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A conversation with Ian Patrick O’neil of Deer Tick

 By Hannah Norwood

September 19, 2017

Deer Tick, a band known for its youthful energy and classic Nirvana cover sets, has been releasing music since their 2007 debut album, War Elephant. After a four-year hiatus since their last album Negativity, the band has reunited to produce not just one, but two new albums titled Volumes 1 & 2, each encompassing a different part of the band’s unique sound. Both showcase the same album artwork while one is framed in red and the other yellow. Deer Tick has set forth dueling sounds of acoustic folk versus a more plugged in rock, just like the ketchup and mustard seen on the album covers, both styles go great with a burger.

We had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Ian Patrick O’Neil, the guitarist and vocalist about their latest releases and the “Twice is Nice” tour in progress. 

Ian Patrick O’neil of Deer Tick via digitaltrends.com

CLTure: What first brought you into the music industry and, specifically, what are your own personal musical influences?

Ian Patrick O’Neil: I guess came into the music industry professionally through my friend’s band Titus Andronicus and I joined them back in like 2007. But I’ve been playing music throughout my local Western Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, touring up and down the East Coast throughout high school. I guess my musical influences are, I dunno, most of the songwriting greats like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, and more recently like Billy Joel.

CLTure: Yeah I definitely got a Billy Joel vibe from some of the harmonica in the recent album.

Ian: There ya go!  I mean, I don’t know if it was an influence prior to that, but it can be fun to like some of that stuff ya know.

Deer Tick Vol. 1 and 2

CLTure: Totally. So, your new release features two different albums and they really showcase very distinct performance styles. I was wondering if, as a band member, do you consider there to be a fluidity between the two styles, or is it like you’re almost a part of two different bands that happen to have the same members?

Ian: No, yeah, that’s a good question. Actually, I think that if all the songs were played just on acoustic guitar they could all be in the same– most of them could be on the same record. We just kind of, well, some of them lend themselves to more volume than the other ones do. But I think that the through-line would just be the songwriting sensibility, ya know what I mean. I think that’s kind of what links it, I mean also maybe because it is the same people. I think it would be impossible to actually be successful as two different band with the same members.

CLTure: Do you have a personal favorite between the two albums or playing styles?

Ian: I mean it changes… When we finished Volume 1, which is the red one (the quiet one), I was just like surely this is the better one, and then after listening back to it for a couple months, I was like now Volume 2 is like is so much fun to listen to! It just kind of ping pongs back and forth, which I guess is the whole purpose for making two records to begin with ya know.

CLTure: So you’d say it just depends on your mood maybe?

Ian: Yeah yeah, its perfect. That’s what I’m saying, I’m describing why we made two records because we couldn’t decide which one we liked more.

CLTure: I know that McCauley wrote most of the tunes alone, however there’s one song written by yourself on each of the album, “Hope is Big” and “Look How Clean I Am,” respectively. What went into the process of writing those two songs?

Ian: “Hope is Big,” I did.. I think I wrote that when I was like 18 years old and so it’s kinda just been in and out of Deer Tick’s live sets for a long time. It was recorded for Divine Providence in 2011, but we could never find the right arrangement. So we eventually decided as a progression to just strip it completely back and we found it to be successful for this album. As far as the writing process goes I was so young and so new to songwriting it was just a kind of stream of consciousness with some vague ideas of loss and gain and things like that.

“Look How Clean I Am” was also serendipitously a quick-write that probably took the time it takes to sing the song, just because inspiration hit about subject matter pretty quickly while I was taking a shower.

CLTure: That’s really the best place to find inspiration.

Ian: I think so.

CLTure: Could you tell me a little bit more about the artwork in the music videos released so far? It’s so interesting the collage/stop motion style.

Ian: Oh yeah! So this guy’s name, he goes by Scorpion Dagger. We were kind of trying to figure out how we wanted to get into some more animation stuff… not just feature the lyrics or whatever. He sent us some samples of these basically animated GIFs he was making that go in a loop and they were hilarious. It was amazing to see us in a picture form, we were enthralled by it. You should look him up though! He goes by Scorpion Dagger and he’s really great.

CLTure: He sounds like an awesome guy! Now what about the artwork on the album covers themselves, what’s up with the condiments?

Ian: OK, so that’s been an idea for a while. Basically John (McCauley) said, “I want ketchup. I want a mustard bottle. I want our names on it and I want it to be an oil painting.” He wanted a painting of that idea. In a year’s time we fleshed out what it would be like, then we had this guy Joe Ongie paint it for us, and he did it exactly how we wanted it done.

L to R: Ian O’neil, Dennis Ryan, John McCauley, and Chris Ryan. Photo: Laura Partain

CLTure: Cool, so it’s actually a real oil painting then?

Ian: Sure is. It exists! He even signed it so it’s a little more obvious it’s real.

CLTure: What have you been doing in the meantime since the last release? I know it’s been a few years.

Ian: I’ve been recording solo material, and I have another band Happiness that I record material with. We’re just kind of figuring out how to finish that and everyone in the band is now married. Two of us got married over the past six months so we were in a period of collecting our home lives together so we’d be emotionally equipped to go back on tour. You know everyone’s just in a good spot to throw ourselves into these tours and our music. That’s basically all I can say, I’ve just been a Rhode Island resident and enjoying my life!

Check out the remaining Deer Tick tour dates.

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