Eight years ago, John McCauley started Rhode Island’s Deer Tick while he was still in high school. Touring constantly, he played shows across every section of the U.S. before he was 20 and drew critical acclaim (and comparisons to top-shelf acts) for his 2007 debut, War Elephant.
Through four LPs and four EPs, the band has often been miscategorized as exclusively alt-country or folk, but their excellent 2011 release, Divine Providence, wore its punk and rock influences on its sleeve, playing like a barroom mash-up of the Replacements and the Stooges.
If for no other reason than to keep people guessing, McCauley has occasionally had Deer Tick perform as a Nirvana cover band and recently recorded an album with fellow frontmen Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Matt Vasquez (Delta Spirit) as the three-piece Middle Brother.
Anyone who has ever seen Deer Tick live knows it’s a wild time, and Rolling Stone just named the band one of the 25 Best Things in Rock Right Now.
McCauley recently took a break from a tour stop in Springfield, Mass., to talk with SoundDiego before the band makes its way to the Casbah on Friday night.
Scott McDonald: Thanks for taking the time. How are you doing?
John McCauley: Very well, thanks.
SM: A lot has been made about the sound of this last record. Why do you think that is?
JM: I think we’ve always been a pretty hard band to pigeonhole, but people are always trying to do that to us. And, really, we’re just going to try to do some things that we haven’t tried before. I mean, I grew up playing in punk and metal bands, and that will always be part of what we do. We play shows, we never bring an acoustic guitar, and we play loud. And we have to keep ourselves interested to keep making music. We needed a release like that.
SM: Well, I think it comes a lot closer to what you get when you see the band live.
JM: We didn’t break any new musical ground or anything, but we kept it Deer Tick. There’s some retro s--- in there, and it’s so obvious that we love folk music, love the blues, and we love country music. But now people will absolutely understand that we love punk music as much as we love anything else. We love Slayer as much as we love Hank Williams.
SM: It seems like you’re getting as much press lately for onstage antics as you are the music.
JM: All my favorite bands do goofy s---. Between Kurt Cobain cross-dressing and making out with Krist on Saturday Night Live, and Keith Richards whipping his d--- out, it just comes with the territory. And if people are shocked by it, then they’re just too afraid to be in a rock band.
SM: I saw your set at Coachella a few years ago, and that could definitely be categorized as “goofy s---.”
JM: That was fun. I was wearing a green sequined cowboy hat, and I threw it out in the crowd. A year later, someone showed up at one of our gigs wearing it. They said, "Here’s your hat from Coachella." And I was like, "F--- yeah!"
SM: You’ve been releasing things fast and furious as of late. Has your approach to writing changed?
JM: I’ve done the whole save-up-a-bunch-of-songs thing. But in the last year or two, I’ve really just written songs as they’ve come along. I don’t really write on the road, and I try to write at home, but nothing really inspires me to write more than actually being in the studio. And I’m not really sure what it is about that. Maybe it’s the pressure of feeling like, "Oh, s---, we’re paying for this!’ [laughs] No, I really don’t know what it is, but when I’m in the studio, that’s when I want to be writing in my notebook and working on ideas. I mean, I spend so much f---ing time on the road, it’s almost that I don’t want to be a musician when possible. The studio really turns that on for me.
SM: You were able to sneak that Middle Brother release in there as well.
JM: Yeah, I’m really proud of that one.
SM: What’s ahead for you guys?
JM: Deer Tick is already working on a new album, and Steve Berlin is producing. We have about three complete songs and, maybe, five glorious demos at this point. [laughs] I’m not sure how frequently we’ll be able to get back to working on that between our touring schedule and Berlin’s stuff with Los Lobos and his producing schedule, but we’ll probably have it done by the fall. And the new stuff is awesome. It’s really bluesy and it’s really vaudeville. It’s coming together like a variety show. We’re really into it.