Q&A: Deer Tick guitarist Ian O’Neil on ‘Negativity,’ maybe playing as The Deerplacements

Deer Tick plays Slowdown at 9 p.m. Friday. Robert Ellis opens. Get tickets, $15 in advance or $17 day of show, at Etix.com.

Deer Tick plays Slowdown at 9 p.m. Friday. Robert Ellis opens. Get tickets, $15 in advance or $17 day of show, at Etix.com.

One of Deer Tick’s most loved songs is “Let’s All Go to the Bar,” so maybe it’s no surprise that the last time the band came to town, it caused a ruckus. Lead singer John McCauley admitted to drinking too much tequila, downing a few shots of liquor while onstage and accidentally busting a pint glass all over the floor.

The rowdy Rhode Island rockers have since toned down the shenanigans, and the group’s latest album, “Negativity,” has more tunes about heavy personal stuff than getting drunk at the bar. McCauley and the band wrote songs about breaking up, having a father in prison and having a hard time making it in the music biz.

“Negativity” also expands beyond careening bar rock into country rock, pop acoustic and ’50s slow dance songs.

We spoke to guitarist Ian O’Neil, who wrote the album’s standout track, “The Dream’s in the Ditch,” before the band came to Omaha.

Kevin Coffey: “Divine Providence” was a rocking record and the tour was a crazy, rocking tour. How much did all of that fuel “Negativity”?

Ian O’Neil: We were being young and partying and having a good time and being a rock ’n’ roll band. We obviously didn’t want to repeat the same exact thing for the new album. I think that lifestyle wears on you after awhile, so I think it’s time to move on and grow up a little bit. Which isn’t to say we’re not rocking and still having a show that could end up with some pretty spontaneous (stuff) happening.

People might think that we do crazy (stuff) onstage because of alcohol, but that’s just because of our personalities and sense of humor. We’re sober for most shows.

KC: Does it bother you that you have a hard-partying image?

IO: The interview questions about it are kind of annoying. It wasn’t really that interesting. As an interviewer you’d ask what you’d expect to get an answer from. It was just exhausting.

Anybody who tours all the time like we did on “Divine Providence,” if they’re honest about it, they’re generally running themselves into the ground the same way that we were.

KC: The lyrics on “Negativity” relate to personal events for the band.

IO: Because of the lifestyle and because of some of the (stuff) that certain people, especially John, went through, we were writing reflectively. Then we realized after we wrote the record, there was a lot of terrible (stuff) that happened to us over the last two years while we were touring.

It is definitely the most personal record we’ve made. That isn’t to say there aren’t universal themes as well.

KC: You wrote “The Dream’s in the Ditch.” How did you write that song?

IO: It’s kind of a pretty general theme that most people start their adolescence dreaming about what they can do. For a lot of people, especially in America, those dreams fall through and you end up settling for whatever you can get. Luckily, that’s not the case with us or people in this band.

But after a certain period of time of touring and just being exhausted and not feeling like we were getting anywhere new, it kind of started to feel that way for a little while. That song came from that personal, direct experience.

KC: The song also talks about how even if you achieve your dream, it’s not as perfect as you thought it would be.

IO: Of course. Absolutely. The second verse was kind of written about those of us in the band and our friends who have gone through similar experiences with being songwriters and creators.

KC: Deer Tick goes in different genre directions including punk, folk and garage rock, and a lot of that comes from your guitar sound. When you guys are writing, how do you know what direction to push the song?

IO: That’s interesting. Usually, I’ll write the guitar parts for something someone else writes, and if I’m writing the song, I like to leave it up to John to write the guitar parts. “The Curtain,” John showed me a demo of that song and it wasn’t all that different than it is now, but there are a lot of little licks and hooks and stuff like that on the guitar that I felt I could lend myself to. We can both agree on where the song should head almost all the time.

KC: What was it like to work with Steve Berlin, who is an accomplished producer?

IO: It was cool. It was kind of sneaky in the fact that he was pulling out these ideas that were turning our songs into much better songs and much better sounding songs, but the whole time you felt like you were tossing around ideas with a friend of yours.

He definitely knows how to get his way without making it seem that way. I miss the guy. He’s a great dude.

KC: He’s done it so long that it seems effortless.

IO: It’s a breeze for him. I’m sure it’s up in his head, but he definitely knew how to make the songs a little different than we wanted them to be initially.

KC: You guys have performed Nirvana covers as Deervana. Is there another band you’d do that for?

IO: AC/DT. The Deerplacements. We’ve considered a lot, but we’re too busy peddling our own music these days to worry about it.

On tour, we’ve been doing some new covers. We’ve done some Lou Reed songs. Some NRBQ songs.



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