. [Dennis] Do not shake!

Where do you plan on going in the near future other than the tour?

Dennis Ryan: The zoo. [Laughter] My girlfriend works at the zoo, she can get us all in for free.

Christopher Ryan: We’re gonna go to Six Flags.

John McCauley: I really wanna go to Cairo. They’ve got a Hard-Rock Café there. I’ve been telling my booking agent, “Get on it man. There’s a Hard Rock in Cairo, it’s right on the Nile. We have to play it.” But he never takes us seriously.

Ian Patrick O’Neil: We wanna play Cape Town for the World Cup. We’ve got some seriously ambitious plans to tour some strange places.

Is there gonna be a European tour?

Ian Patrick O’Neil: Yeah, in September.

John McCauley: I’d rather just move on to a new continent.

Ian Patrick O’Neil: The shows are really great in Europe, but the continent in the winter is really depressing when its rainy and really depressing. You see nuclear reactors all over the place.

Dennis Ryan: The most impressive thing about shows in Europe is that they knew the serious back catalog. They were asking for shit that I don’t know when the last time we thought about it. People were really cool over there.

Are you planning on getting on any of the late-night talk shows?

Ian Patrick O’Neil: Apparently we’re not safe enough for television. Which I think is bullshit. I mean, think about some of the bands that have made it to TV, bands with some type of reputation. The Replacements made it to TV, Nirvana made it to TV, The Black Lips just made it TV. I think we’re pretty harmless drunks. Why can’t Deer Tick make it to TV?!

Seriously. I mean, Joe Biden recently dropped ‘the F-bomb’ on live TV.

Dennis Ryan: Seriously? What’d he say? “I don’t gotta do fuckin’ shit!” [Laughter]

Christopher Ryan: If Biden can be Vice President, Deer Tick can be on TV.

Do you guys have any other final thoughts?

John McCauley: Let’s find a bar.