Deer Tick is a rowdy bar band with a reputation rooted in booze-drenched shows and raucous party anthems. Led by frontman and songwriter John McCauley, the Rhode Island rock outfit first saw acclaim with their 2007 debut, War Elephant, and seemed to break with 2011’s Divine Providence. Still, to mark their successes via albums or studio recordings would be to ignore the fact that Deer Tick find their most devoted disciples in a live setting. In his latest endeavor, though, McCauley will perform without the packed, sweaty crowds and the full-band backing, taking to City Winery’s intimate listening spaces in four cities for a series of solo shows.
“Usually when I write the songs, the skeleton of them are adaptable to whatever band I’m playing with,” says McCauley. While he performs with multiple side projects — supergroups Middle Brother, which features members of Delta Spirit and Dawes, and Diamond Rugs, including members of the Black Lips, Dead Confederate, Los Lobos, and Six Finger Satellite, being the main two — Deer Tick remains the
constant. “Not being with any of my bands, I can play songs from all three of ’em, which is nice. It’s given me an opportunity to try some new songs, get used to playing them live, which is great for me. Hopefully it’s good for the audience, too.”
The switch-up in listening environment is barely a blip on the radar compared to the overhaul McCauley has made in his personal life. He’s toned down the hard-partying lifestyle that pervaded in his lyrics and appearances, wed singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton — in a ceremony officiated by Stevie Nicks, no less — and even celebrated the arrival of their daughter early this year.
“It’s pretty wacky,” he says of being a dad. “It’s a completely new experience for me. But the learning curve has been slow enough for me to get used to all the changes that come.”
McCauley says he’s enjoying his “fatherly duties,” and to spot him sporting a stroller at festivals and ushering in a “bizarre” new normal feels oddly triumphant for a man who once similarly paraded his vices.
“We’re planning on bringing her everywhere,” says McCauley of his daughter. Between his and Carlton’s busy schedules, Baby McCauley may well have more backstage savvy by her toddler years than many people get in a lifetime. “Maybe she’ll hate it, but I know I would have loved doing that when I was a kid.”
Festivals like Newport Folk have punctuated an otherwise calm summer for McCauley and Deer Tick. The band is in and out of the studio, “slowly chipping away at an album,” and the intermittent solo shows have still allowed ample time for McCauley to spend enjoying fatherhood.
“Having a baby is pretty cool,” he says, and the simplicity of the statement doesn’t undercut the glimmer of fascination behind it. “It’s been really fantastic to [have] a chance to bond with this little lady.”
The limited run of City Winery shows kicked off last month in Nashville, the city McCauley calls home after a limited run as a New Yorker.
“It was just full of mistakes, and a pretty fun time,” he says. “I guess people that are used to going to Deer Tick shows, they might find a few more surprises in my solo set. The thing that’s the most different about it for me is that I don’t have to rely on anybody else learning anything. If I want to pull out a song that I haven’t played in years, I don’t have to tell anybody. I can just rehearse it at soundcheck once and play it that night.”
McCauley will continue to shift roles this fall as he joins Carlton on the road as her guitarist, and while they perform together often, the two haven’t written together — yet. Like with a setlist at a Deer Tick show, McCauley has a loose plan in mind, but don’t expect him to even flinch when the circumstance or the right rowdy onlooker calls for an adaptation.