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Deer Tick & John Moreland$25
The band’s music has been described as rock with folk, blues, and country influences, although the band actively rebels against the country tag, stating “We’re proud not to sing with a twang”. The band regularly perform cover versions in their live sets, including songs by the likes of The Replacements, Nirvana, John Prine, Hank Williams, the Beastie Boys, Warren Zevon and Sonny West. They have also performed entire sets as Deervana, a Nirvana tribute band including a show in September 2013 to mark the 20th anniversary of the band’s third album In Utero.
McCauley explained that inspiration for the name “Deer Tick” came while hiking in the Morgan–Monroe State Forest near Bloomington, Indiana in Summer 2005, where he found a deer tick on his scalp one evening, having never come into contact with one before despite having frequently gone camping and fishing as a child.
The replay of John Moreland’s network television debut is…glorious and affirming and a
sucker punch. He is announced by Stephen Colbert, lights dissolve, and the camera
slowly focuses on the person midway across the unadorned stage, revealing him
beneath muted blue lights.
He is a big man.
Seated, alone, cradling his acoustic guitar.
He looks like nobody who is famous.
Then he begins to sing, to caress the song “Break My Heart Sweetly,” and all that
remains is to whisper, “Oh, my god.”
In Colbert’s studio everybody stood, like they were in church.
Big Bad Luv is the record John Moreland made after, after everything in his life
changed. For the better.
He sings in one of those accents from flyover country that’s impossible to locate and
implausible to mimic. (Texas, by way of Northern Kentucky, but mostly Tulsa, as it
happens.) He sings directly from his heart, with none of the restraint and filters and
caution the rest of us would apply for public protection. He sings with resolute courage.
And writes. Writes with simple eloquence about love and faith and isolation; the human
condition; what every song and poem and novel is about, at the core: Life.
“Break My Heart Sweetly” came from his second solo album, released in 2013 and titled
In the Throes. High on Tulsa Heat, released through Thirty Tigers, landed him on
Colbert’s stage (that’s the LP Colbert held up). Song placements on “Sons of Anarchy,”
an emerging artist nomination from the Americana Music Association.
Enough sales to compel Moreland to give up his DIY label operation, and sign with 4AD.
“It grew to the point where I couldn’t really handle everything myself,” he says. “Even
with a manager and a small team, I came to the conclusion that I’d like to play music
and not worry about the other stuff.”
Enough success to buy a measure of peace, and not more pain. “I expected to just play
in the corner of the bar and have people not really pay attention, make $100, go home
and go to work the next morning, doing something I didn’t like,” Moreland says. “So,
yeah, I didn’t really expect to be here. But, then, on the other hand, I did. I feel like I’m
good enough to be here. And I’ve always been confident, even when I probably
shouldn’t have been. I knew I was an outsider. I didn’t have a lot of faith in the music
industry to let me in. But I guess they have. To some extent. That’s what I hoped for, but
I wasn’t sure that would be how it worked.”
“In churches learning how to hate yourself/Ain’t grace a wretched old thing” he sings,
the song called “Ain’t We Gold.” Big Bad Luv is unmistakably a rock ‘n’ roll record. If,
that is, one understands the term to include Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Hiatt, and Lucero.
Or The Band, maybe. Insistent songs, coming from a voice as elegant as unfinished
barn wood, songs which insist upon their words being heard.
His fourth solo album, not discounting two records with the Black Gold Band and a third
with the Dust Bowl Souls. Nor discounting early excursions into hardcore which were
not youthful indiscretions but crucial training in the emotional honesty of confessional
songwriting. A rock album, to be performed by a rock band. A partial break with the
solitude of solo touring.
“Two or three years ago,” Moreland says, “it would have been impossible to picture
touring with a band. Now that’s changed. I think I’ll still do some solo or stripped down
shows, but I have the option to bring a band with me if I want. Ultimately it’s just what
the songs felt like they should be.”
Big Bad Luv was recorded down in Little Rock, mostly with a crew of Tulsa friends: John
Calvin Abney on piano and guitar, back from Tulsa Heat; Aaron Boehler on bass; Paddy
Ryan on drums; Jared Tyler on dobro. And then Lucero’s Rick Steff on piano, which
ended up being the catalyst for completion.
“I always start off writing whatever comes naturally,” Moreland says. “Once I’ve got
seven or eight of those, then I’ll take stock and look at what I’ve got, figure out what
belongs on a record together, and what might not. Then I’ll figure out what kind of songs
Three sessions over ten months, sandwiched between touring dates and life. The final
sequence roughly approximating the order in which songs were written. “I chose the
sequence for what I thought worked best musically,” he says, untroubled.
“Quick bursts of recording,” Moreland goes on. Gives off a quick laugh. “It’s not like
we’re sitting there over-thinking the performances, I’m definitely a fan of just hit record
and play it. But then there’s long stretches where I’m not in the studio, when I’m listening
to what I did, asking how do I turn this into a record?”
The key turned out to be Rick Steff’s promise to record next week, even though
Moreland didn’t have songs, not a one. “I went home and wrote five songs in four days
and finished up,” Moreland says. Another deep, wry laugh.
Big Bad Luv is, at least by comparison…maybe…a happier record? “I don’t think I’m
writing songs that are that much different,” Moreland says. “It’s always been a positive
thing at heart, even if a song isn’t sunshine and rainbows. At the very least my songs
have been a way to exorcise negative feelings so that I can move on. And hopefully
they provide that same experience to listeners. So that’s what I’m still doing. I think it’s a
positive thing. I think this record, there’s definitely a change in attitude, but it’s the same
point of view.”
Oh, yeah. And Tchad Blake mixed it. “He’s also the only person I’ve ever worked with
on a record whose name I can drop.”
“Slow down easy, I’ve been hauling a heavy soul,” he sings, this song titled “Slow Down
Easy.” Carrying it for all of us, but no longer alone.