Deer Tick's John McCauley Likes Booze, Hates Pitchfork
After he graduated high school, John McCauley convinced his parents to let him tour the country playing his guitar rather than going to college. Somehow, they listened, and he birthed Deer Tick, an alt-country band that's since released four records and a handful of EPs. McCauley is now in his mid-twenties, but his band is still known for their ruckus live show performance--or as McCauley puts it, being "drunk buffoons"--but despite their dedicated following of fans, they have always met harsh critical reception. Music writers across the Internet have dismissed them as party animals whose drunk actions are annoying and self-serving, accusing them of overt masculinity that sometimes, arguably, translates into misogyny.
What's a bit funny about that perception is that, at least according to McCauley, the band isn't trying to do any of that. He grew up in the Providence, R.I., music scene where it was not uncommon to "get loaded and play a show," and he seemingly has taken that approach throughout his career. But, we all get older, even musicians, and McCauley isn't shy in saying that it's gotten a bit harder to wake up in the morning. The past year, the band has cleaned up their act a bit, slowed down the partying, and refocused. On Saturday, McCauley takes the stage at Carnegie Hall as part of the Live at Zankel Hall series from WFUV. While he was touring in Canada, the singer-songwriter took a moment to chat with Sound of the City on the phone about the perceptions of his band, clearing his head, and taking one of the most storied stages in the world.
Let's talk about the Carnegie Hall thing. Why are you playing Carnegie Hall? That's the first question.
[Laughs] I've been asking myself that every day since we booked it. It's for WFUV, the radio station, and I don't know. They pick a songwriter or personality or something to do this every year, and they've been good to Deer Tick and my other projects. If they think it can work, we're preparing ourselves for it the best we can. I think it will be a fun show, and we've got some good friends of ours to agree to come and play some tunes with us.
Have you been to Carnegie Hall?
I've been once. I saw John Prine maybe four or five years ago.
Is any part of you nervous about entering a venue like Carnegie Hall? Most of your fans are used to, when going to a Deer Tick show, just getting hammered at a dive bar.
[Laughs] I was a little nervous about how it would translate. That's not what we're going for with this. We're not going to get loaded before the show, and we won't be throwing beers around out of respect of the place. I think it will be a good chance to showcase our talents that maybe get lost on a crowd at a dive bar, you know?
What type of things are lost?
Maybe some of the nuance and songwriting. We turn our amps up so loud so it probably just sounds like noise sometimes, but Ian [O'Neil] and I are actually pretty good guitar players. Not everyone in the crowd is going to be slamming shots of whiskey and chugging beers. They're going to be forced to pay attention. [Laughs.]
Do you feel playing Carnegie Hall signifies anything?
I just hope that... maybe... how do I want to say this. I don't think we want to be known as drunk buffoons our whole life and we are getting older. It's been a long time since our live show took a turn for the rowdier. It'll be fun to get up on a stage that big and not rest on our laurels so much.
How do you feel about that public perception of drunk buffoonery?
I don't mind what people think of me as long as it's in an entertaining regard. And also, that whole getting loading and playing a show thing is kind of what the Providence music scene was for me growing up. Even when I might have been playing a solo gig, like when War Elephant came out, I was still getting loaded before the shows. But it wasn't easy for me to run around, smash my guitar, and spray beer everywhere because I was stuck on one microphone, playing all the music by myself on my guitar. The expansion of the band made it easier for parts of our show to be performance art, and I don't mean to say it's good performance art, but it is to some extent.