With a name like Deer Tick and the multi-general reputation the band has made for themselves it came as no surprise to me that this crew was seriously varied in persona, temperament, even physical appearances. Spearheading the band as the original songwriter and front man, John McCauley is exactly what I’d pictured, sporting a flannel, a Red Sox ball cap and one blacked out tooth on the upper right side of his grill. The other members of Deer Tick; Ian O’Niel, Dennis Ryan and Chris Ryan all fell into their own collectively exclusive categories of being, each representing what I feel makes the spirit of the rock band what it is we’ve come to appreciate- something a little diversely familiar perhaps? I had a chat with the boys before their show at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles featuring the band at “First Fridays”- a once a month night of art, music, food and booze, which draws out an all-age crowd saturated primarily with the LA area’s best looking hipsters (First Friday’s – www.nhm.org). I thought it a very appropriate venue considering they played in the Mammoth Animals Hall surrounded by numerous scenes of stuffed grazing wildlife. Is it really any coincidence we found Deer Tick running a muck in the midst of it all?
FUN Artists: How do the boys of Deer Tick know each other?
John McCauley: It was a pretty long process that started when Chris [on bass] and I were teenagers. My band at the time and his band at the time would play a lot of shows together, when it kinda seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere for either of (them) we started playing together a little bit. Then we got Dennis [on drums] and had a solid trio, it’s been that way for about three years now. Before Ian joined we had another guitar player named Andy, then Ian was in the band with Andy and we had a three guitar set up but it didn’t last very long. Now we’ve got it pretty solid and if all goes well we’ll have another member soon.
FUN Artists: And what will that guy play?
John McCauley: The other member will be playing keyboards.
Ian O’Niel: And Saxophone.
John McCauley: Hopefully
Ian O’Niel: Definitely saxophone.
FUN Artists: This may seem a little abstract- go ahead and answer as you wish, but what makes Deer Tick?
Ian O’Niel: [laughs]
John McCauley: Uh, headlights…
Ian O’Niel: I think my mom made that joke once, but its ok, my mom is very sweet.
John McCauley: There was an article called “What makes Deer Tick tick”, I don’t remember what that was for.
Ian O’Niel: I don’t want to keep coming up with the same answers about alcohol and Marijuana, that’ll get boring after a while… What ticks us off? I’ll tell ya right now is indie rock music.
FUN Artists: Really? How? Too much bullshit?
Ian O’Niel: Well that was kind of a joke; I guess it was serious too. There’s not enough concern about songwriting. There’s more concern about dressing songs up with strange instruments, which is cool, but there’s not enough focus on songwriting. So when you just write songs and you’re just a rock and roll band who would rather play at a bar than in an art space or something- because it’s more our environment, I think people don’t take well to that in the indie rock scene.
John McCauley: I mean we’re kinda like meat and potatoes and a lot of people want sushi. What you see is what you get with us.
FUN Artists: With a sort of Americana rock vibe would you say that Deer Tick is a particularly patriotic band? And which of our 50 states do you favor?
John McCauley: Obviously I favor Rohde Island.
FUN Artists: Which is where you hail from, no?
John McCauley: Yeah… Patriotism is what you make of it. I mean we’re not Toby Keith patriots, maybe more like Paul Simon kind of patriots… I take pride in our country; I think everybody should for at least the simple luxuries you get to enjoy as an American.
Ian O’Niel: I think there’s a lot of character in a country where there’s a lot of problems too. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and that makes our country a lot more diverse than other countries. I don’t think I realized how much I like America until I went to Europe.
FUN Artists: Where has Deer Tick traveled?
John McCauley: Spain and England, all over the UK.
FUN Artists: Deer Tick is an interesting name what’s the story on it, and were there any close seconds?
John McCauley: I was hiking in a state park outside Bloomington. I got a tick on my head and it was a deer tick.
FUN Artists: What’s the difference between a tick and a deer tick?
John McCauley: Deer ticks carry lime disease… Close seconds? I can’t remember.
Ian O’Niel: John McCauley and the Spicy Mustards.
John McCauley: Yeah.
FUN Artists: Does it ever start to feel like this is the John McCauley Band?
John McCauley: It feels that way to some crowds which bothers me and I think it bothers the other guys too.
Ian O’Niel: I think as long as we each assert ourselves in every aspect of the band whether it is the songwriting or playing or just not being insecure about it, then I think we’re alright.
FUN Artists: I have a theory that all boys have to start a band just so they can name it. Do agree with me?
John McCauley: I think there is some truth in that. I think when you’re younger and you’re starting bands, you start with the name ya know. It’ll be like you and your friend and you’re like “I play bass you play guitar, lets start a band. What are we called?” “Tablecloth” “Alright, we’re in this awesome band called Tablecloth, we don’t have any songs, we don’t have a singer, we don’t have a drummer…Let’s ask that kind in math class if he could play drums with us and lets audition some singers.” Ya know, “We’re in Tablecloth.”
Ian O’Niel: It just feels more real with a band name. I remember being in a band and starting other bands just based on their names.
FUN Artists: You guys have shared the stage with everyone from Neko Case to AA Bondy. Have you any favs among them?
Ian O’Niel: AA Bondy’s the best.
John McCauley: Bondy is awesome.
Ian O’Niel: Felice Brothers
John McCauley: Playing with Nas was awesome.
FUN Artists: Nas, like hip hop gangster rap?
John McCauley: We played at Brown University in Providence with them.
FUN Artists: What was the crowd like for you?
John McCauley: It was pretty wild. I mean looking at the front row when we went on, I was like “this crowd, they’re gonna fucking hate us.”
Dennis Ryan: Well it was us, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and then Nas.
John McCauley: It just didn’t seem like we really fit in too well, it was strange, but then we started playing and everybody was all excited and then they started yelling out names of our songs. And so [it was like] wow, a new R&B crossover act- Deer Tick.
FUN Artists: Rumor has it Deer Tick likes to covers songs…
John McCauley: It’s not a rumor, it’s truth.
FUN Artists: What determines the songs you cover? Do you think you could ever cover Pantera acoustically and pull it off dead serious?
Ian O’Niel: I don’t know if anything that we do is dead serious.
John McCauley: There are some pretty serious covers but I mean, we like to have fun with those songs.
Chris Ryan: But if we did their song we’d pull it off.
FUN Artists: I’ve heard you boys put on a pretty wild show…
John McCauley: For the most part it’s really fun and just wild enough, but every once and a while we go a little overboard.
Ian O’Niel: I really think that the reason why that happens as far as I can see is starting to drink too early. We get bored… We played a show in Portland and it was like 10 in the morning, we had a cooler of beer and we started drinking and having a good time. We’re all in high spirits, and then you realize you don’t have to play until like midnight.
John McCauley: I remember waking up around 11pm [after having passed out] and just had the spins and was like “oh man, I gotta play in an hour.” I drank a beer just to get my bearings and the rest of the night was kind of a blur… Apparently we kicked ass that night.
Ian O’Niel: I think we realize it’s a really extreme one when we feel personally and professionally inclined to apologize the day afterwards. We’ve done it before; we’ll do it again.
FUN Artists: You guys come from a pretty edgy sort of noise scene back home. What do you think really ushered you into the songwriting aspect of your music?
John McCauley: It started pretty simple- with Hank Williams, just reading about him and his contemporaries and then who he and his contemporaries influenced… and on and on it goes up until today. That was a really good starting point for me.
FUN Artists: There is a variety of content in your songwriting, what would you say is the greatest influence on your creative juices?
John McCauley: I think youth is kind of a new theme that I’m exploring, because when I was younger I was writing songs about really adult things- and maybe I didn’t know what I was talking about but somehow it hit a nerve with people anyway. Now as I’m looking back on my days as a teenager I’m finding all sorts of awesome material there to write about.
FUN Artists: If you could choose to do anything with your life and you knew you wouldn’t fail would it be music or do you think you’d try your hand at the stock exchange?
Ian O’Niel: I think music has the highest fail probability rate… unless you’re becoming a pro basketball player…
John McCauley: There’s so much competition in the whole pool of new music, it’s so diluted, but more power to everyone who’s playing music and trying to start up. It’s hard… I wouldn’t mind being a cop…
Ian O’Niel: Yeah, we’ve talked about becoming detectives…
Dennis Ryan: I looked into working at the parking garage [back home].
John McCauley: [laughs] I tried getting that job…
FUN Artists: Well let’s say the sky is the limit for Deer Tick. Where do you boys see yourselves in five years?
Chris Ryan: In jukeboxes across the nation.
John McCauley: A greatest hits collection on sale at Walgreen’s… Oh I don’t know. I’d like to get some taste of mainstream success without ruining the possibility of us actually doing this for a living. It takes a certain kind of person to become a Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen. I don’t know if we have that but we have something that will- our music will last us a lifetime.