Unlike their unusual name, the growing buzz surrounding indie rock group Deer Tick makes perfect sense. Originally conceived as a solo project by Providence singer-songwriter John McCauley, Deer Tick has released several folk-rock recordings – including War Elephant (2007), Born on Flag Day (2009), The Black Dirt Sessions (2010) – while cycling through an assortment of players. In 2010, after the lineup stabilized to include Ian O’Neil (guitar, vocals), Chris Ryan (bass, vocals), Rob Crowell (keys, saxophone, vocals) and Dennis Ryan (drums, vocals), the eclectic quintet released Divine Providence in late October this year. John McCauley discusses the new release and describes how loud, chaotic music (along with unspecified amounts of beer) makes the latest incarnation of Deer Tick a divinely dangerous machine.
Your music is often labeled as folk-rock or alt-country but your sound is decidedly more complex than that…
I think the best way to describe it would be just to call it rock and roll. When you’re in a rock band you can play with whatever different styles you want and we like to present ourselves in a way that’s not really true to any form. I think we kind of make it up as we go along.
What inspires you?
Music we love, hanging out with each other…and alcohol (laughs).
Like all good rock and rollers?
(laughs) I guess in this instance you could call us true-to-form.
Things have certainly been busy for you the last couple of years: finding the right players, touring and more touring, assembling Divine Providence…
You know, it’s been a frustrating couple of years of being on the road; we recorded those [Divine Providence] sessions so long ago that when it came out it didn’t even feel current. We did put a lot of work into it – and did a lot more than what you end up hearing on the record – and ended up with like, 22 songs or something. The songs chosen for the record were the most cohesive ones that we could pull from those sessions. I think the five of us really developed into something… a little bit more dangerous…
Does being on the road for long stretches affect how you get along or play together?
Nothing changes the way we play together. The only time I feel like I’m working is when I’m not on stage, you know? All five of us are in different cities so we really only see each other when we’re playing.
There have been a lot of line-up changes over the years – what works so well with the current one?
We’re all better friends with each other than any lineup before. We’re just really good at playing with each other and I don’t know where it comes from. It just felt right, instantly.
What’s Deer Tick vibe on stage vs. in the studio?
Our live show is loud and chaotic. In the studio, there’s a lot of nap time…and beer (laughs) – though probably not as much as you think. We like to screw around in the studio, you know? (laughs).
Do you come prepared to the studio or do you like to write once you’re in there?
A bit of both; I guess you could say that there’s a lot of pressure when you’re in the studio, and when you write there, you write a little faster.
Where did the name Divine Providence come from?
We took it from a song that didn’t make the album. I guess it’s a play on words because most of us are from Providence.
Your website says of the album: ‘It’s got a little Exile; it’s got a little In Utero; it’s got a little Nilsson Schmilsson…’ Are the Stones, Nirvana and Harry Nilsson all conscious inspirations you wanted to tip your hat to?
We pulled ideas from those three albums – and a lot of others too – and that’s kind of how we make our sound. We take elements from other people’s stuff and try to breathe new life into it. You can’t be 100 percent original all the time.
You’ve recently wrapped a U.S. tour – how’d it go?
It was the best tour we’ve ever been on: great turnouts, great energy from the crowds…We did a lot of stuff musically to keep it interesting for everyone. It was a really good time.
Have you always been comfortable playing in front of audiences?
The first time I ever played a show, I got naked from the waist down. I’m not sure what that tells you, but… (laughs).
Do the pants stay on now?
Sometimes not during the encore.