The Many Sides of Deer Tick

L-R: Ian O'Neil, Dennis Ryan, John McCauley, Chris Ryan
L-R: Ian O'Neil, Dennis Ryan, John McCauley, Chris Ryan Laura Partain
Deer Tick just released two new records: Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick Vol. 2. The band claims one is a nostalgic nod back to the debauched bombast it was once known for; the other is the sound of a band that has matured, both musically and personally, focusing more on songcraft and structure, and less on looks and stage antics. But which one is which? For a band this complex, the answer is unclear.

The Providence, Rhode Island-based group, which comprises Ian O'Neil (guitar/vocals), Dennis Ryan (drums/vocals), John McCauley (guitar/vocals) and Chris Ryan (bass), has spent years shucking genre tags and playing music that is at times acoustic yet aggressive, and at other times loud yet thoughtful and insightful. The latest two albums, released at the same time, attempt to parcel out these different sides (Vol 1. is quieter, Vol 2 louder). For a band that started out playing hard-partying folk rock and has evolved into a timeless and professional rock group, the two albums are a perfect balance of what Deer Tick used to be, what it is now and what it is capable of becoming in the future.

We caught up with O'Neil and asked him how these albums reflect the band's changing identities. 

Westword: Why did you decide to release these two albums separately as opposed to one double album?

O'Neil: We’ve always had two different types of personalities that we pulled out at different times. A lot of time at our live shows, we leaned toward the loud and bombastic side, but last year we did an acoustic tour and we really enjoyed the thoughtfulness that went into arranging songs and having some space in the live setting so it wasn’t a constant barrage of sound. That influenced us to do this. We wanted to do different albums that showed these sides of us. We thought maybe this was too many songs for people's short attention spans these days, but we were confident people could handle it. We put in a lot of work on both albums, and couldn’t really find too many songs to cut to make it a double album, so we wanted to give people an option so everyone could come out happy.

On that acoustic tour, people saw your full musicianship on display. It informed a more subdued live show, though. How was that experience?

John [McCauley] wanted to really fulfill that role and challenge all of us into taking our music to another level. That manifested itself into learning new instruments, trying new arrangements and being more delicate – that would directly translate more into the studio. It gave us a toolbox with more tools in it. The only real difference on that tour was that we were sitting down and playing music. We were pushing the limits of what we can do. It’s also really hard to hide behind acoustic instruments. It’s hard to hide your playing; you have to quickly get your chops up to play in front of people.

Is there one album or side that you identify with more?

I have this habit where I listen to a shitload of music up until release day, and then I just stop! [laughs] We start to play the songs then, so I get to live inside of them a bit more. I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people. I think all of us jockey back and forth between the two. I think that speaks to the success of the process that we can like each one at different times.

That seemed to be essentially the point of doing it. You’ve never been a band that plays one style of music.

Right. And I think that when we mastered the two albums, we assumed people would like Vol 1. more because it's more akin to our oldest style of music, which people seem to gravitate more to. But some reviews I’ve seen from major publications say Vol 2. wins out, and I’m like, 'Where were you when we were doing loud music before?' We thought one would be a clear winner, but that hasn't been the case, so that’s great for us.

If listeners have a tough time deciding, then it seems to me to be successful.

We should set up a Twitter poll and see which wins!

Deer Tick with Chris Crofton, 8 p.m. Saturday, October 28, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, Englewood $27.50, 303-789-9206.
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Andy Thomas is a music journalist who hopes other music journalists write nice things about the music he performs. He lives in Denver with his wife, their two cats and a massive pile of unfinished projects.
Contact: Andy Thomas