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They'll play loud. They'll play hard. Just don't ask Deer Tick what genre the music is.

Members of the band Deer Tick in a promotional photo

Deer Tick is, from left, Christopher Ryan, Dennis Ryan, John McCauley and Ian O'Neil. 

GREAT BARRINGTON — Members of the band Deer Tick are hoping to pack quite a bit for their next trip to The Berkshires.

They’re hoping to pack the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center when they perform there on Dec. 9. They’re hoping to pack a punch with the set they’re putting together for the occasion.

But they’re also going to be packing umbrellas. They still remember the last time they played The Berkshires.

The year was 2009. Deer Tick, a genre-defying alternative group, was getting their first taste of fame and flashing lights. But when they visited The Berkshires that year, they dealt with a different kind of flash: flash floods.

It was at the first Bella Terra Festival in Great Barrington (and the only one — later iterations moved to Stephentown, N.Y.), a music and art festival that saw masses gather on the grounds of Bogie’s Restaurant, on South Main Street, on Aug. 1, 2009, during a three-day deluge that soaked many of its attendees to the bone.

A good cause, in bad conditions

John McCauley, the group’s lead singer, remembers it in vivid detail.

“It had rained a lot and created a little kind of pond and people were like swimming in it,” McCauley said. “You could just hop on in and see what was in store for you.”

Ian O’Neil, the band’s guitarist who had only recently joined the lineup, recalls basically the same. Muddy surroundings made for a wild display.

“I remember that scene specifically,” O’Neil said. “It was more like a gathering of the Juggalos [fans of the Insane Clown Posse who known for their outlandish behavior).”

McCauley and O’Neil want to be clear: it was a great show for a good cause. The three-day benefit concert was meant to be a fundraiser for the Berkshire Arts Scholarship. But the memory remains.

Biblical floods notwithstanding, they’re excited to be returning to the Berkshires.

O’Neil has a lot of memories of the region — he grew up in West Springfield, and he used to deliver beer to Berkshire County with the Horizon Beverage Company. Since those days, he’s developed a history of playing at the Dream Away Lodge and the hilltowns as a part of smaller acts.

McCauley wasn’t too far himself, living most of his life in Providence, R.I.

Looking back is an interesting exercise now for McCauley, who has been in the band for half his life. One of the biggest differences since the band released its first studio album, “War Elephant,” 15 years ago; they’ve gotten a lot looser.

“I used to be more obsessed with the music following a metronome,” McCauley said. “Now I’m more about going with the flow.”

The songs have also gotten less verbose. As McCauley put it, he’s less in the business of making word salads these days, and more into making “a nice little hors d’oeuvre” lyrically.

“As I’ve grown older and absorbed more music, I find that I tend to gravitate toward writers who are more economical with their words,” McCauley said.

Those influences are varied, but well-regarded: Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Bill Callahan come up as specific inspirations. But McCauley also mentioned a less likely suspect: Nirvana. Drawing from different sources is part of the band’s mystique.

On the morning they spoke with The Eagle, McCauley listened to the following songs in the shower: “Mojo Hand” by Lightnin’ Hopkins, “Nadine” by Chuck Berry, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” by Bob Dylan and “I Can’t Help It if I Still Love You,” by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Despite their influences, however, one of the band’s biggest developments of the last 10 years is a sound that is uniquely their own.

“The editing process is more and more important in our band as time goes on,” O’Neil said. “Purely, sonically, the sound of our band is becoming unified to one thing at this point. It’s less sounding like we’re genre-hopping and more like we’re our own thing. Then we can pull from any lever we want to; we can go hard or go soft or go somewhere in the middle.”

Natural cohesion over the years has helped them get to this point, too.

“The four of us have been in the band for over a decade now and we’ve really got a groove now,” McCauley said. “We’ve really got a filter that we put the music and the songs through. Our goal is to sound like Deer Tick. That was always the goal, but I think we’re more Deer Tick than ever.”

That distinct sound doesn’t fit cleanly into a single genre, as the band strays into territory normally reserved for folk, blues and rock musicians with an approach that to say the band doesn’t fit cleanly under the Americana label is an understatement. They certainly don’t feel that they do.

“You’re never going to see us wearing a f—ing Stetson hat, that’s for sure,” McCauley said.

In fact, the only hats McCauley has in his closet are a Red Sox hat and a Saugy’s hat — Saugy being a hot dog company from Rhode Island.

The key to unlocking Deer Tick might lie in that direction. Rhode Island and Providence, specifically, figure heavily into the band’s identity. The city’s heavy music scene influenced McCauley and the band, too; songs played loud, fast and with a lot of energy.

The organic community feel, such as people hosting shows in their homes, was also endearing for the band.

“I liked the chaos of people having shows in their kitchen,” McCauley said. “Stuff breaking, people sweating and bumping into each other. Those are the best shows to me.”

That intensity and passion figures heavily into Deer Tick’s approach to live performance now, too.

“I picture our concerts now almost like athletic events now,” McCauley said. “I want to work up a good sweat. I don’t want to get off the stage until I have nothing left.”

At the concert, you can expect to hear songs from across the band’s discography, as well as covers of other artists. One of their favorites to play, and a likely appearance on Dec. 9, is “I Got a Rocket in my Pocket” in the style of NRBQ.

There will also likely be some new tracks on the setlist: the band will release another album next year, and some previews for that project will also be played.

Regardless of what songs get played from the discography, the promise that they’ll be played with some feeling has been made.

“A lot of personality,” O’Neil said. “You’ll see a lot of personality and a whole lot of entertainment.”

If you’re on the fence about seeing the band, though, you really only need to know one thing.

“If you like rock ‘n’ roll, you’ll probably have a good time,” McCauley said.


What: Deer Tick

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington

When: 8 p.m., Dec. 9

Tickets: $39-$44, reserved; $15, ages 30 and under

Information: 413-528-0100, mahaiwe.org

Matt Martinez can be reached at mmartinez@berkshireeagle.com.

News Reporter

Matt Martinez is a news reporter at The Berkshire Eagle. He worked at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, graduated Marquette University. He is a former Report for America corps member.

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