Deer Tick (John McCauley) - The IndieLondon interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
JOHN McCauley, lead singer, song-writer and guitarist of US band Deer Tick, talks to us exclusively about creating their latest album, Divine Providence, and why the current line-up is permanent.
He also talks about why he likes to think of the band as ‘weird’, what made him first pick up a guitar and why the first song he ever wrote was with his grandmother at the age of three. Divine Providence is on sale now.
Q. What made you decide to go for broke on the new album and recapture your live sound as opposed to sticking with folk or country?
John McCauley: I guess it made sense to us at the time. I guess confusing people during our live shows was getting kind of old [laughs].
Q. Was it fun to record?
John McCauley: We had a pretty good time recording it. We drank a lot of rum. That’s my drink of choice.
Q. Did you wreck any instruments?
John McCauley: I came close… at the end of Funny Word I threw a mustang across the room and if it landed any differently the neck would probably have snapped off. I’m glad it didn’t though, because it’s one of my favourites.
Q. Do you regularly smash instruments?
John McCauley: In live form, we’ve been known to. Usually at the end of a show…
Q. Will you be doing that during the UK tour?
John McCauley: I don’t know. I only brought one guitar with me [laughs]. So, unless I find something cheap… or somebody brings us onto a show and says: “John it would be an incredible honour if you’d smash this guitar…” Then maybe I’d do it.
Q. In its early years Dear Tick would regularly change band members. Is this current line-up as permanent as it gets?
John McCauley: Yeah. We’re done changing members. This is the first album that actually has all five of us on it and I think it sounds great. I’m excited about what can we do with the next one.
Q. Have your thoughts already turned to that?
John McCauley: We started doing a bit of recording but I’m not sure if we’re going to keep anything we’ve done so far. We may start over just because we’ve had a while to sit with it. We didn’t really get too much stuff done. But I think it will make sense if we re-did what we’ve already done. Now, I’ve got many more songs.
Q. You mix up singing duties on this album. How did you decide who sung what? I mean drummer Dennis takes lead vocals on Clownin’ Around…
John McCauley: Well, I’ve always been encouraging him and other band members to introduce their songs to the band. We’ve got a lot of songs in our live repertoire and Dennis brought that one to the table. It just fit in with what we were doing at that time.
Q. Conversely, what made you come up with something as anthemic as Let’s All Go To The Bar?
John McCauley: I guess with that the goal was to write a big jump song. There’s really nothing smart about it. I think that was it.
Q. Was that a rum soaked session?
John McCauley: I can’t remember so it probably was!
Q. How do you find your following is growing in the UK?
John McCauley: It certainly feels like it is. A couple of our gigs have already sold out and we’re playing some bigger rooms than we did last time, which was only a few months ago. So, that’s a good feeling.
Q. What made you first pick up a guitar and start writing songs?
John McCauley: I started playing drums and bass and I guess what made me want to play guitar was that I couldn’t find a guitar player I was happy with [laughs]. I figured I could do it better. I’m not the best player but I have my own kind of style, which I like. And that what I like to hear. But I don’t really know what made me want to do it in the first place. I’ve just always been interested since I was a kid. It seemed like a good way of expressing myself.
Q. You started at a young age, didn’t you?
John McCauley: I started playing drums when I was 10. And then I started writing stuff – although I didn’t really know anything about it at the time. I had a pretty good song I wrote with my grandmother when I was three about not eating candy in the morning [laughs]. That was the first song I ever wrote. The second verse was about how you can’t drink soda in the morning. It was about all the things I wanted to eat for breakfast but couldn’t [laughs].
Q. Which bands inspired you?
John McCauley: Well, I guess one of my favourite bands is Nirvana. And I also love The Replacements. I grew up on a lot of classic rock. But I’ve always liked poppy kind of music… stuff with a good melody. And I also like louder punk rock.
Q. Don’t you sometimes play under the name of Deervana?
John McCauley: We’ve played a couple of sets under that name, yeah, where we did a lot of Nirvana covers. It was fun while we did it. But when we started getting more offers to play shows as Deervana than we were as Deer Tick so we decided to re-focus [laughs].
Q. The Deer Tick name came from an incident that happened to you while out camping, didn’t it? You found a deer tick on your scalp…
John McCauley: Yeah, I was out hiking with a friend when it happened. I guess afterwards that it dawned on me it sounded kind of cool and kind of gross.
Q. How much did your appearance on The David Letterman Show change things for you as a band? It was your first time on national TV…
John McCauley: Well, I guess it was kind of weird playing in front of maybe 200 people… I mean, that’s not that big of a deal in the studio, but you’ve only got one chance to do it and you know that supposedly zillions of people will see it later. So, that’s a weird feeling. And I guess we’ve seen some record sales spike when we’ve been on TV, so I guess it works.
Q. It was pretty ballsy to play a song from your first album, Baltimore Blues No.1, as opposed to anything from your third, which you were on to promote…
John McCauley: Well, they gave us some ideas of what they might want us to play and we went back to that. They allowed us to do it, which is kind of a weird thing to do. But we can be a pretty weird band.
Q. How so? What’s your weirdest element?
John McCauley: I think there’s a dynamic between the five of us, especially off-stage, that can be really hilarious and abnormal. A lot of people definitely feel like outsiders if they’re hanging out with the five of us. Some of things we do… fortunately have not been videotaped!