A study in contrast

The Velvet Teen keeps things off the beaten path

TEENYBOPPERS <br>The Velvet Teen is, from left: Josh Staples, Judah Nagler and Casey Deitz.

The Velvet Teen is, from left: Josh Staples, Judah Nagler and Casey Deitz.

Courtesy Of Slowdance Records

It’s around noon, and Velvet Teen drummer Casey Deitz looks like he just rolled out of bed as he walks through he doors of a local coffee shop. Patting down a slight case of bed-head, Deitz quickly confirms my assumption as we talk about the previous night’s show with his other band, The Americas.

Among musicians and show-goers in Chico, Deitz is the drummer in town. His mild-mannered presence—robust coif of hair, thick reddish stubble and squared-off glasses—are a sharp contrast to the havoc he wreaks behind the drum kit.

He’s impressive, to say the least—controlled chaos that has been years in the making.

At a young age, Deitz jumped into music, picking up piano at age 6 and later saxophone. Before he was even a teenager, Deitz had already ditched piano and sax for guitar and drums—and with zits and body odor came a headfirst dive into the local music scene.

“Deathstar were one with Nirvana,” said Deitz, taking a sip of tea. “Those two bands made me want to play music for the rest of my life.”

The drummer came of age playing in local bands like Either, Isabelle and North Magnetic, before joining guitarist Travis Wuerthner to form one half of Chico’s experimental dynamic duo The Americas.

Now 23 and making up one-third of Santa Rosa’s The Velvet Teen, Deitz is definitely keeping busy these days. The band just released its third full-length, Cum Laude, on Slowdance Records (the first album with Deitz) and will hit the road for two months, including a couple of dates in Japan, where The Velvet Teen might rank just below Godzilla in terms of popularity.

The Velvet Teen is definitely a different band with Deitz behind the kit, although the group has made a reputation for taking drastic turns with each album. The band’s 2002 debut LP, Out of the Fierce Parade, was produced by Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla and sent music critics’ hearts aflutter with its moody Radiohead-esque pop songs, highlighted by vocalist and guitarist Judah Nagler’s impressive vibrato. In 2004, TVT released Elysium, a record that replaced guitars with piano and strings, a move that added to the intrigue of the band.

It wasn’t long after the album’s release that original drummer Logan Whitehurst left the band, after discovering he had a brain tumor (Whitehurst has since undergone successful chemotherapy and is now doing his own music project). Nagler and bassist Josh Staples had developed a friendship with Deitz from their days of playing shows with The Americas, and asked him to join them immediately on the tour.

Now, two years later, Deitz is a full-fledged member of The Velvet Teen—and his signature is all over the new record.

Deitz said the recording came together quickly, and that he laid most of his drum tracks down playing off of Nagler’s synth lines.

“Most of the recording is just me winging it,” Deitz said.

In the studio Nagler said he’s found inspiration from Miles Davis, who would sometimes come in with charts and let the rest of the players interpret the songs how they saw fit. And although the guitars have returned, they take a back seat to swirling synth lines and the occasional bleep and bloop that jump in and out of the fray without rhyme or reason. Songs like “333” and “Tokyoto” accomplish just what the band wanted, with Deitz’s drums busily cutting through a melodic wash of falsetto, synth and bass.

The music will, no doubt, be just as captivating in the live setting. And Nagler said the next record and tour will go beyond anything the band has done—with more sampling (including live sampling in place of pre-recorded samples on stage) to create what he calls “inhuman riffs that confuse people live.”

It will likely be another record of contrast for The Velvet Teen, as Deitz said he’s also looking to create a little more space with the drums.

“I want to hone in on the beats that fit, that aren’t so intrusive or overbearing,” Deitz said. “One-hundred percent all the time isn’t a good thing. It’s like eating chocolate cake for every meal.”

Of course, who ever said chocolate cake for breakfast was a bad thing?