Rugged folk rockers Deer Tick, from Providence, Rhode Island, are productive songwriters—they’ve released five original albums in less than a decade—but they really love covers.
The band's sets as Nirvana tribute act Deervana, for example, have been fan favorites. As such, it makes sense that their 10th-anniversary residency at Brooklyn Bowl (December 26–31; tickets here) will see John McCauley and company play classic albums like Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True and Devo's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! in their entirety, along with original songs.
In advance of the band's six-night run, McCauley talked with us about his time living in the City, his strange shopping ambition and his favorite NYC albums of all time.
Are you excited for the Brooklyn Bowl shows? Yeah, yeah…why not?
That's a resounding endorsement. No, it's going to be great. I'm just not excited about learning all these Devo songs, because they're complicated. For me, at least. Every other album was pretty easy to learn.
Because you guys are doing this run of cover shows, we thought it would be fun to talk about your favorite New York City albums. Do you have any in mind? Sure, I can think of a couple. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, L.A.M.F. That was one of the first New York punk records I ever got into. It transports me back to being a teenager and wishing I lived in New York—thinking that I'd hit the big time, or at least be a bar-back at CBGB, if I could just move to New York.
When you finally did see New York City for yourself, what was it like? I was still young, but I didn't have a hard time finding a bar that would serve me [laughs]. There was music everywhere—at least in Brooklyn, which I thought was kind of weird at first. I guess my idea of New York was just Manhattan, before I'd actually gone there. I remember one time putting on MySpace that we were playing a gig at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn—and for the city, I put “New York, NY.” And somebody was like, that's “Brooklyn, NY.”
What's another favorite New York City album for you? Patti Smith's Horses. As a young man, Patti Smith was one of the first female artists that I could connect to. I'm just in love with Patti Smith, and always have been. Horses conjures up a lot of imagery in my head. After I read Just Kids [Smith's memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe], I started listening to that record again—it's like I'm in her apartment.
Have you been able to catch one of Patti Smith's famous New York City shows around New Year's? I did! I got to go a couple of years ago. It was awesome. I think it was when she turned 65. She was rolling around on the stage with the microphone at 65 years old, and I was just blown away.
Do you think you'll be able to rock that hard in your AARP years? No, I think I'll be sitting down [laughs].
You'll be playing Lou Reed's Transformer. Does that make your list? For these shows, we wanted to do popular records; stuff that everybody knows. But my favorite Lou record is The Blue Mask. I would love to do that one. The words on that record—the way he talks about addiction is really powerful. And Robert Quine's guitar is really cool. I mean, I love Transformer, too. It's been a while since I've spent much time with that record, but it's really good.
Want to keep going? What's another one of your favorite NYC albums? I have an idea. I'm going to go look at my records right now. Let me see if I can find something.
This is what it's all about. Do you have them organized alphabetically? I just moved not too long ago, and when I packed everything up, it did not go in alphabetically whatsoever. So now it's all messed up. Actually, you know who's from Brooklyn? That instrumental duo, the two brothers, Santo and Johnny. They're a guitar and lap steel duo. Their biggest song is “Sleep Walk,” which I think if you heard, you'd recognize it. It was in that 1987 La Bamba movie, but the song is from 1959. Their father heard the lap steel while stationed [in Texas and Oklahoma] during World War II and wanted his sons back in Brooklyn to learn to play.
Moving past the albums, what's a place you like in New York City? The Evolution Store [in SoHo]. You can buy a human skull there.
An actual human skull? Yeah, the real deal.
That's actually kind of messed up. They have a bunch of crazy [merchandise] in there. Anyone interested in science stuff and/or morbid stuff should check out that place.
Have you bought anything there? No—but once I have enough money to set aside, I think I will buy myself a skull. And I'll put it on top of my piano, just like Dr. John does. [Editor's note: We suspect that “I need a decoration for my piano” won't meet the store's requirements to permit the sale of a real human skull, but nothing can stop McCauley from purchasing a replica.]
On that note, is there anywhere in the neighborhood you like to eat or drink? D.O.C. Wine Bar in Williamsburg is great. It has Sardinian food and a great wine selection.
Even though you're from Providence and live in Nashville now, you were in New York City for a bit. Where did you live? In SoHo.
How did you like it? We were right on the border of Chinatown. SoHo is kind of like a mall, but Chinatown is the [bomb]. I was pretty happy to just be a few blocks away from being able to buy durian.
That is a good perk. If you don't mind the smell of durian; it does smell really bad.
But you yourself are a fan. Yeah, I like it a lot.