Positive jams

John McCauley and Deer Tick revel in 'Negativity'
By CHRIS CONTI  |  September 18, 2013

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REJUVENATED Chris Ryan, O'Neil, McCauley, Crowell, and Dennis Ryan. [Photo by Anna Webber]

Deer Tick’s John J. McCauley III had plenty of subject matter to draw from in the year or so leading up to the recording of his band’s fifth full-length album, titled Negativity (Partisan Records). Personal demons, rocky relationships, and unforeseen family matters provided plenty of ammo for our Smith Hill hero, but love conquers all and McCauley’s new-found focus has paid off exponentially. Negativity will be available everywhere on Tuesday (the 24th).

McCauley’s high times have been well-documented, and who knows how the quintet survived the nonstop touring and various vices while supporting 2011’s Divine Providence, which captured the band’s overall state of mind: let’s fucking party. His foggy, fucked-up state of mind led him down a darker path than anyone was aware of. Hardcore drug abuse led to a canceled wedding engagement, and his father John J McCauley Jr. was sentenced to 27 months in prison for tax evasion. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so it’s no coincidence that Negativity is Deer Tick’s strongest and most cohesive record yet. “This record is me pulling myself out of the funk I was in,” said McCauley in the Negativity press release.

McCauley, bassist Chris Ryan, keyboardist Robbie Crowell, drummer Dennis Ryan, and singer/guitarist Ian O’Neil are reveling in Negativity, as seen and heard at this year’s Newport Folk Fest after-parties at the Newport Blues Cafe and the second annual Dudesmash at the Met last weekend, cranking out plenty of new cuts along with a few vintage gems like “Baltimore Blues No. 1.” While some national pundits criticized the barroom romp that was Divine Providence, they are eating up every minute of Negativity. Esquire debuted the album cover art (which was also reenacted high above the Folk Fest), while Spin, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times have debuted Negativity tracks, and Fuse ran the video premiere for the single “The Dream’s In the Ditch.” The promotional victory lap is already underway, as the band is currently touring the US (catch ’em on Conan on September 25) as well as the UK, Germany, and Canada (check deertickmusic.com for updates).

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McCauley sounds plenty introspective as soon as the big horns (provided by Latin funk-fusion collective Grupo Fantasma) and Crowell’s keys launch the opener “The Rock,” as he howls and growls (sounding more like Greg Dulli than Bob Dylan): “Don’t hold me closer, it’s all too sweet to last/Come on, fellow goner, the glory days have passed.” The downside of the Divine Providence tour is addressed by O’Neil on “The Dream’s In the Ditch,” but on “Trash,” McCauley says he “wants to fall in love with the road again.” His family situation comes to light on “Mr. Sticks” (his father’s nickname), and there’s a beautiful duet with girlfriend Vanessa Carlton on “In Our Time.” The pair met through My Morning Jacket’s Patrick Hallahan, following John’s return from a life-affirming trip to Africa. Carlton appears to have inspired her boyfriend’s lust for a new life: “I want to be healthier and more responsible for my actions,” said McCauley. “I want to be around for a long time.”

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