John McCauley sounds a lot like Sam Rockwell, in that slightly lethargic manner of speaking which always sounds like it’s coming out of a half-smiling mouth, and dipping into lazy pockets of farmboy laughter every now and then. Captain of the excellent alt-country act Deer Tick, McCauley is bringing his band of Rhode Islanders to Australia to tour their fourth LP,Divine Providence.
“The title of it came from the name of a song that we didn’t release, which is a very blasphemous anti-Christian metal song that we did,” he laughs. “You know, it was kind of tongue-in-cheek. But just in a way it kind of seemed appropriate because it’s got the religious thing to it and then the Providence thing – you know, our hometown and everything.” Deer Tick came together in Providence, Rhode Island in 2004, initially as a solo project of McCauley’s. Through a series of bandmember alterations (McCauley remaining constant throughout), the group has to date released four albums, three regular EPs and two split EPs. (You’ll be pleased to know that the aforementioned anti-Christian track will be shortly released on another split 7”.)
The latest album has generally been seen as sitting closer to the punk rock camp than previous more folk-indie efforts, and McCauley meanders contemplatively with his analysis of that consensus. “I think it’s been fairly the same with all our records; we are pretty well-balanced between kind of the harder rock stuff that we do and the folkier stuff. I guess there’s always just been a little bit more folkier stuff on the records, and this one we just kind of flipped it around and did a little more rockin’ stuff,” he pauses and then adds, “but I mean we’ve always been capable of doing both. I just think people were a little surprised we did so much of it on this record, you know.”
The five-piece are also well known for their wildfire Nirvana cover sets, which they perform under the banner of Deervana. The tribute shows don’t happen often but they are always incredibly well received, even without the traditional instrument lineup. “It just wouldn’t work to have keyboards in Nirvana,” McCauley says. “Our keyboard player just plays another guitar. So it’s three guitars, bass and drums. And it’s fucking loud,” he laughs. The admiration for the ‘90s grunge icons is deeply set, with several videos online of McCauley playing Nirvana tracks on his acoustic in leafy surrounds. “My friend Carter runs this blog in LA called Rollo & Grady, and he does these video shoots now and then in one of the parks there. He usually does them in the cave that was used as an old bat cave in the Batman TV show,” he says. McCauley’s rendition of All Apologies in particular highlights the singer’s innate ache and rasp, but with an unmistakable folk twang that shows the colour of his roots.
McCauley has played several times with fellow country-head Justin Townes Earle, most recently at the Winter Wonder Jam in Atlanta, which he describes as an odd experience for the pair of them.
“It was pretty weird,” he chuckles. “It was in the middle of like, a shopping mall. It was not exactly a cool place to play, but you know, it was a good crowd. The crowd was great, but the environment, on the other hand... not what I’m used to, not what Justin’s used to. But they actually put us up, for our dressing room, in a restaurant that closed down.”
It is a weirdly paradoxical scene, which is why it’s surprising McCauley seems to have something of a fascination with celebrity. He details meeting “gentleman” Billy Bob Thornton, whom he encountered at a ZZ Top show which Deer Tick opened, and it turns out there’s a slow-burning project going on. “He was actually awesome, he was [instrumental] in us not getting removed from the backstage area after ZZ Top played; it was pretty funny,” he says. “He gave me a call the other day, just to say hey, and he offered us an invitation to go record at his studio in LA. I actually started talking with him because I saw his band play a few years ago. He did a cool video thing for us: over the past few years we’ve been collecting video clips of celebrities talking shit about the band. You know, ‘Fuck Deer Tick’. When we’ve got a few more we’ll put it all together. We’ve had Dave the lead singer of Flogging Molly, we’ve had David Cross, Kirsten Dunst. It’s anti-promotional video,” he laughs.
McCauley is also on a mission to get the attention of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, through Twitter. He hasn’t had much luck at this stage. “He’ll understand one day,” he says mock-sagely. “For now all I can do is just continually tweet, I think. It’s kind of funny, I’ve actually made some cool [connections] through Twitter. I thought Twitter was just kind of a bunch of BS until I actually started using it. You can actually talk to people that otherwise you wouldn’t be able to I guess. Like Adam Richmond, the Man Versus Food guy; we’ve got a little bit of a rapport on Twitter. And I ended up meeting Vanessa Carlton through Twitter.” Stay tuned for that anti-promotional video.
BY ZOË RADAS
DEER TICK play the Northcote Social Club on Saturday February 9 and Sunday February 10, with Two Gallants.