The Providence-based Deer Tick has been playing together for twenty years, and to celebrate the release of its new album Emotional Contracts, its first in six years, band members have agreed to answer these questions for Vol. 1. Brooklyn. The introspective album, an amalgam of alternative rock, alt country, and Americana, features melodic songs with catchy hooks and sonic guitar loops, prevalent in the closer, “The Real Thing.” Many of the songs including “If I Try To Leave,” “If She Could Only See Me Now,” and “Running From Love” will be surefire sing-a-longs on the band’s 2023 North American Tour, which started on June 21 in Cleveland and culminates in Mexico in 2024. Their website has more information on dates and tickets.
Deer Tick is comprised of founding member and singer guitarist John J. McCauley, guitarist Ian O’Neil, drummer Dennis Ryan, and bassist Christopher Ryan. McCauley is the primary songwriter, but the band is more collaborative on Emotional Contracts. They address this topic and many more in this Vol.1 Brooklyn interview.
I read that the band was overly prepared heading into the studio with Dave Fridmann, maestro for The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Luna. Because you were primed, what were the Emotional Contracts sessions like for you four?
Ian O’Neal: Shockingly easy, relaxed and swift compared to previous albums. Working with a producer who lent some insights into the arrangements after we combed over the songs through the pandemic made for a productive session.
John McCauley: Dave made it easy and fun. I knew a little of what to expect, as I had played on my wife’s album Love is an Art [McCauley’s wife is Vanessa Carlton -ed.] and really dug the environment he’s got going on. He’s not too precious about things like capturing “perfect” takes. But he knows in the end it’s all going to come together. He’s such a talented mixer.
Can you talk about whether being more collaborative on this album was intentional or if it happened organically?
O’Neal: I believe John wanted to start jamming more as a band. That process began in March of 2020 and produced arrangements for some collaborative songs that made the record. Most notably was “The Real Thing” which we all brought something to until John wrote all the vocals and lyrics. A lot of the collaboration is in decision making and arranging.
McCauley: We were all living in different cities for a long time. For me writing songs became a lonely, boring process, and long distance collaborating seemed like a pain in the ass. So while I lived in Nashville we built a studio in my backyard and the guys would come down for a week or two at a time and we’d just jam for hours and hours. That was in 2018 and that’s what sparked this more collaborative thing we’ve got going on today. Now we all live in Rhode Island and have a new studio.
Emotional Contracts opens with a bang with the catchy “If I Try to Leave” and infectious “Forgiving Ties.” Talk about these two songs and why you placed them as No. 1 and No. 2 on the album?
O’Neal: We played with a lot of sequences but “If I Try to Leave” was always the opener, to me. It just has a welcoming quality. I guess “Forgiving Ties” just had that upward momentum that we wanted to maintain. They are kind of a statement of intent, in terms of songwriting, energy and a peak at the collaborative spirit.
McCauley: I agree with Ian.
Do you expect the crowd to turn on their phone lights when you play the soulful “Running From Love?” How did that song come about?
McCauley: I’ll let Dennis talk about that song, as it’s his baby. About the flashlights though… I guess nobody smokes anymore, huh? Phone flashlights are weird to me. More people should carry lighters. Like me. I never have a fucking lighter!
Dennis Ryan: I did not expect phones to be held on high, waving back and forth. But the song did come about in a dream containing audience participation. We were performing it in the Temple to Music in Roger Williams Park in Providence. And the crowd was chanting the refrain with us and there were layers of harmony. Then we started the verses and John thought it needed percussion so I crunched a water bottle in time. When I woke up the song and dream were still vividly in my head and I made a voice memo of it as I rocked my (at that point) few months old son back to bed. It’s a little more earnest than I think my conscious mind would let me be but I’m happy it’s made its way into the world.
After two decades together, is it time to reflect on your past and plan for the next chapter in the band’s life?
McCauley: It feels to me like we already did that. This record feels like a fresh start to me in a lot of ways.
Deer Tick is currently on the road. Is it a family affair now, and if not, how do each of you deal with being away from your loved ones?
O’Neal: We all hang together with our kids and families at home, whether it be a fun movie night outside at John’s or at my pool having a barbecue. I don’t think bringing them onto the bus for a tour would be a very good idea, they’ve got school to attend. The advent of FaceTime has been a wonderful development for touring musicians. I keep in touch once a day that way around dinner time. I used to have to find an Internet cafe and Skype while in Europe but it’s gotten a lot easier to stay in touch. In terms of dealing with the psychological aspects of missing your family, it helps that we’re all in this bus together, laughing and passing the time talking.
McCauley: In my opinion, young kids don’t belong on the road. Children should be playing and learning and spending time with other children. They should not be on a tour bus or sequestered in a backstage area with an iPad. I’d like to have my daughter come out for a week or something when she’s a little older and can bring a friend and kind of do her own thing. But at 8 years old? No. Luckily it’s pretty easy to stay connected nowadays. I miss my family at home a great deal some days, but my second family is on the bus with me.