I was recently lucky enough to do a Q&A with John McCauley, frontman of one of my favourite bands, Deer Tick. You can check out my previous article on the band here. John chatted about his albums past and present, his vices and his new wife…
Q. Firstly, congratulations on getting hitched! How is married life (John married Vanessa Carlton recently, officiated by none other than Stevie Nicks would you believe)?
A. Thanks. I think its great. I’m pretty good at it.
Q. How did the duet with Vanessa come about? Did you know each other already?
A. We had known each other for a bit and were dating at the time. She sang a harmony with me on the demo version of that song. I liked it so much I gave her the whole second verse!
Q. There are some weighty issues dealt with on Negativity, the new record. Was it hard to write that stuff down, or pretty cathartic?
A. It was pretty cathartic I guess. I had a lot of frustration to pull from creatively, so why not?
Q. It’s been well documented that you ‘indulged’ heartily in drink and drugs for a while. How do you find touring now you are clean?
A. Well, I still drink beer and the occasional cocktail. Coke was ruining my voice and really isolating me from normal stuff like friends and family. Nobody wants to hang out with someone that smokes cocaine. It also led me to other drugs, harder stuff that I never got addicted to like coke, but was still taking a toll on me. I played a dope sick show in Atlanta a few years ago with a trash bucket next to my mic for me to puke in. Not pretty. Touring is much more fun now. Dealing with drug dealers is a pain in the ass anyway.
Q. Personally, I think your first two albums are fantastic, but you’ve been quoted before as saying that you’ve grown to hate them. Do you still feel that? What has been your favourite album to record so far?
A. I say a lot of shit I don’t necessarily mean. I like all the songs on the first few albums, but in hindsight I realize that we could have done some of the recordings better. Nothing to do with where or how we recorded them, I just wish I had had a better ear as a producer. Everything was so new to me.
Q. Divine Providence got a bit of a bad rap from critics, I guess for being quite different to your previous albums. Do you think that was unfair? Is that a record, in hindsight, you wish you had done differently or are you not one for regrets?
A. I think critics actually liked the album a lot. A few outlets hated it, but it was SPIN’s, I think, #26 Best Album of 2001. There were a lot of fans that it confused and turned off. It doesn’t bother me though. The only thing I wish we had done differently was the sequence of the record. The first like 4 songs are all really loud and abrasive, but then the rest of the album mellows out and nobody ever seems to mention or remember that.
Q. How do you approach the songwriting process? Are you a lyrics guy first, or do you usually get the chords or melody down and write to fit that?
A. I do both. Right now I’m working on mostly guitar parts. I haven’t really thought about writing lyrics in a few weeks, honestly.
Q. As well as Deer Tick, you can also be heard in numerous other bands like Middle Brother and Diamond Rugs. Any plans for further releases with those guys? What’s next for you and Deer Tick?
A. Diamond Rugs definitely has a new record coming out. I just don’t know when. Middle Brother is maybe toying around with the idea of a sophomore effort. As far as Deer Tick is concerned, I want to do something big, like a double or triple record. No plans yet, but we’re not in a hurry.
Q. Who were the key musical touchstones of your youth?
A. Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Badfinger, Ritchie Valens and The California Raisins.
Q. What bands are you currently listening to?
A. NRBQ, Big Star, Thelonious Monk, This American Life, WTF! with Marc Maron.
Q. What are your three favourite movies?
A. Oh jeez… I love the movies. I don’t know. Angels With Dirty Faces? Goodfellas? Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?