Spotlighting Deer Tick


Deer Tick from left to right: Saxophonist Rob Crowell, guitarist Ian O’Neil, drummer Dennis Ryan, bassist Christopher Ryan, and ringleader John J. McCauley III. Photo by Scott Alario.

Deer Tick wants to make it perfectly clear – their music defies classification. More specifically, it’s not country.

“There are only two songs which could possibly be construed that way on our entire album, and they are definitely in the minority,” explains Robbie Crowell, saxophonist for the band. This emerging not-country collective consists of five East Coast pseudo-rockers who look and dress as if they walked straight from the backwoods of Vermont. Their name incidentally also refers to a beetle-like roach that transmits Lyme disease, so be sure to specify when Google-ing.

“We get frustrated with lazy or ignorant music critics who lump us into the country category…Once you stick a label on a band, it can have detrimental effects as to how people perceive you, the festivals you play at, the bands you play with…We don’t care to be pigeon-holed.”

For those seeking clarification, there’s a whole diatribe about Deer Tick’s false genre-zation on the band’s website, yet even listening to one track will reveal the nuances of many musical influences. Shaped by the gamut of melodic ingénues from Nirvana to the Rolling Stones to the Replacements, Deer Tick “dabbles” in a lot of things, and each member’s background is surprisingly unique. Though often associated with Providence, the group has no primary home. Crowell is based in Halifax, Massachusetts, while the other four members are elsewhere: Brooklyn, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Pawtucket (it’s in Rhode Island). Similarly their music is an amalgamation of tastes, reflecting jazz, classical, folk, and rock. According to Crowell, their next project is an EP of black metal music.

So there. To reiterate, this is no country assortment.

While new to some, Deer Tick has actually been a long time in the making. The project was originally conceived by lead vocalist and guitarist, John McCauley, and since expanded to include Chris Ryan (bass), Dennis Ryan (drums), Ian O’Neil (guitar, formerly of Titus Andronicus), and Crowell, their latest addition. After a few years of moving parts, the band is finally complete. Though Crowell suggests there may be some desire to add a horn section down the road, should chance and prosperity allow for the supplement. For now, Deer Tick is whole and mobile, finding themselves on the road an average of nine months out of the year while releasing work on their independent label home, Partisan Records.

“Living in different cities doesn’t affect much of anything,” comments Crowell. “We don’t really ever practice. We work on music mostly during soundchecks or in the studio…We write songs on our own, bring them in, and refine them together.”

Last month, Deer Tick released their fourth LP, Divine Providence, a 13-track record aimed to tap into the rock component of their style. The influence of classic artists – Zeppelin, Hendrix, Van Morrison, even – is undeniable, yet there are also shades of post-modern punk and blues along the way. The album begins with “Bump”, a Dylan-esque tune with Cobain-like vocals. It’s a grittier start that soon transitions to a range of both acoustic and big-vocal tracks, which seamlessly bind the past and present without losing timelessness. Crowell admits there isn’t one unifying concept or story arch behind the lyrics, yet the album finds strong cohesion in the quality and strength of its music, and will likely find even greater exemplification in a live format.

Now on tour across the country, Deer Tick is hitting the U.S. and Canada on a six-week tour to promote the record. Afterwards, the plan is merely to continue– a seemingly grand feat in the music industry these days, though Crowell displays no cynicism for the fate of his business.

“Everything shifts around; look at how many former paradigms have been thrown out in the past,” he remarks. “I feel like you just have to jump in with both feet and harness as much as you can. CDs are going the way of the dodo…It’s a shame music is devalued so much that people have qualms about paying for it, but at the same time, if you look at how it was before Napster, CDs were $20-25 each…The industry brought this on itself.”

For Crowell, success is simply keeping the music alive under the band’s terms. It’s nothing about having ten million dollars, and it’s everything about sovereignty. At Partisan, Deer Tick retains full creative direction over all elements of their works, from artwork and packaging, to opening acts, to pricing and song selection. Choice reigns supreme in artistic democracy, and these are the group’s provisos to live by.

“A career like the Stones would be enviable, but then again, their output isn’t consistent,” observes Crowell. “If you could have that longevity and still put out great records, then I’d take it. I’d love to be like AC/DC, but I also wouldn’t want to find my lead singer dead in the back of a van one day from choking on his own puke…And then a lot of artists have tremendous careers, but I detest their music.”

The hope then might be somewhere in the middle, or maybe even to forge new territory.

Says Crowell, “We’ll see.”