The boys of Deer Tick have been on fire lately — literally.
“Massive explosions. I burned my hand,” guitarist Ian O’Neil says with a laugh. “It’ll come out really great.”
He’s referring to the band’s recent flame-filled video for “Main Street,” a track off new album “Divine Providence,” out Oct. 25 on Partisan Records. The shoot was so raucous that drummer Dennis Ryan caught on fire, and frontman John McCauley ended up in the hospital with a sprained ankle.
Video: “Main Street” Live on Letterman, Oct. 12, 2011
But for fans of the rowdy alt-country quintet’s beer-drenched sets, the pyromania should come as no surprise. And there have been plenty of opportunities to share in the band’s revelry: The release of “Divine Providence” comes bolstered by a yearlong stint of heavy touring, free shows, charity fund-raisers, branding deals and well-received side projects-a strategy that aims to establish the group’s independence and adaptability.
“We want to get away from being pigeonholed,” O’Neil says of the act’s versatile approach. (Fittingly, “Divine Providence,” named after the band’s home base of Providence, R.I., is the first record on which O’Neil’s vocals — as well as Ryan’s — are featured.) “We need people to understand that we won’t be releasing country-rock records forever. It’s up to us to carve our own niche.”
Niche-carving seems to be what Deer Tick does best. In the wake of its last effort, 2010’s “Black Dirt Sessions,” Deer Tick has elevated its profile significantly. McCauley’s successful stint in supergroup Middle Brother (which also includes Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes) gave the band significant press coverage, and Deer Tick made several appearances as Deervana, a Nirvana cover band, at South by Southwest in March and Brooklyn’s Northside Festival in June.
Deervana, Beirut, Guided By Voices Storm Brooklyn for Northside Fest
Though “Black Dirt Sessions” sold 23,000 copies, about 4,000 units less than 2009 LP “Born on Flag Day” (according to Nielsen SoundScan), it peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart and No. 24 on Independent Albums, while “Born on Flag Day” reached Nos. 17 and 44, respectively.
Still, Deer Tick manager Ian Wheeler insists that no one in the band’s camp is paying attention to sales any more than they have to. According to his calculations, the group’s Facebook numbers have doubled with each record since “Born on Flag Day.” The release of “Black Dirt Sessions” yielded a TV debut on “Late Show With David Letterman.”
“We’re in a declining market right now, and the band’s other areas of income have improved exponentially,” Wheeler says. “My main focus is that they’re able to continue to grow, be happy and have careers in music.”
That plan is proving more attainable on the eve of “Divine Providence’s” release. The band has already snagged itssecond “Letterman” appearance (Oct. 12), and the album’s free first single, “Miss K” — which has ranked highly on the CMJ charts since its August release — has been downloaded thousands of times.
And that’s just the start: McCauley and keyboardist Rob Crowell just finished recording yet another collaboration, called Diamond Rugs, with members of Black Lips, Los Lobos and Six Finger Satellite. That record is slated for a late-spring 2012 release.
But in terms of income, deals like the one the band just landed with Stella Artois may be what fund its modest ambitions. After hearing Deer Tick’s own pitches, the beer company and Mother Agency, in partnership with Terrorbird Media, recently took the band to Buenos Aires to shoot an online-only ad that will run in the coming weeks. The clip, directed by “Biutiful” screenwriter Armando Bo, is one of the first branding opportunities the act has accepted. Wheeler says the experience is one that will be repeated.
“It’s a great viral asset for the band,” he says. “And they’re getting paid for it. These days, that doesn’t happen as much as it used to.”
And if concerns about a salt-of-the-earth, rough-and-tumble group like Deer Tick “selling out” are raised, the band is quick to brush them off.
“We don’t have that sense that we need to maintain some kind of public image to be satisfied with who we are,” O’Neil says. “Our music has all the integrity we need.”