If you’re going to do rock-and-roll, you might as well do it right. Sex, drugs, and maybe some more drugs or sex, depending on what one likes better. The hard-giving band Deer Tick hasn’t entirely stopped its wild party, but are slowing down a bit. It could be the effects of growing older, but also it comes from surviving difficult experiences. New(ish) album Negativity was inspired by the events of one terrible year in the life of lead singer John McCauley. He’s since gotten married to Vanessa Carlton (the 10,000 miles one with the incredible piano skills) and the two are now expecting a child (announced on June 27 via Facebook). I talked to guitarist Ian O’Neil about being a part of Deer Tick.
Rachel Levine (RL): So you’ve been touring this album now for many months. How is that going for you guys? Is it more a party tour? Are you leaving stuff behind in every port? What’s it been like?
Ian O’Neil (IO): It’s been really great. All the shows have been spectacular. Adjusting to being older, or growing up a little bit, makes you realize how boring touring is. You have to entertain yourself in healthier ways. We still will go out and drink, but we try to make sure we have our shit together. Yeah, we forgot stuff and that happens even when sober. We talk about the shit that we leave places. There are Four or five things our band has left behind in the past year. I left a second pair shoes. It’s more that you have to wake up early and leave, and you just want to get into the van and get back to sleep.
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RL: Do you think Rhode Island has contributed to your sound?
IO: I grew up in a similar music scene in western Mass. One thing I can definitely say, spending time in the music scene of Rhode Island, we definitely don’t have a sense of entitlement that a lot of other bands seem to. We came from a environment with a punk ethic. There’s a big noise scene in Providence, and it makes us more open to other things, and our sets to get very heavy. Those influences are ingrained in the band.
RL: You have a song on the album that was written by you. The Dream’s in the Ditch. Can you walk me through how you wrote this song?
IO: Sure, Well, I mean like it’s when you’re sitting around a guitar and in a writing type of mood. You notice a tiny spark when something starts to happen and you go with it. That’s generally how most people songs are written, a collision of melody and chords and lyrical ideas that happen. That was how that one started. It was voted in to the record.
RL: How do you decide what goes on the record?
IO: We generally have a consensus. We all know the songs that must be on there, and some of us will fight for certain songs, but others not so much. We support each other. It’s not democratic for the sake of being democratic.
RL: How does the band put together its other songs. You’re all in different places, right?
IO: Kind of. Three of us are in Rhode Island right now and two are in Nashville. The last record we were on tour in Australia before we recorded the album. We tour frequently, though a little less now than we used to, because we’re trying to tour smarter. When we are together and if we’re hanging out, we’ll demo songs in hotel rooms. Me and the drummer Dennis [Ryan] tend to do that more and more as time goes on. It gives us something to do. So I guess the last tour, we stockpiled demos. I know some that John [McCauley] and Dennis showed me. We all put them in this folder in months leading up to recording with Steve Berlin. Then we had three weeks to record the whole album. We assembled the songs that we could do justice to and made them all what they are when we were there in Portland recording.
RL: What’s it been like to work with Steve Berlin (from Los Lobos) on the album? Will the partnership likely continue?
IO: He’s the best. He’s a joy. He’s a great dude. I don’t know about the next one, but we’ll work with him again. Our times tables are not overlapping; he has his own projects. We might do the next album more independently, and do it ourselves. We’ll try something different each time we do it. We don’t want to follow the same path.
RL: What was his role in shaping the album?
IO: His role as a producer was active. There were arrangement chocies. He’d be like it’d be useful to have a third part here. I or one of us would follow it. And then just having different ideas for instruments. He arranged some of the horns. He didn’t write any music, but he steered ship.
RL: What’s it been like to play songs from Negativity live?
IO: It’s great. John plays piano on a couple of songs, so we got to introduce that into the set. It expands the set a bit and it also gets ourselves in musical shape. The songs are more demanding and require some more elaborate work. There’s more equipment. We haven’t left any giant keyboards behind yet, but it could happen. We had to be on top of our game for this touring cycle.
RL: Your band certainly has some longevity as many other bands sort of fall apart over time. What keeps you guys together? How have you evolved together?
IO: I guess we each have our individual and collective motivation that we think we can do something special. There are more people at the shows every time we go play. We’ve had some rough times, too. If we kept being adolescent all the time, probably would have burned out a lot quicker. I guess we’re getting ourselves together so we can make music for a long time.
RL: Anything else?
IO: Yeah, sure, I’d like to say one thing. Our last show in Montreal did not go over well because John lost his voice after a long tour and we’re excited to get back.
Deer Tick plays with Adam Baldwin in Montreal at Il Motore (179 Jean Talon W) on July 6. $15/18.