It's noon on a Monday and John Joseph McCaully III, riding in a bus somewhere between Colorado and Washington says, "We're basically trying not to die."
The tour bus carrying the 24-year-old McCaully and the rest of his band, Deer Tick, has some sort of exhaust leak, or so says McCaully, who seems hardly worried about any real harm, or so it seems, given that they continue to drive. For a guy who's been on tour almost continuously for the past five years, vehicular malfunctions like this are probably old hat. The fact that his Americana-tinged rock band's latest record, Born on Flag Day, has escalated the Providence, R.I. quartet into the national media and onto many a summer festival stages, might also be a reason he's not too worried. Things seem to be going his way, so who cares about a little exhaust inhalation?
It's been a good year, to put it mildly, for Deer Tick. The often-mustachioed McCaully and company were called the number-one act spotted by Rolling Stone at South By Southwest, Born on Flag Day earned strong reviews and sales and then the band was showcased as the first interview on BriTunes, the seemingly odd Internet television show hosted by NBC News anchor Brian Williams. Perhaps even stranger was Williams' genuine love for the band of twenty-something rockers.
A year ago, Deer Tick was booked to play a run of McMenamins venues across the Northwest, which brings them to Bend on September 23 - and if there was ever an indicator of how quickly the buzz surrounding this band has escalated, that might be it. They were merely a hard-touring (as in pretty much year round) rock band without a major release when the tour was booked, but now they're one of the most talked about indie rock bands in the country and have played (or will play) festivals like Newport Folk, Monolith and Austin City Limits. But McCaully doesn't mind the fact that they're playing smaller venues on this tour.
"A lot of the small towns are really cool, it feels like you're rocking an arena, but you're on the floor with everybody," he says. "I like there being very little separation between the band and the crowd."
McCaully was originally the entirety of Deer Tick, recording all of 2007's War Elephant on his own and then touring the country, backed only by drummer Dennis Michael Ryan. The current lineup soon followed, as did the recording of Born on Flag Day, a brawny 10-track record that displays McCaully's vision of a band rather than a project. Some critics and fans have tossed the band into the "freak folk" or "folk revival" categories of today's indie rock, but a Deer Tick live show proves that this is a rock act, no matter how Americana laced some of their recordings might seem. For example, on occasion, McCaully is known to rip out Nirvana's "Serve the Servants" at shows, a tribute to his earlier, harder-rocking days.
"I still claim Nirvana as one of my favorite bands, so I have a strong connection with that. Nirvana has served as a big influence," says McCaully, whose guitar of choice happens to be a Fender Jag-Stang.
Although Flag Day was released just this June, Deer Tick has already laid down its next effort, set to roll out this winter. McCaully views the forthcoming album as a further emergence out of the folk rock, singer-songwriter pigeonhole
"I definitely wanted to back away from some of the folkier country influences and try different things. I think we hit it pretty much right on with this record. It's more of a statement that we're a band and that we're here to stay, you're not going to pigeonhole us any longer," says McCaully, who describes parts of the album as having an almost Alice in Chains feel.
There isn't much Alice in Chains to be heard on the existing (and mostly incredible) Deer Tick tracks, so this will be a big change for a band that's seen some pretty big changes. That is, unless all of this discussion of a bigger, darker, louder Deer Tick is just the leaking exhaust talking.
7pm Wednesday, September 23. McMenamins Old St. Francis School. 700 NW Bond St. Free. All ages.