John McCauley's a guy who's liable to do just about anything, and that statement's not limited to diving into crowds and integrating off-the-wall covers when he's performing. The Deer Tick frontman recently wed pop songstress Vanessa Carlton (did we mention Stevie Nicks performed the ceremony?), kicked off yet another round of tour dates in support of 2013's Negativity and, oh yeah, performed with Nirvana's remaining members during a secret after-party show following the band's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction.
"That was a 'Childhood John' dream come true," says McCauley. "You know, 'Adult John' would have never had such unrealistic expectations. Adult John would have never even wished for that to happen."
Even if Adult John didn't expect an email from Dave Grohl inviting him to front the band for a night, McCauley and the guys had a fair amount of preparation: Since their breakout album Divine Providence in 2011, Deer Tick has made a splash with a few shows performing all Nirvana covers.
"We did it originally just for a friend's birthday party," says McCauley. "We only did it a handful of times — we did it at South by Southwest, just to make a mockery of our appearance at the festival. That's definitely not what you're supposed to do when you play at South by Southwest, you know? To show up as a cover band. But it wasn't really a stretch for any of us. We all knew the songs. At least for me, Nirvana was a pretty profound impact on my life."
The post-induction secret show took place at 250-capacity Brooklyn venue St. Vitus, with McCauley taking his turn fronting the group for five songs — "Serve the Servants" and "Scentless Apprentice" among them — during a set featuring cameos from musical icons like Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and J. Mascis.
"It was a party," says McCauley. "That's what Dave described it to me as, in his email. That it was just gonna be some loud, drunk after-party type thing. I was like, 'Oh shit,' you know. A guy like me, I thrive in those places."
It's true: Deer Tick's a band bred on grungy bars and rowdy crowds, and although their Nirvana-tributing alter ego Deervana has only convened a few times, it's not unlikely to hear a cover or two thrown in the average Deer Tick show.
"Back in the day when we were playing like 250 shows a year, and we would play little dive bars and stuff, we'd have all night to play," McCauley explains. "We'd normally play for two to three hours, so we'd have to learn how to play a lot of songs. We've got a pretty good bar-band repertoire."
Deer Tick's still that bar band, but the more polished sound on Negativity has shown a focus that's evident in their live show, too.
"We used to just fly by the seat of our pants," says McCauley. "We usually wouldn't make a set list. Just kind of play what came to mind, whatever anybody shouted at us. We had no problem going into it, whether the results were good or if it was a disaster. But now, I guess we take our live show a lot more seriously than we used to. Well, we make a set list. I guess now we're more doing what bands actually do, you know?"
As their show has settled down (as much as anyone could ever expect a wild bunch like Deer Tick to settle down, that is), so has McCauley, who's lived in Nashville in the past, but most recently resided in New York City. With his wife, he's just closed on a house in Nashville's Inglewood neighborhood, a 1930s bungalow the pair is looking forward to fixing up.
"You know that Jim Croce song, 'New York's Not My Home'?" he asks. "It's just how I've always kind of felt about the place. I like it, but I don't really like living there, you know? I guess Vanessa could tell I missed Nashville a lot, and luckily she loves the city, too."
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