The Naked Truth

Uncovering Deer Tick's ragged, raucous ride

Deer Tick's John McCauley gets into trouble when he drinks. That means he gets into trouble a lot.

"The other day when we played in Iowa, we were playing so hard and so fast for so long," recalls the Rhode Island native. "I felt like taking my clothes off, so I just played naked toward the end. I didn't go out there planning on it. Shit just happens sometimes."

It might have been strange and awkward for audience members unfamiliar with Deer Tick, but their fans know stuff like this is common at shows. McCauley caused a media storm when he wore a dress at Coachella last month, yet any loyal follower would know band members bring dresses and skirts on tour — just in case the mood strikes.

McCauley's other stage tricks include piercing his ears and lips (sometimes he bleeds profusely, but he insists he's too wasted to feel it) and playing guitar solos with a bunch of burning dollar bills in his mouth (no, they don't burn his tongue).

Guitarist Ian O'Neil, bassist Chris Ryan, and drummer Dennis Ryan hold things together when McCauley goes nuts. The Ryan stepbrothers joined McCauley after he recorded Deer Tick's debut, 2007's War Elephant, and O'Neil joined the trio last August after leaving Titus Andronicus.

The four mix punk, alt-country, grunge, and folk into a big wad of energy — it's often hard to pin down their sound. They say their volume and raucous liveliness comes from growing up watching noise bands in Providence and listening to blues legends Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy on the road. Tom Petty is a top choice when they're playing covers. Like their tastes, their music is all over the place, jumping from reflective folk to noisy punk.

McCauley used to write all the songs, which range from sad, melodic confessions like "Art Isn't Real (City of Sin)" to country-infused barnburners like "Easy." Now everyone contributes, and Deer Tick perform a few of their unrecorded and unreleased songs live.

"We have a habit of playing songs that won't be out for another year at least, just because we wanna," says O'Neil. "When we record them, not only do we want them to be in top shape, but I think we just really enjoy playing new songs because we're confident that they're good. It's more exciting when we can play songs that we can stand behind. We just want to have a varied set and not just a greatest hits [show]."

"We like every show to be different, not falling into a routine or shtick," adds Dennis Ryan. "We all take musical risks every night that we'll think about during the day and want to do in a song. It might not always be flawless, but that's what I like about the shows."

Lately, the varied sets include the more upbeat songs from Deer Tick's upcoming album, The Black Dirt Sessions. Recorded in early 2009, the album will finally see the light of day in June. Chris Ryan says despite the album's gloomy themes, the recording went smoothly.

"I think as far as the four of us playing, it gels more than [2009's Born on Flag Day]," he says. "I think we all mean it more. We're all a lot more comfortable with what we're doing. Emotionally, it's dark as hell. I guess we all did what we could to bring it out."

"20 Miles," the first single, plays like a forlorn love-lost song. "If you lost your way, I'm looking for you," croons McCauley on top of ringing guitar and humming bass. His usually raspy vocals sound like they've been ripped apart by a laundry-detergent cocktail, but they're effective here.

It's impossible to tell what Deer Tick will pull out of their arsenal at the Beachland Tavern this weekend, or if we'll even see McCauley's pensive side at all. You can count on hearing loud, piercing guitar solos and heavy rocking. If the band starts out slow, here's a little tip for the wise: Budweiser is their favorite beverage.

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