Keep On Moving: Ten Years Of It: Ian O’Neil talks about the last decade of music

It’s been a hell of a year for Deer Tick guitarist Ian O’Neil. He released three albums with three different projects — Deer Tick, Happiness and his solo record, Ten Years Of It. This year also marked O’Neil’s 10th year in Deer Tick; however, his solo album title doesn’t refer to this, rather to the time period that O’Neil had been compiling songs since his time as a member of Titus Andronicus. O’Neil will celebrate the release of Ten Years Of It with a solo show at the Columbus Theatre on November 15 backed by Chris and Dennis Ryan from Deer Tick. Liz Phair also happens to be in the area, and she’ll be doing a set. I spoke with Ian in advance of the show to find out what these ten years were really like.  

Marc Clarkin: From the title of the album, I imagine these songs were written over the last decade. How did putting them together as a solo album come together?  

Ian O’Neil: The goal was always some kind of recording. It just so happened that this was the one point in time that there are enough songs to do that, and the songs didn’t end up going to a Deer Tick record. There weren’t any Deer Tick records on the horizon, and some of the songs seemed to be better suited to just kind of like, you know, arranging all the parts between me and Dennis [Ryan]. After just kind of collecting these songs over a long period of time and recording them in different studios that Dennis has put together, once there was enough for them, that seemed acceptable, it was just time to make the next move of putting it out.

MC: “Events” is probably my favorite song on the record. What is that one about?  

IO: I think that one was a kind of you know, so much human consciousness.  That one was written a couple of years ago, right around the time everything started falling apart. Climate change really started ramping up, so I think it’s about the inevitability of things happening to people and to the world and that’s why it’s called “Events.” It’s a loose enough concept where I think it can be applied to your personal life or if I had to, the world at large. I think it’s just about dealing with the inevitability that good and bad things happen to you without it being in your control.

MC: Another one of my favorites is “Buried Deep.” What was the story behind that?

IO: I wrote that song when I was still in the band Titus Andronicus, right after I wrote the Deer Tick song, “Hope is Big,” and that was written while on tour with Titus Andronicus. That was about being new to sacrificing my life at home when I was still living in New York before moving to Rhode Island to join Deer Tick. It’s about my interpersonal relationships with friends and my girlfriend at the time, stuff like that, and just accepting that the path I was on was going to be a sacrifice. I think it’s pretty much about how transient lifestyle as a younger person can strain your relationships, but if that’s what you set out to do, then you have to accept those consequences.

MC: Speaking of “Hope is Big,” I’ve always loved the song for the followup line “but they’re always going to win.” What was going on at that time that inspired it?

IO: It’s a concept that was still ripe during the Bush presidency, which was probably when that was written. A young person learning how to grieve through losses is something that was a big part of that song. It was at a time in my life that a lot of people I was close with were passing away for one reason or another. I think that sparked that kind of despair. I was also a politically active young person, so I think that was there, too. I guess in that way, the song hasn’t changed that much between being both personal and political.

MC: Another new tune is “German Bar;” the song obviously isn’t about the bar. Was there a place on tour that sparked that one?

IO: Yeah, that was taken from personal experience, but it’s also kind of a specific feeling while going through touring for so long and burning yourself out. I know that’s not the most universal concept in the world when it comes to talking with touring, but I think the whole album is about getting through the whole younger period of your life. I think all of us have some kind of “German Bar” in their life. 

MC: This year you put out three different albums with three different bands. Another one of those bands is Happiness, which also consists of Rafay Rashid (Ravi Shavi) and Chris and Dennis from Deer Tick. Happiness to me has a different swing compared to Deer Tick and your solo record. How did Happiness start, and can you tell when you write a song, which band it would work best in?

IO: Happiness started with Rafay and I hanging out and wanting to write together in at his old apartment in Providence. We just started writing together and one particular reason why that never sounds like Deer Tick is because we all contribute to almost all the songs. It started as a collaborative project or exercise of writing together and taking our friendships with one another and putting them into songs. So that’s why that’s different than anything else, probably largely because of the influence of Rafay. He brings out something different in me, Chris, and Dennis that we wouldn’t have with just each other or with John (McCauley). Once the concept started rolling and the first one or two songs came out, it was like okay, let’s just go down this path of like the rejects of rock ‘n’ roll music. They are weird songs.

Liz Phair and Ian O’Neil will be at the Columbus Theatre on November 15.

Cool Weather Means Cooler Shows!

Bush Tetras and Hope Anchor (farewell show!) will be at Askew on Nov 15. Daikaiju, The Sleazies, M.O.T.O., and Bad Motherfucker will rock Dusk on Nov 17. Arrival From Sweden — The Music of Abba are at The Vets on Nov 19. Bob Dylan returns to the Providence Performing Arts Center on Nov 20. Letters to Cleo rock The Met Cafe on November 21. Three Points of Madness will host a release show for Circle of Madness with Galvanized and Oxblood Forge at Dusk on Nov 22. Booker T. Jones celebrates the release of his memoir Time Is Tight and companion album Note by Note at the Narrows Center For The Arts on November 22.  

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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