Hail, Deer Tick!

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  June 17, 2009

A bit grandiose, the title. But not too serious. Never too serious.

"Next we'll do Born to Walk," McCauley said. "Born to Surf In the USA."


There is, perhaps, nothing that annoys Deer Tick more than press references to the group as an "alt-country" act. They prefer Brian Williams's formulation, offered in his Rachael Ray interview: bar band.

But a close second on the list of irritants would be press references to the group as a Brooklyn outfit. McCauley's Outer Borough adventure notwithstanding, Deer Tick is a Rhode Island product.

The frontman grew up in Providence, Tobiassen in Newport. Dennis Ryan attended Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket. His half-brother Chris graduated from La Salle Academy in Providence.

But for all the local ties, there is something anomalous about Deer Tick.

Band members came of age during the Providence noise scene, which favored the dissonant and experimental. McCauley, in fact, played in a Sonic Youth-inspired group called the Metro Savages at one point. And the band attributes some its kinetic stage presence to the manic energy of that period.

But the gravelly twang of Deer Tick, if not entirely foreign to the Renaissance City — the Low Anthem, the 'mericans, and a few other Americana acts that have sprouted in these parts in recent years — carries an air of the unexpected.

The uninitiated at the House of Blues show seemed surprised, last week, when McCauley announced that the band is from Providence.

Still, Deer Tick insists the city's fingerprints are evident on Flag Day. There is the obvious — one song is called "Smith Hill." And there is the not so obvious.

If War Elephant was a largely personal record ("I had a girl that I considered my muse for awhile," McCauley said), then the new album is more concerned with character studies. And characters, McCauley said, are in abundance in Rhode Island.

Indeed, it is easy to see the upstart reaching for the yet-to-be-experienced in his rich portraits of the broken and brawling. "Out of the door/With the devil in my eyes," McCauley bellows on "Easy," the record's energetic opening track, "That son of a bitch crossed me once/But he won't cross me twice.

"Little angel on my shoulder/Well she better be right," he continues. "She got me flying like a wild man/In the middle of the night."

McCauley, who calls the song a meditation on the absurdities of romance — how easy it is to get infatuated, how easy it is to break it off — allows that "Easy" and the album as a whole are partly autobiographical.

"Straight Into a Storm," he said, makes reference to an old, dead-end relationship. "Sometimes baby, it feels like maybe I don't have any blood," he sings. "No heart, no soul, no hands, no feet, no love."

But McCauley is the first to acknowledge that the emotion is exaggerated, that he is telling a tale. "The more and more you tell a story, the better it gets," he says.

And here, it seems, McCauley has landed on the formula for a band that — for all its youthful talent — is constrained by inexperience. Keep telling the story, even if it isn't yours, and you'll get better.

Someday, you may even wind up with a real tour bus. And some health insurance.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at dscharfenberg@phx.com.

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