Hopping the fence
It’s simple, Deerpen writes great songs
Oh no. Not another local band profile: It’s always the same story: bunch of dudes move to Chico for school, start band with roommates/ dormmates/classmates, play some parties, record demo in apartment, play in the window at coffee shop, open for a few touring bands and then they say something like, “We just want to play some shows out of town, you know, get our names out there.”
And they’re such nice guys, too.
Well, I’m not gonna lie to you, that’s pretty much the story of Chico’s Deerpen. The four-piece has been playing around town for four years or so, and if you just add “track teammates” to the list above then that part of the story is spot on, especially the nice guys bit.
There is a twist, and it’s not that these guys rawk, or that there’s a bunch of wild experimentation going on—it’s that Deerpen writes songs. It’s crazy, but true: Three-part vocal harmonies, gorgeous guitar melodies picked out subtly until they kick into muscular progressions at the perfect dynamic moments, and best of all, memorable, soaring vocal melodies that you can’t resist singing along with.
My first experience with the band’s skills was on an old KCSC mix CD. Deerpen’s track on the comp, “Make Believers,” is mixed pretty low and muted and was easy to dismiss at first. But as the pre-chorus came in, singer and main songwriter Rett Matthews’ voice began to stretch out, and goosebumps ran up my arms. When the chorus proper began repeating “Make believers, one by one,” it was over. It’s one of those beautiful, purposeful rushes that bands like Radiohead or Coldplay pull off all the time.
As far as the new release goes, there are some extra tricks in the mix. A little Sigur Ros-ish ambience as intro here, a synth flourish there, and the fact that they recorded themselves means a lots of extra attention was spent on warm tones and effect. Drummer Courtney Morris’ hooky beat on the new CD’s opener “Penage” calls to mind the groovier moments of Maroon 5, but the band is thankfully sticking with the same melodic foundation and crisp dynamics of its earlier fan faves like “Make Believers,” and the equally impressive “Amoeba.”
The middle tunes, “Bigger Picture,” “Fall in Place” and “Wayward” are the new classics. On “Wayward” the vocals of the chorus are underlined with a little extra rhythmic punch, giving Matthews and company’s holler of “One more time!” a lot of energy.
During a recent conversation with the four band members at Woodstock’s Pizza, where bassist Bill Parnell, guitarist Matt Martin and Matthews all work (Morris has worked there as well), I asked about this whole songwriting business as we all kept one eye on a rare Sacramento Kings victory on the big screen behind us.
“This is like, the only band that I’ve been in,” Morris offered, chuckling, “so I don’t know if we do this the right way as far as the songwriting process goes.”
The band’s basic approach is for Matthews to come to rehearsal with a new song, and then the arrangement and dynamics (that “ear-bender” quality as Parnell described it) are added by the entire group.
As I see the four interact, the combo of their personalities seems to be a significant contributor to the band’s sound as well. Parnell, Martin and especially Matthews are all pretty mellow guys. But drummer Morris is hyper as hell—blurting out things like, “double-bass pedal!” and “takin’ care of business!” for fun during our interview—and his energy and enthusiasm propels the thoughtful melody and atmosphere being stirred up by the others. It’s a good balance.
The process of recording has also helped add a new wrinkle to the group’s songwriting
“The way we’d been playing them for shows worked and everything,” Matthews said, “but we kind of changed things around—like guitar tones are a little different here and there, and we changed vocal melodies for the recording just because we had time to actually think about it.”