As a journalist, I’m hesitant to pass judgment as to whether or not a band is “about” something. Music is a beautiful, ineffable entity and to say that a piece of music is actively about one certain thing is more marginalizing than a motherfucker. But still. As a band, Deer Tick is pretty much a band about alcohol. Like, remember back in the day when The Replacements would have to play covers live because they were too wasted to remember how their own songs went? Deer Tick is on that same shit.
For a dude who drinks until he passes out every single day, John McCauley is a remarkably focused dude. In addition to being the lead singer and guitarist for Deer Tick, he’s also a solo performer and a member of the furschnickered supergroup Diamond Rugs, which he’s in with members of Black Lips, Los Lobos and Dead Confederate. As a speaker, he’s a shaggily poetic dude, rattling off sentences that are all pretty much about getting as fucked up as humanly possible.
Originally, McCauley and I had planned for this interview to take place in the form of a drinking game, but after we shotgunned our first beers we both threw up. He was still down to drink, so I’d label this interview a “free-form drinking activity.” We started by talking about his goatee.
VICE: Didn’t you have a mustache for a while?
John McCauley: I can’t do the mustache anymore. It’s too popular. So I was like, you know what, goatee is the fucking life.
It looks really grunge.
I mean, I think it’s kind of cool.
Tell me about your gold tooth.
That happened because of beer.
What do you mean?
Well, I guess I was too uncoordinated and too drunk to probably be drinking, but that’s when you usually do most of your drinking. And I smashed a beer bottle, chipped my tooth, got the crown and then I got nailed in the mouth with a microphone and it cracked the tooth underneath it even more and then I got a new crown.
This newest one’s temporary though, I’m waiting to get another platinum one, which I had before. It took my Mom some getting used to.
Let’s shotgun some beer.
(Shotgunning is kind of awesome unless you’re really hung over, which McCauley was, and so after we used the power of gravity to make beer go in our stomachs he threw up a bunch. I also threw up, but only a little.)
How are you feeling?
I guess I needed it. (coughs)
So are you guys like staying here too? This is like, a massive fucking thing.
(At this point, McCauley vomited again. It was sweet.)
Once I start, it’s hard to stop.
Yeah, I feel that.
My acid reflux is deep.
We don’t have to do that again.
I’m so fucking hung over.
What’d you do last night?
I found a bar that had all the ingredients for a proper Singapore Sling.
What is that?
That drink, my friend, is a Gin, Benedictine, cherry Brandy, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lemon juice, dash of bitters, dash of Grenadine, shaken, poured over ice, topped off with soda water.
That sounds really fucking good.
It’s absolutely delicious. I ordered many, many rounds of these. So did all of my friends.
I planned on taking it easy last night, but you know, I was pretty buzzed at rehearsal so I started slamming cocktails, which seemed like a better idea with each drink. Before you know it, I buy some cocaine--which is a great idea when you’re drunk--and then it was ten in the morning.
I had to be in the lobby of a hotel to get over to practice by noon. But hey, having my puke all out of me seems like it’s exactly what I needed.
I’m glad to have helped in facilitating that.
I’m feeling way better. I thought I needed a nap. Nope, I needed to vomit.
When you throw up, it shocks the shit out of your body.
It’s pretty nice. Except if you get really fucking torn up on rum. For some reason, a couple of summers ago, I was really into rum. I would drink like, a liter of white rum a day. It was gross. I don’t know why I liked it so much. But if I would feel sick the next morning (this is only when I drank rum) and I puked, it would make me feel worse. Dizzy and shit. I’d see spots. I would just keep puking all day, I couldn’t even hold down water. So, I don’t drink it anymore.
The thing that sets me off is always the last sip of a beer. You know when it’s kinda warm?
That’s gross. I’m not too precious with beer. I don’t feel required to drink every last drop. I have no allegiance to that last half-inch of beer.
It kinds of sucks the next day though when there’s like 40 fucking cans of beer with the last sip left. And you can’t throw them away, you have to go to the sink and clean them out.
Yeah or else they start growing mold and shit.
That’s the reason why flies show up. I have a lot of flies in my apartment right now because of that.
Yeah, I always forget about that shit though. I’m never in my bedroom unless I want to go to sleep, or I’m tired, so if I’m in there and I wake up, the first thing I want to do is go pee, instead of thinking about cleaning up those fucking beer cans, you know? So they just stay there for months.
From what I understand you started Deertick a while ago.
Yeah, 2004. December, 2004. We turn eight this year.
What’s the weirdest story you’ve ever had from being on the road and drinking?
We’ve destroyed a few hotel rooms during some pretty epic nights.
What does that feel like when you’re just fucking some shit up?
It feels great until you get the bill. There was one really funny night in Roanoke. Pretty fancy for a Holiday Inn. Anyway, it had all of these rooms above the pool and the windows opened all the way. We were on the fourth floor or something and we just started throwing all the appliances out the window and into the pool. And our manager was swimming in the pool.
This security guard comes out and is like, “Pool’s closed, wait, what’s all that shit?” as there’s a coffee maker floating behind him.
I was tripping balls. I just thought it was the best time. I put an aerosol can in the microwave until it exploded.
That’s a good trick.
I flooded the room. I was just sitting in the bathtub, chain smoking putting the cigarettes out in the water, letting the water run, and so it just overflows. I brought the TV into the bathroom with Braveheart turned up all the way, tripping balls.
The most incredible thing about this particular incident was that we didn’t get charged anything. I’m not sure if we paid for the hotels ourselves or if the festival we were playing for did, but we never had to pay for any of this shit. At other hotels I’ve had to pay a lot of money for this shit.
Hotels do not like it when you do fun things.
I just started looking at our expenses a little more closely and we’re getting charged for damages way more than I thought.
Who keeps track of the Deertick finances?
I mean, we’ve got a guy for that. A finance manager, a business manager. We take a look at everything though, we always know what’s going on.
So obviously, a lot of Deer Tick songs deal with drinking and you just shotgunned a beer and threw up. Do you feel like there’s almost this weird pressure to live up to this image that might not be accurate, or do you just do what you do?
I drink a lot. I don’t really feel pressure. My thing on stage is my thing. I pound beers. I spray the crowd with beers.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in a band?
I almost went to trade school for violin making and repair. I built my own guitar when I was seventeen and that got me curious about that kind of stuff. I applied to North Bennet Street School in Boston but I didn’t get in.
I was a projectionist for a while.
When did Deer Tick become ‘a thing,’ in your opinion? You have a cult of personality of sorts surrounding you. What’s that like?
I think maybe, around 2008, 2009 was when I could really feel our fan base building. By that point I hadn’t had a real job in two years.
Some of our fans are just fucking crazy and annoying. There are a lot of ‘em, but a lot of ‘em are total fuck-ups but I don’t think any of them are really as fucked up as they seem. I think when they come to our shows they’re kinda down on their weekend warrior thing--they’re getting loaded all fucking day before they come to our shows. Then they make a fool of themselves. I mean, all of us have had a drink since we wake up until we pass out day. I guess that happens just about everyday, but we don’t get too hammered too quickly.
No offense but I feel like that might be your band’s fault.
Oh yeah dude, we definitely don’t discourage that kind of stuff. I mean, come on, at least half of all photographic evidence of my existence involves me holding a beer. I love beer.
Beer’s really good.
I like simple, cold, yellow beer. Budweiser.
I think one of the weirder shows that we played was in…I want to say, Spring Hill, Tennessee. I’m not sure if Spring Hill, Tennessee is a place but that’s just what’s in my head. Some town in Tennessee maybe a half-hour outside of Nashville. We played with JEFF The Brotherhood before they were JEFF The Brotherhood. They were just JEFF then.
The night ended with the mayor of that town personally shutting the show down. The guy that owned the bar where we were playing ended up coming out with a shotgun and blasting some shots off in the air and scared the shit out of everybody.
Have you ever been arrested?
No, and I don’t know how. I’ve just managed to be pretty good at keeping off the radar of the police. I break laws everyday but still haven’t been arrested.
I do think I have a warrant for my arrest in Pennsylvania for unpaid parking tickets.
I had a friend get caught pissing on the street at 8 AM in New York City. He was underage at the time and he gave the cop his fake ID. He somehow convinced the cop to give him his fake ID back, something like ‘I’m holding it for my friend,’ but he got a summons. I think he’s actually been caught pissing on the street four times.
That’s the one law they actually enforce here.
I mean, they could take a cue from some European cities. I love those public urinals; taking a walk through town square, coming from a show everything’s closed, oh, there’s a urinal right there. Right in the middle of this nice little square.
Random question: Do you like Vladimir?
Oh shit, what’s that?
It’s super cheap vodka that pretends to be from Russia.
My rule with vodka is to never drink it if it comes in a plastic bottle. I’m assuming this comes in a plastic bottle?
You’d be correct.
Well, I hated vodka for a long time. I got alcohol poisoning when I was a kid from chugging too much cheap vodka. I used to hate it, now I love it. I had to ease my way back into it.
My Dad was a Ketel One drinker. So Ketel One is my vodka now. I don’t want to drink any other kind of vodka.
I’ll drink Tito’s. Tito’s is pretty good.
How do you feel about the sphere you exist in? Basically, your career is because you’re in this band. You were in a band that is sort of popular in certain circles. How do you feel about the place you’ve found yourself in, in life?
Well I would always be interested on what’s going on outside of my sphere.
You would be crazy if you weren’t.
I’m comfortable with it. I like where I’m at. I have a lot of people to thank for the fact that I can buy a house, have a car, all that shit.
Do you use Twitter?
I just learned how to do that a month ago. I took over our band’s twitter because our manager was running it and I was like, ‘man, I could tweet better than this.’
My new thing is that I’m tweeting Anthony Bourdain every day until I get a response from him.
I wanna cook for him. I want to make him some Szechuan or some pork kidney.
Not often but when I do I’m good at it. I want to make him some fucking Italian style tripe.
I think it’s over though, he just had his final season. I thought it was pretty cool though, he want to Boston and he had The Unband. They’re fucking crazy. They make Black Lips look like pussies.
Black Lips are real as shit.
Yeah, I fucking love Black Lips but if you’re gonna talk stage antics: Unband. They got banned from every single fucking club in Boston. They light everything on the stage on fire, so I thought it was pretty cool Bourdain had them play his last show.
He seems like a good guy.
I really like his smile--it’s really warm and great.
Photos by Veanne Cao.