For nearly twenty years, Deer Tick has been a staple of Rhode Island’s music community. Arguably the most popular band that’s come out of the state in decades, their sustained success has never faltered. That being said, the unforeseen speed bump known as COVID made this vehicle buckle a little. It’s been six years since the last tour, but with a new album ready to be released, Deer Tick is ready to hit the road again. Lead singer, guitarist and founder of the band John McCauley gave Motif some time to talk about the new album, life in general, and to offer some insight about the upcoming tour.
When talking about the album, McCauley said, “In just the past few years, our lives have really changed. We have grown, we are parents… Also, in the past we have been sort of pigeonholed in a country or folk genre. We had a grungy feel earlier in our career, but we are inspired by many different influences now which make us feel we don’t fit into any specific genre.”
Released on June 16, Emotional Contracts is the eighth (ninth if you include the compilation album) studio album by Deer Tick. This is the first through ATO Records, an independent label founded by Dave Matthews and Coran Capshaw. The album was produced by longtime veteran David Fridmann, an original founder of the band Mercury Rev wholeft Mercury Rev 1993 to focus on production. Dubbed the “Phil Spector of alt-rock”, Fridmann has produced albums for The Flaming Lips (which won him a Grammy award in 2007), Weezer, Spoon, Tame Impala, and many more.
Deer Tick recorded the album at Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in Western New York. This album was approached with a more free and easy recording style. The majority was recorded live, which produces a richer, more natural sound. “I had been used to being boxed up in a booth and strumming the guitar to a click track. It’s sometimes tough to get that right feel when you’re playing that way,” McCauley said.
McCauley went into detail about how this album evolved with time and their approach toward recording it changed. “We built a new practice space in the woods and rehearsed there once a week. It provided us space for a real democratic approach to the writing… everyone writes. Sometimes one of us may have an idea for a song and others will help work on it.”
During this time, they condensed the album to what they felt were the best 10 songs. “We’ve had a habit of trying to maintain a strict control over everything in the studio, but this time we wanted to see what it would feel like to let go a bit,” said McCauley. “We figured that the songs were strong enough to stand on their own two feet, so whatever we put them through would just make them stronger and take us in some new directions. McCauley mentioned that the second single on the upcoming album, “Once In a Lifetime,” originally had a zydeco feel to it. “I’ve always really enjoyed zydeco and I like playing accordion. We still have a little accordion on the track but as you can hear, it’s not a zydeco song anymore.”
Unpredictability is felt from the very start of “Once in a Lifetime,”, with an unconventional drum pattern, a pulsing bass line, and an acoustic line that seems like it’s getting a feel for what’s happening around it. It seems symbolic of life: Tthere is chaos all around you, but life continues to pulse regardless, and you must find your way to fit in. As the song progresses, the acoustic line starts to really blossom, like you have started to find your way. That’s when the drums and John’s electric guitar kick in, fully setting the smooth groove that continues throughout the song.
The lyrics begin with an ominous “No one knows how the story will unfold.” It paints a brief story of the end of a relationship in which it says, “When I saw you walk away last night I realized / How strange it felt to me when you left my side / And it didn’t feel right.” The chorus kicks in, “Once in a lifetime / Never looking back again / Now is the right time / If there’s anything you’ve longed to share.” Anyone who’s been in a serious relationship has had this thought: Do you take the chance to try and salvage this? Is there anything else that needs to be said?
McCauley is fiercely proud of this album, which has led him to worries about the upcoming tour. “It’s been six years since we’ve done a major tour like this… In the past, if we fucked up on stage, we just considered it funny and said, ‘Wwhatever.’ Now, the prospect of playing these songs right with quality is a little scary… I have such love for this album and I want to do it justice.”
With the prospect of playing fifty shows in a six-week period, all over the country, he has a point: The road is a grind and with grind there can be error. For them it’s not glamorous; cramming into vehicles, making sure you get to the events on time, and almost a new venue every night. But as any aspiring musician would tell you, it is still their dream and McCauley understands this. “I have been lucky to meet the right people and they have helped me and the band to where we are today. I am very grateful.” Though McCauley says they normally do not play Rhode Island much, this time they are playing five different shows here. They have three sold- out shows at Ocean Mist in Matunuck from June 15-17 and in November the tour concludes with a show at the Columbus Theatre in Providence. “It’s awesome and I’m grateful we still have such a supportive home fanbase,” McCauley noted.