In 2011, Providence, R.I., indie-rock act Deer Tick released Divine Providence -- a ragged, beer- and sweat-soaked collection of early Replacements-era rockers that captured the raw 'n' rowdy chaos of the band's live show.
The album was an ode to drinking hard and living harder: Let's All Go to the Bar became a modern pub anthem.
For frontman John McCauley, in particular, the party was non-stop, and it wasn't long before the booze, drugs and the grind of touring caught up with him, costing him both his health and his fiancée. On top of that, his father was jailed for conspiracy and tax fraud.
Instead of going down a path of self-destruction, McCauley dried out and channelled his emotions into writing. The result is Negativity, Deer Tick's fifth full-length album. If Divine Providence was an all-night rager, its successor represents the cold, sober light of morning. Dark, straight-faced and unflinchingly personal, the band's new album is arguably its most mature yet.
Keyboardist Rob Crowell, who joined the band in 2010, says he isn't surprised by McCauley's resilience.
"I'm a little older than the other guys and I've met a lot of people who have a lot of issues. One of the reasons I joined this band was because John always had a clear sense of who he was. He's really intelligent and he's strong-willed. I always felt like he'd come out on the other side. For him, I think it was a confluence of circumstances.
"Besides, it's like with any friend or co-worker, there's nothing you can say until they make up their own mind."
As it turned out, clean(er) living yielded a lot of material. The band -- which also includes Ian O'Neil, Christopher Dale Ryan and Dennis Ryan -- took nearly 30 demos to producer Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, who cut that down to 12.
"He picked the songs he felt were the strongest and went together the most cohesively. A lot of John's material, which is quite personal, was chosen, which dictated the direction of the album," Crowell says.
Decisiveness was key. Deer Tick was working under the pressure of a hard deadline with just 21/2 weeks to record Negativity with Berlin in Portland.
"We had very limited time in the studio and we knew we had to leave with a complete album," he says. "And we knew we had to get an album out this fall because it had been too long since the last one. That was the only window of time."
Crowell credits Berlin with bringing a laser-like focus and clarity to Negativity.
"Steve's got a clear vision. John and I play with him in Diamond Rugs and his transition from bandmate to producer was an interesting one (read: Berlin was a little more hands-on than the band was used to). But most of the time, even when we disagreed, we got along. We're all really good friends and share the same taste."
The band is now well into a new touring cycle. This time around, however, the guys are placing an added emphasis on self-care.
"You'll find Dennis and I in the gym every day, now, if our hotel has one. Chris has this hour-long stretching routine he does; his girlfriend is a ballerina and she taught it to him. We're not going to become a Christian rock band any time soon, but we're taking better care of ourselves. We even practise now, which is new for us," Crowell says.
For Deer Tick, the stakes are higher now.
"We have a lot invested in this record," Crowell says. "We want to make sure we put on a consistently great live show."