‘Sounds like a Carpenters song’
The Deer’s summer soundtrack of California soul
Nate Pendery looks like a throwback to the ‘70s. With shaggy dark brown hair drooping over a face tanned by days spent pouring concrete and his thin frame squeezed into a pair of tight jeans, the front man for Chico’s The Deer looks as if he stepped off the back cover of an old Flying Burrito Brothers or Poco album.
Listen to the warm harmonies and dry guitar leads on The Deer’s breezy country-pop gem “Cheer Up,” and the complete picture begins to resemble less a throwback than a man out of time. In the glut of local rock noise, Pendery and the rest of The Deer—bassist John Harrison and drummer Matt Daugherty—have quietly created a hazy, almost dreamy sound indebted to the famed California soul of ‘70s country-rockers Gram Parsons, The Byrds et al.
“Sounds like a Carpenters song usually when I bring it to them and they rock it out a little bit,” is how Pendery explained the sound while sitting for an interview with the band during sound check before a recent long night of rock at Off Limits.
After a chest-rattling “WAAAH!” of p.a. feedback elicits a collective “WHOA!” from the startled crew, Pendery suggests waiting 10 minutes for the 75-cent beer special to kick in and the band members explain how The Deer got together while we wait.
“I met John first through my lady, and then we started playing music and he was living with Matt,” the 24-year-old Pendery explains in his best surfer/stoner vernacular. “We were playing [the Beatles'] ‘I’ll be back’ over and over.”
Born in that house on Mulberry Street, The Deer have been around for two years now, putting out a four-song CD and mostly playing house parties.
Pendery is a Chico native who graduated from Pleasant Valley High, while his equally laid-back band mates hail from SoCal, having moved to Chico for school. Daugherty, 26, just completed Chico State’s recording arts program and works at Peet’s Coffee in between home recording projects and playing guitar for noise-rockers Birds of Fire, and the bespectacled 25-year-old Harrison spends his days doing landscape work and his nights spinning his eclectic record collection at Off Limits as DJ Johnny Rainbow.
“I always thought it should be friends first—we never tried to form a band first,” says Harrison, “It’s just, you know, hanging out with your friends.” Pendery interrupts to explain, “You’d end up getting pissed if some guy doesn’t drink or something.”
This becomes a theme during the interview: “Can we take a break and get some beers?” suggests the hard-partying Pendery at one point, bringing to mind his lyrics to the ode to lazy summers in Chico, “Summer Feeling": “Summer feeling’s got you believin'/ that you might as well stay drunk all the time.”
“Nate’s such a good songwriter,” says Harrison, adding, “I think he does it in his head—most the time he doesn’t own a guitar or any sort of instrument.”
“Yeah I do,” Pendery responds laughing, “I have a big organ I’ve been writing on recently.”
With the issue of borrowing guitars for shows swept aside for the time being, Pendery does admit to having a lot of music in his head, including, usually, all the harmony parts. And, it’s that inherent musical ability that at the tender age of 18 put him in the studio alongside Tim Bluhm, playing guitar on the Mother Hips front man’s 1999 solo album Land & Sea Chanteys. The experience in the studio—plus, of course, an affinity for the likes of the Beach Boys and Beatles—expanded the songwriter’s compositional palette, something that comes across best in the handful of recordings done locally with in-band engineer Daugherty.
The live experience is understandably a little more bare-bones, and at this weekend’s intimate in-home showcase it’ll likely be a classic warm, Chico evening of locals nodding along—"Summer feeling, summer feeling stoned…”