By Rob LeDonne
It’s the middle of a Sunday afternoon, and Deer Tick guitarist Ian O’Neil is somewhere between Calgary (Alberta), British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains. “We just left an Indian Reservation,” he explains. “Tonight we’re staying in Kamloops, British Columbia. It should be fun.”
Luckily for O’Neil and his bandmates, there’s plenty of fun ahead as they’re currently in the midst of a national tour which will bring them to Solana Beach’s Belly Up Tavern on Oct. 27 for a gig in support of their most recent album “Negativity,” which was released in September.
“Last night we played in Calgary, and even though we’ve never been here before it was a packed, sold out great show. Every time we find a new place that enjoys our band it becomes our new favorite spot,” explained O’Neil who’s hoping for the same energy at the Belly Up.
It’ll be the band’s first time performing in North County after typically playing in San Diego’s downtown, and is just one of the many changes the band is going through since first breaking out of its hometown of Providence, Rhode Island and into the iPods of an eclectic and rabid worldwide fanbase.
“I grew up in Western Massachusetts, and knew some of the guys who are in the band. We had the same musical tastes,” explained O’Neil on how he joined Deer Tick in 2009, a group which has its roots as the solo project of current frontman John McCauley. Their songs can best be described as a cross between alternative country, indie rock, and even a little folk, and their previous four albums perfectly encapsulates that mixture. From the get-go of their new offering “Negativity,” however, the band wanted to do things a little differently.
“The big thing that changed was our approach to making it,” notes O’Neil. “We recorded it in Portland, Ore., which is outside our comfort zone. We had a different producer and wanted to try a different way of laying down these tracks, and I think that’s what affected how the album came out. I don’t think it’s radical changes, it’s more honed in and focused.”
Perhaps the reason for Deer Tick’s departure from its usual norms had to do with a variety of strife the band and frontman McCauley faced leading up to making the record. He broke up with his fiance, delved deep into the world of drugs, and his father, who was the deputy speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, was convicted of tax fraud and is currently serving a 27-month prison sentence. The album, in the band’s eyes, tells a story of healing and redemption.
“There’s a song on the album called ‘Mr. Sicks’ which is a good representation of solid songwriting and performance, and is something different,” explained O’Neil about the track that alludes to John’s father’s woes. “It’s got some weirder instrumentation, like with saxophones, which is a new thing for us.”
Overall, music critics and Deer Tick’s fan-base are embracing their new direction. “People are reacting really positively,” explained O’Neil. “At our live shows, we can get away with playing quite a bit of new music. We end up playing almost two hours every night, and you have to trust your audience to be smart and interested in the new stuff.”
Deer Tick performs at the Belly Up Tavern on Sunday, Oct. 27. Doors open at 8 p.m., the show is at 9 p.m. Deer Tick’s album “Negativity” is available now.