Deer Tick: Musical Split Personality

Deer Tick (Photo by Laura Partain)

Is it audacity, creative hubris or just a pure love of making music that leads a band to simultaneously release not one, but two full albums of material in a day and age of downloads and short attention spans? For Deer Tick guitarist Ian Patrick O’Neil, it’s more about how much he and his three bandmates missed each other coming off a four-year hiatus since the band last convened in the studio for 2013’s Steve Berlin-produced Negativity.

In the interim, Deer Tick toured for its 10-year anniversary in 2014 while frontman/guitarist John McCauley wed singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton, followed by the couple becoming parents to a little girl. So when the idea came to record twin releases this year called Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2, the quartet was primed to hit the ground running by decamping to Memphis and Ardent Studios, a storied site where numerous artists had recorded including Big Star, Led Zeppelin, The Staples Singers and Isaac Hayes.

“We like to play different genres of music and we felt like it was an appropriate time to make two concise-sounding records and give our fans double the trouble,” O’Neil laughingly said. “We hadn’t made a record for such a long time, so it was fun to be in the studio again together and I do think there’s an element of getting all [that creative energy] out.”

While both Deer Tick, Vol. 1 and Deer Tick, Vol. 2 are packaged with a similar still life image of a bottle of ketchup and mustard differentiated by faux red and gold frames, the songs are sonic polar opposites. The former is steeped in folk-rooted acoustic guitars and myriad unplugged instrumentation while the latter finds Deer Tick plugged in and slinging around plenty of punk and garage-rock flavored riffs.

On Vol. 1, fans will find sonic treats ranging from the flamenco-kissed shuffle “Card House” and the piano-soaked Celtic waltz “Hope is Big” to the countrypolitan-like “Cocktail,” which shines a light on McCauley’s complex relationship with alcohol.

Vol. 2 finds the Rhode Island outfit plugging in and bashing out a slew of ear-worms ranging from the Replacements-like “Jumpstarting” and galloping “Tiny Fortunes” to “S.M.F.,” a Tom Petty-inspired swipe at poorly planned musical festivals and “Mr. Nothing Gets Worse,” which uses wailing sax and a rambunctious Wurlitzer in a way that makes it sound like a lost Rockpile outtake. It’s a comparison O’Neil gladly accepts while laying out the approach taken for these records.

“That comparison makes total sense. We love Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. I was listening to a lot of Nick Lowe while we were recording,” O’Neil recalled. “Going into the studio, John and I both decided we wouldn’t play any electric instruments whatsoever on one album. We gave some leeway to the keyboard player and the bass player. I think the guitar kind of dictates what the song feels like most from the get-go. It’s something about how an acoustic guitar sounds. The biggest approach was that, other than that was we did both records live off the floor for the most part.”

O’Neil arrived in the Deer Tick camp following a stint with indie rockers Titus Andronicus after being invited to join the band by fellow New Englander McCauley (O’Neil is from western Massachusetts). Since then, the former Brooklyn resident has embraced the eclectic nature of his current band that not only liberally mixes in different musical styles, but odd covers from the likes of Warren Zevon, Nirvana and the Beastie Boys. With the band set to tour well into 2018, fans can expect more of the same when they come to see O’Neil and company hit the stage.

“We’re doing two sets every night and we’re starting with a different comedian opening up on different legs of the tour. Then he introduces us and we come up and do an acoustic set that’s either re-envisioning songs from our catalog or we’re doing songs that lean more acoustic from our back catalog,” he explained. “Then we take a short intermission, get reintroduced and do a little bit longer of a loud set. It’s all starting to fall into place right now.”

Deer Tick will be appearing on Dec. 2 at Brooklyn Steel, 319 Frost St., Brooklyn. For more information, visit or call 888-929-7849.

Click here to find out Deer Tick guitarist Ian O’Neil’s favorite covers to perform live.

Ian Patrick O’Neil of Deer Tick Names His Fave Covers

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