“Sorry, I’m chewing on a carrot—what was that?” So starts our latest interview with John McCauley, who has fronted his alt-indie group, Deer Tick, for about a decade and a half. From his home in Nashville, McCauley discusses Deer Tick’s latest release, Mayonnaise, a companion to 2017’s dual albums, Deer Tick Vol 1 and 2. The third installment of the series is a compilation of alternate takes, covers and new tunes—not quite a full new effort, but certainly something worth the time of Deer Tick’s fans.
McCauley also speaks on his band’s yearly after-parties during Newport Folk Festival in their home state of Rhode Island, when they welcome a number of planned and unplanned guests, plus his relationship with Dave Grohl (which includes covering Nirvana tunes with the drummer/Foo Fighters frontman) and why Deer Tick—while older, wiser and maybe less destructive—certainly haven’t lost their sense of humor.
I’ll have to apologize in advance for this question, because it’s not one I usually like to ask, but just under the circumstances—why is it called Mayonnaise?
It’s kind of an extension of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, in a way. So it’s kind of the next logical step with the artwork, you know? I’m not gonna go there, because we vowed never to say the K- or M-word while talking about Vol. 1 or 2.
Was that a decision the band came to together?
Yes. And it really frustrated our label and management, which is mostly why we did it. [Laughs.]
Yeah, exactly—that’s the goal, right?
Yeah. Frustrating people that care for you and look after you. [Laughs.]
So was the plan always to do this trilogy of albums, or was Mayonnaise more of a coda after the first two?
We joke about just releasing condiment-themed records for the rest of our career. We’d probably get into some pretty weird ones after a few—relish. No, I guess originally we were going to do an all-covers record and call it Mayonnaise. But it’s been done by so many bands, so I thought we could make it a compilation of some unused stuff from Vol 1 and 2. We have a few alternate versions on there. (The record actually ends with “Too Sensitive For This World”—there are two at the end that are supposed to be bonus tracks, but I don’t think our label ever made that clear enough. I think it would make much more sense if you stopped after “Too Sensitive.”) But we thought we’d mix it up. We’d record some covers, ones that we had been doing on that tour. Record a couple of new songs, you know, a little bit of everything.
And the new songs, were those part of the sessions for the two volumes, or were they newly recorded?
The song “Old Lady” was recorded with Vol. 1 and 2. Everything else was done in Nashville with Adam at his studio—Adam Landry, who we’ve done a lot of records with…
*Hold on one second—I have a problem with my daughter here. She won’t take a nap. [Laughs.] She’s making grunting noises because she doesn’t want to wear her socks.*
Yeah, I mean, I guess if people still bought records, some may see this as a cash grab. But since that’s not a factor, we just thought it would be a fun thing to put out. There’s not a whole lot of thought put into it—it’s stuff for our fans to dig into.
Were any of the tracks you included in this album inspired by some of the new ways you were playing the songs on the stage?
The two alternate versions that appear in the record, “End of the World” and “Limp Right Back,” those are probably the most drastically different versions, as far as instrumentation goes. The covers—I mean, my way of picking covers for us to do is usually, “I have a song in my head I need to go play it 100 times with you guys so I can move on with my life.” With “Pale Blue Eyes,” we had been doing that one for a while, and that’s the version we’d come up with on our acoustic tour a few years ago. So there’s some slightly odd instrumentation on there—like, bouzouki and electric mandolin and stuff like that. And the new songs, those were some riffs and whatnot that we had worked on before recording Vol. 1 and 2 were just left unfinished, so we turned them into songs.
Had you played those live on the tour?
I think we started playing them last summer, once we finished recording them. They were pretty brand new when we recorded them.
After presenting the sort of dichotomy of Deer Tick with an acoustic record and an electric record, and then translating that with the tour, do you think you’ll continue that with upcoming tours?
I mean it’s definitely more convenient to just travel with electric guitars. We do the bulk of our stuff electric, but we always take a few acoustic instruments with us too and throw in a little acoustic section in the middle. That seems to work well for us, so that’s what we’re going for. I think maybe a 90-minute/two-hour set every night and just doing everything we can in that time without taking an intermission. Twice as nice tour. I think it will be less focussed on strictly acoustic material. But yeah, all our toys will be there with us, and we’ll see that we get around to using all of them.
How much preparation and planning does the band usually go through before tours?
Usually it’s all talk through email and stuff. We pitch each other ideas about what we want to do for a backdrop, how we want to approach the set, what instruments we are bringing, is there a dress code… And our tour manager, Tuyet [Nguyen], helps a great deal with that. She can kind of see the big picture when I come up with an idea like “I want it to look like a living room. I want furniture.”
So is there going to be a dress code on this upcoming tour?
It’s pretty loose. I think it’s more of a color scheme.
You guys aren’t going to all wear white for Mayonnaise or anything like that are you?
Not completely white, no. Definitely not—those clothes would get dirty too quick. [Laughs.]