By: Andrew Bruss
Prior to the release of Deer Tick's sophomore studio album, Born On Flag Day (released June 23 on Partisan Records), frontman John McCauley III talked backstage at Boston's House of Blues about the expectations for his new album, the band's heightened presence in the press and where he hopes things will go from here. When asked about the prospect of fame, McCauley joked, "If it ever gets to a point where I can't go anywhere without being recognized or if folks are taking my picture... I've always said that if I was faced by paparazzi I'd just pull my dick out [laughs]. If I keep doing that every time someone takes my picture, the value of my photo will go down to the point where nobody will want to deal with me. I'm not going to be punching photographers in the face... but I will show them my dick."
The above statement wasn't anything more than McCauley having a sense of humor, but he added with a serious tone, "I don't know that I'll ever change my lifestyle. I'm always going to be a guy who goes to neighborhood bars and do my own grocery shopping and shit like that. I don't think fame could ever faze me."
The guys in Deer Tick were opening for Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley fame on a stretch of her current tour, and they came through Boston on a helluva night. Born and based out of Providence, Rhode Island, the group seemed stoked to be performing across the street from Fenway Park on a night that found the Boston Red Sox wrapping up the second game of a three-day sweep against arch rivals the New York Yankees. The win amplified the affect of Deer Tick's pseudo-homecoming crowd in Boston, and after the performance, while the greater Deer Tick crew was cutting loose in their dressing room, guitarist Andy Tobiassen stormed in, amped-up over a t-shirt he'd gotten with the Red Sox logo on the front and the album cover for Flag Day on the back. When drummer Dennis Ryan asked in amazement "Where'd you get that?" Tobiassen replied that he'd be getting his soon.
That was the vibe brewing around Deer Tick in Boston. During the conversation with McCauley following the set, he commented, "Tonight really almost felt like we were playing to a hometown crowd. Just to play for fellow New Englanders and see them get excited and applaud for us and to entertain them and to see they were even paying attention, it was really flattering and put me in a good mood. As soon as we started the first song I knew it was going to be a good night."
Their set clocked in just under an hour and featured a handful of tunes off their freshman debut, War Elephant (JamBase review here), as well as a solid run through their more recent material. They humored hecklers with a tease of Skynyrd's "Free Bird," as well as an impromptu "Day Man" from FX's It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, before wrapping their set with an ass kicking cover of "La Bamba," leaving an impressed crowd for Jenny Lewis. Follow she did, making it clear to anyone in the house who the people came to see. However, based on the crowd's response and the nothing-but-rock-n-roll performance they gave, there was no doubt that Deer Tick left Boston with a bunch of new fans.
For as impressive of a frontman as McCauley is on stage, you wouldn't recognize the blonde haired, mustached singer when he's in a social setting. Sporting a tattoo of a Deer Tick on his left bicep, his singing carries an almost Southern accent that appears through his gritty howl on tunes like "Not So Dense" and on Flag Day tracks like "Easy" and "The Ghost." But in person, McCauley is soft spoken, near whispering answers to questions while barely moving his lips. Even when surrounded by friends and bandmates, McCauley was more inclined to slouch into his chair, sip on a beer and mellow out, rather than strive to be the center of attention like many other frontmen. Before the group took the stage, Liz Isenberg, Providence-based singer-songwriter who performs with the band, spoke about McCauley's duality. "He's a completely different person on stage," she said, "but he's a very quiet guy. The first time I saw him on stage I thought he was very energetic and charming; he was talking way more than he used to, and I thought he was a great entertainer."
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"There's some sort of transformation that happens [on stage]," commented McCauley. "I don't consider myself very well spoken or long winded or extroverted, but when I'm on stage, something... changes. I don't know if it's that I feel a sense of security or an honest to goodness deep interaction with the crowd. I can't really put my finger on it, what happens when I get on stage, but it does completely change me. I'm very comfortable on stage."
I'm not going to be punching photographers in the face... but I will show them my dick.
When it comes to all things Deer Tick, McCauley is behind the wheel. Drummer Dennis Ryan said that it's far from a dictatorship but McCauley primarily drives the musical direction of the band. "We just read this article in the [Boston] Metro with a quote from him about not having to write parts for us because we play what we want, [and] that's how the whole thing goes," Ryan said. "He has these fucking amazing songs, and he tells me what type of feel he wants for the song and I play what I want from there. I could play something other than what he envisioned but it's never happened. We're on the same wavelength."
Although he made a point of highlighting his bandmates' contributions, McCauley's outlook on the group's creative process corroborated Ryan's take on things. "Most of what we play are songs I've written," he said. "About 98-percent are my songs, but Andy writes songs and Dennis writes songs. Dennis played a song of his [tonight] on lead vocals that will be on the third album."
With the release of Born On Flag Day talk of a third studio album came from out of the blue. When asked to elaborate, McCauley said that Flag Day was finished by September of 2008 and that their third LP, finished this past January, is slated for a winter release. "[The third album is] already done. I don't want to go too deep into it because, you know, it's kind of secret," he said, "but it's a little darker and a lot heavier than anything we've done."
It seems like Deer Tick is keeping two steps ahead of the game, and that's the way McCauley likes it. "It's not such a bad place to be," he said. "It sort of takes the pressure off. You don't have to think what we're going to do for the next album. We haven't written shit."
Although Born On Flag Day is very much the product of John McCauley's songwriting, it showcases a noticeable progression from where they left off on War Elephant. As Deer Tick's permanent membership has gradually filled in, less of the in-studio recording fell on McCauley's shoulders. When asked about how it was different recording Flag Day, McCauley said, "I didn't have to worry as much about doing drums and bass, which I did on War Elephant. I'm not the best bassist or drummer, so it was cool just having to work on my guitar parts. I think this new album will sound more like our live show than War Elephant ever could." However, in the same breathe, he added, "We're more rambunctious live. There's recorded Deer Tick and then there's live Deer Tick."
The guys in Deer Tick are far from oblivious about their rise in prominence over the past year, and the possibility of that continual rise didn't seem far off their radar at any point in time. "It's funny because when I joined, John booked the tour himself. When we played Boston, we were playing at house parties, a lot of basements and dive bars with 15 people. It wasn't anything glorious," Ryan commented. "Even then we didn't have enough CDs. John was making them himself, and I drew a cover with a weird clown. We toured for a whole year with no merchandise, and sold whatever we could when we had it. It was when we met [label founder] Tim [Putnam] from Partisan Records that they re-released War Elephant and things started to go a little better."
As for the buzz itself, McCauley said, "[Born On Flag Day] has been getting a lot of hype and it's not even out yet, so I sense a lot of anticipation for this album, so I think things will change for us. The hype is sort of something I feel I'm supposed to live up to, but we recorded it in September and I still think it's a good album."
But when it comes to playing bigger venues, getting a nicer tour bus or reaching any of the other plateau's affiliated with rock 'n' roll fame, McCauley seemed to care less. "I don't care about fame," he said. "I care about our fans and the more the merrier."
FREE MP3: Deer Tick - "Easy"
Deer Tick has several dates coming up including shows with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and These United States; complete tour dates available here.
JamBase | Wavin' That Flag
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