Providence native and current Nashville resident John McCauley has never been afraid to do things out of the ordinary. His main band, Deer Tick, has immense roots in New England and has risen to being one of the top independent rock acts of the decade. On top of that, he has two side projects in Middle Brother with Delta Spirit’s Matthew Vasquez and Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith and the supergroup Diamond Rugs that has him joined with fellow Providence to Nashville transplant Bryan Dufresne, Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, Dead Confederate’s Hardy Morris, former Black Lips member Ian Saint Pé and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Crowell. McCauley also has a habit of playing solo shows with an acoustic guitar in intimate settings. As you can tell, he’s a pretty busy guy with a resume that rivals most music veterans.
Keeping up with marching to the beat to his own drum, McCauley and his Deer Tick bandmates of guitarist and co-vocalist Ian O’Neil, drummer Dennis Ryan and Dennis’ brother Christopher on bass released two new albums on the same day on September 15. Aptly titled Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, both albums capture two different sides of the band with Vol. 1 being all acoustic while Vol. 2 is chock full of electrified rock & roll. They’ll be celebrating the release of the albums with three shows in a row in Rhode Island. On November 24 they’ll be rocking the main stage at the Columbus Theatre in Providence and the following two nights they’ll be heading over the border to play The Met in Pawtucket. Each night promises to bring something special and memorable.
“That was our idea from the beginning, “McCauley says on the idea behind both of the albums. “I had a handful of songs that I thought would be better if they were separated in some kind of way. The idea to make two albums came up and everybody got on board and we just started writing. We tried recording it back in 2015 but it didn’t go so well so we kind of chucked everything and then we kind of had a bit of a crisis within the band, at least I did. I was thinking that maybe I didn’t want to do it anymore but once I came back around to it mentally I realized that we’re pretty lucky that we all actually like each other and we’re all best friends. We wanted to get in there and accomplish something kind of big and unusual.”
For Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Deer Tick went to the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis to work with longtime producer Adam Landry, who also produced the band’s 2011 release Divine Providence. The experience was a bit different than working with Berlin on their previous album, Negativity, in 2014. “Adam was focused on what the band wanted to do which was really trying to capture the right performance of each song,” He describes. “Steve had a whole different process where we would play each song five or six times and then he would say ‘Alright, come back tomorrow and we’ll have a take (laughs).’ We’d never done anything like that before. Actually, looking back on that it was kind of fun but we really wanted together and make each song sound as natural as it could.”
Between the making of Negativity and now, McCauley also had a big moment in his life. He and wife, singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton, became parents to a daughter named Sidney.“Fatherhood is pretty awesome and I enjoy it quite a bit,” He mentions on being a dad. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and once you get the thing that you really want the most, it comes naturally to just want to hold on to it and protect it. She’s a really funny kid, her favorite band is The Pogues. Whenever I wear a flat cap around, she points at it and says ‘Da-da, you’re wearing a Pogues hat’. She has her own drum set, which is something she showed an interest in by herself. We don’t really force her to try anything that she doesn’t want to do but there are instruments all over the house and she’s free to play whatever she wants.”
It’s understandable when a New Englander moves to another part of the country and has to get used to their surroundings. It’s especially understandable when it comes to heading down south. “When I first got there in Nashville, it was a little quieter and a bit quirkier of a place,” McCauley says on moving to the Music City. “Now it’s very metropolitan and it’s kind of a pain in the ass getting around town. The traffic is terrible and it’s just like any other big city in a way but Nashville has always had a big population of people who aren’t from there. There’s university students, there’s people that move there for music and there are people who, like myself, travel for a living. I don’t think I’ve acclimated to southern culture, there’s a lot of it that I still don’t understand.”
McCauley has no concrete plans for the future after this upcoming run of shows but keep your eyes peeled on his two side projects. “[In Middle Brother} We’re hoping to get together to do a record of covers and b-sides and stuff, just something fun,” He states. “We’re not going to make a big studio record of that stuff, it’ll have a couple covers and songs that already exist out there. We’ve been talking about doing another record together as soon as possible but that’s probably not going to be until a year from now or maybe longer. As for the other band I play in, nobody has made any plans but Diamond Rugs have been talking about trying to make another recording but nothing is set up at the moment.”