Deer Tick's John McCauley on Ten Years in Rock and Roll
Deer Tick’s gold-toothed frontman John McCauley has had one hell of a decade. In the ten years since he and his band cavorted their way out of Providence, Rhode Island, he’s released five records, toured the world, put on a late night party series at the venerable Newport Folk Fest that is nothing short of legendary, been pegged to front the Nirvana reunion at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, found love and had his wedding ceremony performed by none other than Stevie Nicks, and, as of any day now, become a father. Not to mention his work with side projects like Middle Brother and Diamond Rugs, and of course hands down the finest mother / son “Margaritaville” duet to ever grace the Newport Folk stage.
In celebration of this anniversary, Deer Tick just wrapped a sold-out run of six shows at the Brooklyn Bowl, covering some of their favorite albums, from Devo, Lou Reed, and the Beatles, to the Replacements and Elvis Costello. Along the way they were joined on stage by a bevvy of special guests, including Sharon Van Etten, Tommy Stinson, and, on New Year’s Eve, Stevie Nicks herself. We caught up with a no doubt exhausted McCauley on New Year’s Day to talk the past, present, and future of one of the hottest indie rock and roll bands.
So how do you think the shows went?
I think it was pretty excellent. It went exactly how we wanted it to, just a real fun time. I mean, it was a pretty ambitious project, so I’m impressed that we pulled it off.
It was ambitious! Did any issues or complications arise?
I ended up developing a blister on one of my vocal cords, so that kinda sucked. It happened while we were rehearsing. I went to a voice specialist the other day and he straightened me out for the final couple of shows, but there were a few moments where I was afraid my voice was just going to completely drop out. I don’t’ know what would have happened.
You had some pretty amazing special guests, from members of the Replacements to Stevie Nicks. How did you come up with them?
Everybody that came out we knew or had played with before. The only exception being Marshall Crenshaw, who we just threw out there to our management to see if he’d be interested in playing with us. That worked out really well, Marshall’s a great guy and we’d be excited to do something with him again in the future.
So Stevie Nicks, she also officiated your wedding, right? How do you know her?
Through my wife [McCauley is married to singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton]. They’ve been friends for years. She was gonna be in New York and wanted to hang around for New Years and hopefully be able to stay long enough to meet our baby. My wife was talking to her on the phone, and I just kinda found the courage to ask her. And she said yes. So we picked out the song (“Rhiannon,” click here for video), and Deer Tick learned it. She came to sound check, that was the first time we ever performed it, and it was really cool. She actually had never been to a Deer Tick show before, but she liked it a lot. At the end of the night she just kept saying “I’m so glad that guys don’t suck, John. I’m so glad.” [Laughs]
You’ve had a hell of a year.
Yeah, I did a lot of fucking shit! I think 2014 was my big rock and roll year, and 2015 is gonna be a really good year to hang around the house. [laughs]
Congrats on impending fatherhood! Do you know if you’re having a boy or a girl?
We’re having a girl. Sidney Aoibheann Carlson McCauley.
What’s on deck next for Deer Tick?
Our plan is to start recording, but just not rush it. We’re talking about starting some stuff in like February. But I don’t know, at the same time we’re not really in a hurry to do anything. We’ll be around Newport Folk Fest again, I think we’ll probably do our parties again. We’ll make a few appearances here and there over the course of the next year. But we’re going to try to stay pretty quite and just be working on music.
Is Dudesmash [Deer Tick’s hometown one-day music festival] coming back?
We were talking about it. If Dudesmash were to be something we continued doing, this would be an important year to do it, ‘cause we didn’t do one last year. If we go another year without doing one people will just forget what it was.
Ten years is a long time. Did you ever think ten years ago when you guys were starting that you would be playing a string of sold-out shows with Stevie Nicks and the Replacements jumping in?
No. [Laughs] That’s the simple answer. I started just writing these songs, at first it felt like a project or something. It didn’t feel like something that was gonna turn in to my life you know? Every other band I had been in had been pretty loud, you could never hear the vocals. The last band I was in was kind of a Sonic Youth rip-off band, and I thought that that was my calling. But then things fell apart, and Deer Tick was just whatever I started ‘cause I had nobody left to play with. It’s turned into this thing, and it’s amazing. It’s been an unexpected turn of events.
What would you say has been the highlight so far?
I mean, last night might be it. Not to sound corny or too sentimental or anything, but it was a pretty fucking awesome way to a) celebrate ten years and b) ring in the new year.
How about the lowest point?
I think years eight and nine got pretty dark. I think we felt like we were stagnating. Overall morale was just low, and everybody’s mental health was pretty questionable. Like, the party was definitely over, but we just kept taking drugs anyway [laughs]. But it’s really exciting to look at the cool shit we got to do this year, and we’re in a better place financially than we have been in a really long time, which is allowing us to take this break. So it’s good. Everything turned around and we pulled it together, got our act together for the big ten.
What’s the plan for the twenty-year anniversary?
After all the shit we spent trying to pull these six nights together for the tenth, I think for the twentieth we’ll do something a little easier, maybe just do twenty songs, and that’s it. [Laughs]
Are there any goals you have as a band you haven’t accomplished yet?
I don’t know. I mean, you always want to grow and expand your thing, but we’re pretty comfortable at the level that we’re at. I don’t really see us ever selling out stadiums, but who knows? I guess I’d give it a try if some opportunity like that presented itself. With every record you make, you want to make the best one you can, you know? So just looking forward to taking our sweet ass time with this next one.
Anything you want to say to the people?
Happy New Year! I’m going dark for a while.