"We used to do 'Cheap Sunglasses' by ZZ Top, but it depends on the day," says keyboardist Robert Crowell on his favourite cover to play with the rock band Deer Tick. From Providence, Rhode Island, Deer Tick returns to The Marquee on Friday for its first show here since the Halifax Pop Explosion. In 2012, the five-piece performed an ultra-rare set as Deervana, its Nirvana cover band, at Gus's Pub.
"That was kind of my present to [former HPX director] Jonny Stevens," says Crowell, laughing. "It was a surprise thing and I figured Jonny would get a kick out of it. He's done so much for the local scene."
Originally from Fredericton, Crowell lived in Halifax for 10 years and played with brass band The Mellotones for seven. In 2010, he was on tour with Matt Mays when he got to know Deer Tick.
"A few months later, I heard they were looking for a new keyboard player, so I let them know I was interested. We all got along really well off the bat. I remember calling my girlfriend at the time–I was supposed to be home in two days, but I had to call and say I'd actually be a few weeks," he says, laughing.
Since then, Crowell has worked on Deer Tick's Divine Providence and last year's Negativity.
"It was a lot of fun to make," he says of the band's newest album. "We worked with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. He's got a lot of ties to Canada, having produced a lot of the biggest Tragically Hip and Great Big Sea records. It was a comfortable fit; he's really good at what he does."
Recorded in Portland, Negativity is heavy, focusing mostly on lead singer-songwriter John McCauley's father. "It's a really personal album for John, he had a lot of the music written and in his mind, he knew what he wanted to get out of it. We're never interested in making the same album twice," says Crowell.
Deer Tick's combo of country, rock and folk is set off by McCauley's incredibly distinct gravel voice. "His voice is the sound of a kid who grew up on Kurt Cobain, Axl Rose and Robert Plant," describes Crowell. Along with Deer Tick's unique sound, the band has had a number of uncommon experiences, as well. Last year, for instance, McCauley was wed to pop-pianist Vanessa Carlton by Stevie Nicks. The couple then moved to Nashville, joining Crowell, who has lived in Music City for two years.
While Crowell loves living in the South ("I can see really top-quality music any time of the week"), he misses playing jazz: "There's no jazz in Nashville, it's a dirty word down there," he jokes.
Nearing the end of tour for Negativity, Crowell is excited to see The Marquee again. He says it's his favourite room to play in all of North America. He also hopes to stay an extra day to catch up with old friends from his once-hometown of Halifax: "The guest list is going to be a messy situation, for sure."
Friday, July 11 at 8pm, $28/$33
The Marquee Ballroom, 2037 Gottingen Street