Last Friday, Rhode Island’s Deer Tick dropped their first album in four years. But they didn’t release just one record; they released two, simply titled Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2, one full of stripped-down acoustic folk and one full of rowdy barroom rock. Even better, on their current Twice Is Nice Tour, frontman John McCauley, guitarist Ian O’Neil, bassist Chris Ryan, and drummer Dennis Ryan will play two sets, further highlighting the career-long dichotomy between their two competing sets of influences.
Consider it a fresh rebirth for Deer Tick, which nearly fell apart after 2013’s Negativity, on which the famously hard-living and hard-partying McCauley worked through substance abuse issues, a failed engagement, the death of his uncle, and the strange story of his father, a well-known Providence politician, receiving a 27-month prison sentence for tax fraud. Two months after Negativity was released, McCauley married Vanessa Carlton in a ceremony officiated by Stevie Nicks; 18 months after that, the couple welcomed their first child, Sidney, into the world. Which led to a radical change and reassessment in Deer Tick’s trajectory, one O’Neil happily discussed with Folio Weekly.
Folio Weekly: In the press material for Deer Tick Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, John [McCauley] says he thought Deer Tick was done in 2016. Did you guys think the same?
Ian O’Neil: We felt he felt that way. We didn’t really deal with it, though—maybe some blind sense of denial. I always felt we were going to make more music, and we were all doing stuff on the side, realizing we better have our creative ducks in a row in case [Deer Tick did end]. The problem was, we played the Newport Folk Festival last year, and that inspired us. We realized playing together produced something special we couldn’t get anywhere else. Now, if the recording of these albums [Vol. 1 & Vol. 2] had dragged on, maybe we would have ended it. But it was a really fun, seamless and healthy process. That should give us another couple decades at least. [Laughs.]
The Twice Is Nice format should be exciting, too, both for fans and for the band.
It’s really exciting—just good to have something to do, period. It’s been a really long time since we’ve worked a record or had a really good reason to go out and play shows. We’ve played a few peppered throughout the last year-and-a-half, but now it feels like we have a purpose to go back out on the road. Everybody is excited.
Deer Tick is a notoriously off-the-cuff band—I think “ragged” might be the adjective used to describe you all the most.
We’ve been rehearsing all week! [Laughs.] What’s really great about playing these two albums is that we recorded them very simply, so when we started to play them, it was surprising—almost shocking—how quickly they sounded good. We did some acoustic dates earlier this year, and that’s when we started to really hammer down what we would want the set to be like. And now we’ve got enough covers together that we can have some fun variety throughout the tour, too.
Maybe an intermission return of Deervana, the famous Nirvana cover project?
There was a time when we probably played as many covers in a night as we did original songs. Which was A) us just having a good time but also B) us expressing a moderate form of rebellion. A lot of modern bands resist doing that bar band thing, but we’ve always had fun doing it. Now we actually work on the covers and inject something of our identities into them. Make them a little more thought-out.
Deer Tick just played Nashville’s Americana Music Festival. Have you thought more about how you fit in that “New Nashville” or “alt-country” scene?
Not really. Maybe we should take it into consideration more. 2017 was the first year we were ever asked to be play the Americana Music Festival, so we definitely do not feel a part of the New Nashville sound. We have lots of friends in that scene, but I think we strongly identify more with bands like Felice Brothers or Big Thief—individuals that come from different corners of the genre. We have never been quite fully accepted into the Americana scene, and that’s probably by our own design. As soon as we got accepted, we made [2011’s rowdy, punk-fueled] Divine Providence, which was probably a conscious move. Maybe what helped our band survive was not paying attention to that stuff at all.
Going all the way back to 2008’s Born on Flag Day, the combination of loud and laid-back was always what I loved about Deer Tick.
Thanks. We were kind of thinking about people like you when we made these two new albums.