Call it the rock equivalent of cramming for final exams. When most people were leaving their offices for holiday vacations last Friday afternoon, Deer Tick was holed up in a Providence, R.I. practice space, perfecting 57 covers for a string of New Year’s shows at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl.
After hours of rehearsal, singer John McCauley had lost his voice—so EW turned to guitarist Ian Patrick O’Neil for intel about the shows, which will feature covers of entire albums by the Beatles (Meet the Beatles), Lou Reed (Transformer), Elvis Costello (My Aim Is True), Devo (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!), and NRBQ (Tiddlywinks). Despite the long, holiday-sacrificing hours, O’Neil guaranteed the band’s urge “to keep up the celebratory spirit, have a good time, and entertain.”
EW: How’d Deer Tick get the idea to put on these shows?
Ian Patrick O’Neil: It started with Brooklyn Bowl. They came to us with the idea of having us play a full week, which is a longer residency than we’re accustomed to doing. We had to come up with ideas so people would want to see us for that many nights in a row.
We had the idea of the first night, doing our first record and the debut record of another artist. And then the second night and so on—but that got too complicated. Then we decided to make each night special by doing these albums.
Will you still be doing Deer Tick songs, too?
Yeah! For example, we’ll do all of Transformer, take a short break, and then close the night with a modified Deer Tick set.
How did you choose the albums for the shows?
We tossed around which ones we could pull off and then which ones would be interesting. John wanted to do Devo because he grew up loving that record. We thought it’d be tough to pull off because it isn’t in our wheelhouse, but it’s been so fun. Lou Reed’s Transformer—in our van it’s all Lou Reed all the time. These shows are a showcase for our fans and they’ll trace our lineage. Meet the Beatles directly influenced all of us and all of pop songwriting. I grew up with that record. There’s something about those songs that’s so direct. It seemed like an appropriate choice.
When our band comes up with an idea, we stick to it really quickly. Even if it might not be feasible, we’re stubborn. Meet the Beatles came up, and no matter how hard the harmonies were we decided we’d do it. People will be familiar with it and sing along. They’ll at least know some Beatles songs before we play Deer Tick songs.
Did any of these albums have aspects that were particularly tough to nail?
There’s a bunch of examples. Devo has endless keyboards and the songs are in weird time signatures—it’s like they were being weird for the sake of being weird. That took some time.
I’m singing the Lou Reed album and his phrasing is so specific to him that if you’re not used to writing songs in that way, then covering that album can change the whole way you sing. Learning Lou Reed and his way of being confident on stage expanded my idea of what you can do with singing. He seems so simple and deadpan, but it’s more complicated than that.
With the Beatles, listening to that album and breaking it down you realize they grew a lot. No offense to George Harrison, but he had some pretty dismal guitar parts.
Tell me about what the special guests—Jana Hunter, Robert Ellis, Joe Fletcher, The Districts, The Weeks, T Hardy Morris—will contribute.
They’re all really close friends we’ve amassed over the years. We need their help in a lot of ways and they’re going to make the week a lot more special. On top of that we have some more special, secret guests coming. The whole week will be pulling people up on stage to help us. It makes the whole thing more special—we’re going through our whole career of friends in a week.
The band’s been around for 10 years. What have you got planned for the next 10?
We can’t wait to play these shows because learning these songs has been pretty laborious. We started rehearsing NRBQ and Elvis a few months ago. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of buildup—we’re ready to get it over with and enjoy the week.
Next year we’ll start working on new music. We’ve been chipping away at it. We’re pretty exhausted and just learned 70 new songs, so we’ll probably be doing fewer covers. John’s having a kid, so we’re taking a bit of a break from touring. But we’ve got some interesting ideas for the form of the next record and we’re not sure exactly where it’ll go.