Deer Tick take a break from the road

BMS talks with John Joseph McCauley of Deer Tick about the band

, Staff Writer

Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Deer Tick began as the solo stylings of John Joseph McCauley III but has since blossomed into what he had always envisioned in a four-man ensemble. Having toured extensively through 2008 and early this year, they are currently on a bit of a break, relaxing before hitting the road for a summer tour in support of Jenny Lewis, and McCauley was kind enough to speak with Boston Music Spotlight about where the band has been and where it is going, as well as what it’s like gaining such notoriety so quickly.

“I’m not up to too much right now,” he says. “Going to bars mostly…we have a bit of a break until we go back out to tour in June. We have a couple shows in May, but really we’re just taking it easy for the next couple months.” The break is a well-deserved one for Deer Tick: their tour in support of Partisan Records’ rerelease of War Elephant was extensive and draining on the quartet. However, McCauley is by no means done with being on the road. “I love going on tour. That first day is a really great feeling – it’s one of a kind, hard to beat. Generally I think I handle touring pretty well, but the last week is always the worst [part]. It doesn’t matter how long the tour is, that last week just sucks…there is definitely a point where you just kinda wanna go home, but, y’know, it’s overall really fun.”

Though fundamentally a rock and roll band, Deer Tick are often labeled as alt-country or freak folk, neither which they care for very much. Though well-received musically, was there any noise coming from those who questioned a Northeast band making country-flavored music? “People are usually pretty understanding. I mean, The Rolling Stones made their money making country music as a joke,” McCauley explains. “But our intentions are good. Rhode Island is just as American as country music, but it’s not like [country] is the only thing that we do. We mess around in a lot of different styles of music, and we just kinda got stuck with this alt-country tag for some stupid-ass reason. I do think people are starting to understand us as more than that now, though, so that’s good.”

Pop sensibilities make themselves pretty well-known throughout War Elephant, to be sure, particularly in songs like “Art Isn’t Real”, which effectively combines a pop song with country-style lyrics. Really, though, McCauley is just writing songs that sound good, wherever that sound may come from. Regarding “Art Isn’t Real”, he says that the style is “not really something I intended. I guess in the recording process it just turned out really pop-y. I knew I had written a catchy melody, but I never really knew how it would translate once we started recording, and it just kinda happened like that.”

Working now in a band hasn’t changed McCauley’s approach, either. “I still write songs the same way, but I’m getting more comfortable with the idea of being more of a rock and roll band," he says. "If anything has changed, I’d say I think I’ve gotten more direct with my lyrics. I don’t think I can mask [my lyrics] as poetry the way I did before, which makes it harder for me to crank out songs, cause I have to write something I’m really happy with before I can see it through to the end.”

The group has been garnering a lot of attention these days, too. Rolling Stone picked the band as the #1 breakout of this year’s SXSW, and they are about to embark on a tour with Jenny Lewis, which McCauley is excited for: “That’s gonna be fun as hell. We played a couple shows with her last year, and their whole crew is just amazing. We had fun the few days we all played together, and [Deer Tick and Jenny Lewis] are booked through the same agency. So once we played with her, we said we wanted to do it some more, and I guess she must have liked us, too, cause she’s having us with her this June.”

In the meantime, though, Deer Tick will be playing a hometown show at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel tonight, one of the band’s few shows before the June tour. “We’re gonna go buck-wild. Don’t stand up front unless you want to get sprayed with beer. It’s gonna be fun, we’re really going to work the crowd.” The show is looking to be a good one, and the band’s energy on stage needs to be seen to be believed. McCauley has put a lot of time and effort into his creative endeavors, and it’s great to see his labor finally coming to fruition. The band is on the cusp of a huge breakout, and with two albums set to be released this year, 2009 is looking to be a great year for Deer Tick.

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