An Interview with Deer Tick: Year Of The Tick

It’s been an interesting year for John McCauley.

The Deer Tick frontman made headlines in August when he was kicked off a US Airways flight, after the airline refused to allow him to bring his guitar onboard the plane as he traveled to the Newport Folk Festival.

Airline kerfuffles aside, 2014 has mostly been a time of positive vibes for McCauley, who was asked to perform a few songs with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic at a special invite-only performance that followed Nirvana’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction. It was a role that Nirvana nut McCauley was well-suited for, as Deer Tick frequently performs Cobain-only covers shows under the moniker Deervana.

Most importantly for McCauley, 2014 marks Deer Tick’s 10th anniversary.

To observe the milestone, the band will perform a unique six-night residency at Brooklyn Bowl from Dec. 26 through 31. Each of the first five nights, in addition to its own songs, Deer Tick will play entire albums by artists they admire—Lou Reed’s Transformer, The Beatles’ Meet The Beatles, Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True.

For the Dec. 26 performance, Deer Tick’s 2007 debut, War Elephant, will also be played in full. The final gig, on New Year’s Eve, will feature a setlist chosen entirely by fans.

McCauley is also set to release his second album with side-project Diamond Rugs, a collective that features Deer Tick mate Robbie Crowell, as well as Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite).

Recently, McCauley took time to chat with The Aquarian about the upcoming Brooklyn residency, the airline incident, and other topics.

Deer Tick has always been well known for playing covers and for your Nirvana shows. How did the idea come about to do a series of concerts that focused on full albums?

Throughout our career, we’ve never been afraid to throw as many covers as possible into our set. There was no high concept behind playing the albums, we just thought it would be fun. Since we’re turning 10, we figured, let’s play through a bunch of albums that we truly dig.

Do these albums mean a lot to you personally?

Yeah. I was really happy to do the NRBQ album, because I think a lot of our fans might not know who they are. It’ll be fun to share that with them. I kind of insisted on us doing the Devo record, which we haven’t rehearsed much, and is by far the most complicated one. So, we’re kind of regretting that decision (laughs). Not that it’s a bad decision, but it’s a lot of work to pull off. Ian O’Neil [Deer Tick guitarist] will be singing that one.

For the gig on New Year’s Eve, you’ll be playing an all-request show. How are you collecting the requests—is it done online?

Yeah, we have something set up through Spotify for our fans to stream their favorite songs as many times as they want. Every play counts as a vote. I think we’re going to do a countdown; we’ll play 25 songs and count down to the one that got the most votes. I’d love to get a radio or TV personality to emcee the show.

Are you expecting that fans might ask for some rare song, that you’ll have to learn quickly?

I noticed that there are two or three B-sides that aren’t on Spotify, so people wouldn’t be able to vote for those. Even so, there are some pretty rare songs that people can vote for. I’m wondering if people will take this opportunity to stick it to us and make us learn those songs (laughs).

Do you have plans to do something special onstage when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve?

We might be pulling off something pretty amazing at midnight, but we’re not sure it’ll happen yet, so I don’t want to say anything. If our plan works out, then it’ll be very cool.

With the holidays coming up, what are some of your favorite things to do this time of year?

I enjoy cooking. I’m actually making a stew right now. For holidays, I like to build a fire, and just stay home and relax. It’s nice to see all of your family too.

Deer Tick marks its 10th anniversary this year. When you first started, did you think that the band would still be around at this time?

I guess I didn’t intend Deer Tick to be around forever. It’s turned into something I didn’t imagine at the beginning. Before I was in Deer Tick, I was in a band all throughout high school that I thought was going to take off and be my thing. It was kind of a dissonant rock band, like a Sonic Youth rip-off. But that band ended, and when I first began Deer Tick, I did it basically because I had nothing else going on. And it’s great that it turned into this full-blown thing that’s lasted all this time.

One of the hallmarks of Deer Tick’s music is your very personal lyrics. As a songwriter, is it difficult to write that way, and share so much of yourself with the listener?

I don’t mind sharing how I feel through song. The hardest part to me is just getting a song completed in the first place. Once it’s done, I don’t mind who hears it. When Deer Tick first started, the majority of my lyrics were darker—at that time, it was harder to play in front of people because I was playing by myself, and it was the first time I was playing quietly enough where you could hear the lyrics. So, 10 years ago I would have felt differently, but now it’s fine.

Talk about your project with the Diamond Rugs. You have your second record coming out early next year.

It’s a bunch of buddies, basically. The new record is cool, and is an extension of what we did on the first album. We actually recorded it like a year and a half ago and have been sitting on it. Our other bands have been so busy that there wasn’t really a great time to put it out, and do some touring. But we’ll be playing Diamond Rug shows next spring.

Deer Tick’s sound has progressed from your debut release. The last record [Negativity, released in 2013] had a fuller rock sound and more polished songs. Where do you see Deer Tick going from here?

I’m really not sure, honestly. We’re taking some time off next year from playing shows. Hopefully, we’ll be spending some time in the studio. We’re not in a hurry. We want to take our time making the next record. Every time you make an album, you want to make your best one yet. We want to carefully construct the next one and make it the greatest yet.

I think I’ve learned a lot from the producers we’ve worked with recently, things that have improved our sound from the first records, which were mostly self-produced. But with that knowledge, I think we’re ready to take the reins again and produce ourselves.

I read that when Deer Tick comes to New York for the holiday shows, you’ll be staying at the Brooklyn Patch, the house that the Sour Patch Kids candy makers created to provide lodging for bands.

I don’t know much about it, actually. My wife has an apartment in New York, so I’ll be staying there. The other guys in the band will be at the Sour Patch house. It seems like it’s just a house that they’ve decked out with a studio, and bands can stay there in exchange for providing online content. So I think we’re going to do a video for them.

One of the interesting things that happened to you this year was getting thrown off a plane because they wouldn’t let you store your guitar onboard. It made national news—people who didn’t even know Deer Tick’s music suddenly heard about your band. Was it strange to get all that attention?

It was a pretty weird thing to have go viral. I’m glad it happened though, because it brought attention to what musicians go through when they travel for a living. Airlines can make it really difficult to keep your gear safe. The alternative is to tour with cheap guitars, but they don’t stay in tune and often don’t sound right. I end up having to take my good equipment.

I’ve spent a lot of money on top-of-the-line gear cases, and I’ll get them back at the end of the flight, and notice the TSA didn’t even close the top correctly. I’ve had guitars hanging out of their cases. It’s just ridiculous. The best thing to do is to just bring your instrument on, and put it in a secure place in the cabin.

I think there should be safer procedures in place. After our issue this year, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed lobbied the Department of Transportation to clarify the laws about carrying instruments. I would love it if me and my fellow musicians had an easier time, and wish there were better policies for all airlines.

Deer Tick will perform at Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, NY on Dec. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31. For more information, visit Fans can vote for the all-request New Year’s Eve setlist by visiting