Deer Tick, Dylan McCartney & Dakota Carlyle (of The Drin)
Fri September 6, 2024 8:00 pm (Doors: 7:00 pm )
The Southgate House Revival - Sanctuary
Ages 18 and Up
$30 adv/$35 dos
Deer Tick
Emotional Contracts, the latest full-length album from Deer Tick, catalogs all the existential casualties that
accompany the passing of time, instilling each song with the irresistibly reckless spirit that’s defined the
band for nearly two decades. Before heading into the studio with producer Dave Fridmann (The Flaming
Lips, Spoon, Sleater-Kinney), the Providence-bred four-piece spent months working on demos in a
perpetually flooded warehouse space in their hometown, enduring the busted heating system and
massive holes in the roof as they carved out the album’s 10 raggedly eloquent tracks. Emotional
Contracts fully echoes the unruly energy of its creation, ultimately making for a heavy-hearted yet wildly
life-affirming portrait of growing older without losing heart.
Deer Tick’s first new body of work since 2017’s simultaneously released Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Deer Tick
Vol. 2, Emotional Contracts is their most collaborative to date, and sees all four members operating at
their peak songcraft powers. The album came to life over an unusually lengthy period of time for the
band, with each track based in playing around together and connected in the almost telepathic way that’s
only possible after nearly 20 years. Well-rehearsed and overly prepared, Deer Tick embraced a decidedly
more free-and-easy approach to the recording process at Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in Western
New York. “We’ve had a habit of trying to maintain a strict control over everything in the studio, but this
time we wanted to see what it would feel like to let go a bit,” says singer/guitarist John McCauley, whose
bandmates include guitarist Ian O’Neil, drummer Dennis Ryan, and bassist Christopher Ryan. “We figured
that the songs were strong enough to stand on their own two feet, so whatever we put them through
would just make them stronger and take us in some new directions.” Dennis adds, “The fact that we’d
spent so much time with these songs allowed us to be really free once we got into the studio. No one was
overthinking anything, and because of that the album sounds like us in a way that we’d never captured to
this extent before.” Featuring guest musicians like Steve Berlin of Los Lobos–and background vocals
from singer/songwriters like Courtney Marie Andrews, Vanessa Carlton (who is also McCauley’s wife),
Kam Franklin, Angela Miller, and Sheree Smith–Deer Tick’s ATO Records debut adds an even greater
vitality to their feverish collection of timeless rock-and-roll.
Mostly recorded live–and honed down from nearly 20 songs to a concise, thoughtfully curated ten–
Emotional Contracts brings its combustible but sharply crafted sound to an often-pensive look inward. “A
lot of these songs are about standing at a certain point in your life and reflecting on what’s transpired so
far, reckoning with the past but looking ahead with a pragmatic hope for the future,” says Chris. Opening
on a blistering burst of guitar, Emotional Contracts begins that reflection with “If I Try To Leave”–the first-
ever co-write between McCauley and O’Neil. “Most of us have families now, and that song came from
imagining how lost and aimless I’d feel if I just walked away from everything,” says McCauley. “It’s about
how much I need that grounding force of family in my life.” “If I Try To Leave,” partly inspired by the
warmth and grit of Keith Richards’s solo records, builds a sublimely bombastic backdrop to the song’s
lucid self-revelation (“Some animals survive/But I only play dead/If I were to leave/From my own
beloved”), and illuminates Deer Tick’s undeniable gift for twisting melancholy into something glorious.
Next, on “Forgiving Ties,” O’Neil takes the lead for an anguished yet exuberant track that finds McCauley
chiming in to play the part of his jittery inner voice–lending another layer of lived-in pathos to the song’s
punchy introspection (“All of my confidence/It had a warrant/Knocked on the door/And split open my
mind”). “As you get older, you end up having to come to terms with traumas from your past while also
dealing with the weight of certain responsibilities that you maybe didn’t have when you were younger,”
says O’Neil. “That’s especially true of raising a family, but it also applies to how this band has become
more and more precious to us the longer it goes on.” Featuring the spirited trumpet work of Fridmann’s
son Jon (who also played flute, French horn, glockenspiel, marimba, and trombone across various
songs), “Forgiving Ties” bounces along on a brightly frenetic cascade of rhythms achieved through a mid-
session free-for-all. “We had a little party where we all went crazy with a bunch of different percussion
items, like cowbell and a whole other litany of things,” O’Neil recalls. “It’s a dance song that’s completely
authentic to who we are as a band,” adds Dennis.
As revealed throughout Emotional Contracts, that unbridled authenticity stems from Deer Tick’s staying
faithful to their instincts while tapping into the ineffable power of their easy camaraderie. On “Once In A
Lifetime,” the band shares a gorgeously sprawling and soul-soothing track born from a spontaneously
composed accordion part brought in by McCauley. “I recorded a voice memo of me fooling around with
this accordion the very first day I bought it years ago, combined that with another riff, and then we all
made a jam out of it,” he says. “It turned into a song about how when you see an opportunity you need to
take it, because time is always running out.” Meanwhile, on “Running From Love,” Deer Tick deliver a
sweetly confessional, ’70s-R&B-inspired slow-burner that first came to Dennis in a dream. “I dreamed that
the band was performing at Roger Williams Park in Providence and we were all singing this song a
cappella, with the whole crowd singing along,” he says. “I woke up and sang it into my phone while I was
rocking the baby, and then brought it to the band later on. It’s funny because at first I didn’t really take the
song seriously, but with the help of my friends we ended up bringing it to life.”
After the one-two punch of “My Ship” (a lovely reverie co-written by McCauley and The Rugburns’ Steve
Poltz) and “A Light Can Go Out In The Heart” (a particularly wistful track from O’Neil), Emotional
Contracts closes out with the all-enveloping catharsis of “The Real Thing.” Another product of their
deliberately free-flowing process, the nine-minute-long epic emerged from a jam at their rain-battered
rehearsal space. “At first I had an idea for a song called ‘The Last Book on the Shelf,’ which I ended up
using as a title for a song about all the creepy book-banning happening lately,” McCauley notes. “‘The
Real Thing’ became about living with depression, which has been part of my existence since I was a kid,
and how it takes even more work to keep your head above water as you get older.” As the song drifts
from brooding urgency to dreamlike grandeur, Deer Tick intensify its captivating impact with an ever-
shifting tapestry of sonic details (moody strings, reverbed snare, lush flute melodies, intermittently muted
vocals). “Dave had me go through that song about five times and create different types of feedback for an
hour straight,” O’Neil points out. “It’s a good example of how great he is at piecing together different
elements and keeping even a very long song like that exciting all the way through. When I look back on
our other records I can remember some incredibly frustrating moments where you’re working on a solo for
six hours or something, but there really was nothing frustrating about making this album.”
Founded by McCauley in 2004, with the lineup solidified in 2009, Deer Tick partly attribute their
unfaltering chemistry to a shared sense of humor. To that end, the album takes its title from an inside joke
regarding potential aliases for the band. “We were saying that if we had to play a secret show under a
fake name, we could be The Hitmen and dress in pinstripe suits like Prohibition-era gangsters. Then we
decided, ‘Let’s just release an album as The Hitmen—we’ll call it Emotional Contracts, like contract-killing
on an emotional level,” says McCauley. “But the title connects here with each song somehow–every song
is about a deal you’ve made with yourself at some level.” But as a phenomenally rowdy live act who once
averaged 250 shows a year, Deer Tick mainly credit their deep-rooted connection to a mutual love for the
unpredictability of the musical impulse. “I feel very lucky that we all ran into each other at some point
pretty early on in our lives,” says McCauley. “From the start, I just wanted to find other musicians that
would somehow all stick together, which definitely isn’t easy. But we all have a real fascination with
music, and that desire to never limit ourselves or repeat ourselves is something that we all very much
continue to share.
Dylan McCartney & Dakota Carlyle (of The Drin)