When I reached John McCauley at home during a recent late-summer afternoon, he was enjoying the rarest of refuges in the life of a parent: A quiet house. The Deer Tick frontman is known for being one of the wildest, drunkest men in contemporary rock. But in the past few years, he’s cleaned up and settled into family life in Nashville with wife Vanessa Carlton. On this day, however, McCauley’s 2-year-old daughter had shipped off for her first day of pre-school, leaving dad with an afternoon to kill.
Was he feeling any stress about his baby girl being away from home? “Are you kidding? I love it,” McCauley replied in his cracked, wise-acre whine. “Actually have time to get stuff done around here.”
After an extended hiatus from the road and the studio, Deer Tick is ready to get back to work. On Friday, the perpetually disheveled four-piece will release two albums, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, the band’s first output in four years. Similar to McCauley’s hero Paul Westerberg’s underrated 2002 tandem, Stereo/Mono, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 parcels the two sides of Deer Tick’s musical personality into the thoughtful, acoustic singer-songwriter pop of Vol. 1 and the rambunctious, endearingly sloppy rock and roll of Vol. 2.
Since forming in Providence, Rhode Island in 2004, Deer Tick has been more associated with the latter than the former. But while McCauley’s antics are well-documented — he’s been known to shotgun beers with journalists ahead of interviews — his proficiency as a songwriter remains under appreciated. In that sense, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 feels like a coming-out party.
On Vol. 1Deer Tick not only leans on the heartfelt, Ronnie Lane-style tearjerkers of past Deer Tick LPs, but also veers credibly into jazzy folk dalliances like “Limp Right Back” and sensitive story songs like the moving broken-home ballad, “Doomed From The Start.” On Vol. 2, Deer Tick is back in more conventional territory, tearing through a set of witty trash-rockers like the hilarious “SMF” (short for “shitty music festival”) and the delectably sleazy “Look How Clean I Am.” Taken together, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 resemble a more sprawling version of the Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me, one of many classic albums recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, which also berthed both new Deer Tick records.
Along with the albums comes a return to the road, and after a period of calm McCauley seems eager to get back to it. For a while, however, he wasn’t sure if Deer Tick had a future. Long before spearheading the most ambitious records of the band’s career, McCauley actually considered breaking up Deer Tick.