WRITER OF THE WEEK: Deer Tick

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Videos by American Songwriter

Deer Tick is Andy Tobiassen, Dennis Ryan, Chris Ryan and principal songwriter John J. McCauley III. After the release of the critically acclaimed debut War Elephant in 2007, and subsequent reissue by Partisan records, Rhode Island native John McCauley and crew are back with Born On Flag Day.  He was kind enough to answer some questions for us about songwriting, his influences and co-writing.

Deer Tick is Andy Tobiassen, Dennis Ryan, Chris Ryan and principal songwriter John J. McCauley III. After the release of the critically acclaimed debut War Elephant in 2007, and subsequent reissue by Partisan records, Rhode Island native John McCauley and crew are back with Born On Flag Day.  He was kind enough to answer some questions for us about songwriting, his influences and co-writing.

Your bio talks about you listening to all the Hank, Sr. recordings you could get your hands on, what drew you to Hank Williams, Sr.?
I’d never heard anything so simple and powerful at the same time. I think I discovered Hank at the perfect time of my life.

Are there any other songwriters you’ve had similar experiences with, i.e. just picking up as much of their music as you can find and studying it?
A bit with Townes Van Zandt and John Prine. But nothing as intense as that period of time discovering Hank.


When did start writing your own songs? What did they sound like?

I started writing things that I believed could be songs when I was 11 or so. I couldn’t play music for awhile though, so I had notebooks of lyrics of whatever an 11 and 12 year old can come up with. Over the years I wrote punk songs, metal songs, then ended up in a band that sounded like Sonic Youth, and then Deer Tick happened.

How do you record your demos? Do you have a process for weeding out songs before you take them into the studio with the band?
I usually don’t record demos. If I do, I just sing and play into one mic. I don’t write a lot of songs, so if I actually finish something, it is usually good enough to start playing with the band immediately.

Do you co-write?
I’ve done it a handful of times with my friends Liz Isenberg (a singer/songwriter from Providence) and Nikki Kvarnes (singer/songwriter from Those Darlins). Liz and I wrote a duet that’s on Born On Flag Day, and Nikki and I are planning on making a record at some point.

Tell us how the writing of Born On Flag Day was different than War Elephant? And how pulling the band together around your songs was different?
A handful of Flag Day songs were left over from War Elephant. The rest of them I wrote on the road in 2007 and 2008. I didn’t write differently. I just waited until a song would come to me, like always. It was fun to record Flag Day. Recording with a band is something I’ve had little experience with. It was a lot more exciting than sitting there multi-tracking instruments for weeks.


Name your favorite movies of the recent past. Favorite books?

The Weather Man, Tropic Thunder, Milk, The Wrestler. I just read You Can’t Win by Jack Black, not the comedian, and that was a great book. I mostly read true crime and autobiographies. The Westies by T.J. English is a great book about the Irish mob in Hell’s Kitchen.

To hear some of their music, check out their American Songspace Profile here!

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