To be continued…
Local drummer Casey Deitz begins a new life phase with the Velvet Teen
This is going to be an “all right” story. It might even a “good” one. But, no matter how interesting a story the fairly charmed life of Casey Deitz might be, he is only 21. But his plot is at a dramatic turning point; his life is about to change considerably.
Casey Deitz plays drums. He’s played in a handful of Chico’s most notable indie/punk/experimental bands over the last eight-plus years—Bliss, Either, Tenfantel, North Magnetic and his current band, the Americas—and the big new news is that he’s become a member of another band, Santa Rosa’s the Velvet Teen.
He would seem to be joining at just the right time.
Constant touring (with the likes of Cursive and Death Cab For Cutie) has built a foundation of Velvet Teen fans across the country and even in Japan over the past half-decade, and the band is about to embark upon a summer-long tour of the United States (and Japan) in support of the new CD Elysium. This time Deitz, and the Americas, too, are on the bus.
A recent cover story in the Santa Rosa-based weekly paper the North Bay Bohemian compared the Velvet Teen’s place on the musical landscape to the precarious ride of the surfer: “There is a perfect moment … just after the cresting swell, before the wave closes out and crashes into chaos. … At this delicate crashing juncture … we find the Velvet Teen.”
The band is where so many have been before, at that fleeting moment in its history where the chance to ride off into bigger venues and a career in music is as likely as taking a hard spill and getting swallowed by it all.
It’s a pretty exciting spot for a Chico musician to be, and the rest of the Casey Dietz story—perhaps a “great” one, something really “awesome"—is still to come.
To those who have seen him play, Deitz is the best drummer in town, and to many (myself included) he’s the best they’ve ever seen in person. I’ve seen people watching him play for the first time shake their heads in disbelief, turning to their friends and pointing at the show Deitz is putting on.
He’s a big guy, and he attacks every every piece of his drum set with such blinding precision and force that it looks like he’s devouring it. Even though he plays in the somewhat marginal world of indie rock, his skill, touch, energy and power are not so genre-specific. Look closely and you can see the accumulation of a variety of jazz, classic-rock, punk and experimental styles that get added together and come to the surface as the dynamics dictate.
“I try to keep open to everything,” says Deitz, his imposing stature (augmented nicely by his mini-pompadour hairdo) softened by a quiet style of communicating probably best described as sparse. “I like playing a variety of stuff, having knowledge I can pick and choose from.”
Deitz has lived in Chico his whole life. The son of Jim and Mo Deitz, a dental-parts machinist and a special-ed. teacher, respectively, Casey has had all the crucial building blocks for excelling in music stacked up in perfect order to bring him to this point.
“Casey was born to play music,” his mom says, explaining how music has always been her son’s focus. “His passion is hard to describe. I have little pictures of him at 18 months holding records. We just fed that.”
The feeding started when Casey was 6, with piano lessons for him and his sister Kristin (now 25), followed by a year of sax lessons that his dad took as well.
“That’s probably the most important thing: my family’s support,” Deitz explains. “My mom insisted we have some sort of music education in our lives. I wasn’t into it at the time. I was listening to, like, M.C. Hammer and stuff.”
Hammer-time was over as soon as MTV was added to the local cable package. When Nirvana subsequently arrived, even junior-high kids like Casey were exposed to punk-rock, and soon after guitar replaced sax and piano.
At Main Street Music (where Herreid Music currently resides), Casey met former Electric Circus drummer Mike Waltz. Waltz let Casey dink around on the shop’s display drum sets while waiting for his guitar lessons to begin, and it didn’t take long for the parents to step in and ask Waltz if he’d give Casey lessons. Even though Casey wasn’t even a teenager yet, Waltz told his mother that “he was totally impressed” with her son’s abilities.
“When I first got my drum set, it seemed really natural to me,” Casey says, “I don’t know why that is.”
With the Nirvana holding tight, Casey entered Bidwell Junior High already knowing how to play all the grunge band’s songs on both guitar and drums, and it wasn’t long before he met up with the like-minded future rockers he’d end up playing with, one of them being the little white kid with the giant afro, Ben Tietz.
"[We] got together at Casey’s house just before Christmas 1995,” Tietz explains. “He had his drums all set up high like [Nirvana’s] Dave Grohl, and we would throw out a name of a Nirvana song, and we’d just start playing it, most of them from start to finish.”
The support group in place, it was on to playing Nirvana covers at a junior-high battle of the bands, then, as Bliss, playing with his buddies Tietz on guitar and Trevor Sellers (currently of Number One Gun) on bass at the old downtown rock dive Juanita’s.
The whole crew’s rise to the top of the Chico rock ranks was surreal—three kids letting the feedback fly at Pleasant Valley High lunches during the day and rocking out with the big dogs at the Blue Room and Juanita’s in the evening.
As they began to be influenced by more local musicians than Nirvana ("[legendary Chico band] Death Star was my main influence for everything,” Deitz confesses), Bliss gave way to Either, and as Deitz’s thirst for experimentation surpassed his peers', the experimental-punk/indie duo the Americas was born. Deitz and co-American Travis Wuerthner stretched out their music muscles and, more crucial, hit the road as often as possible.
It was another hot summer show at the famed Blue Room. In July 2001, the Americas opened up for the Velvet Teen during one of the latter group’s early tours. The meeting turned into one of those great band friendships in which two bands from two different towns trade shows and provide floors to crash on. In this case, it also presented a great (if bittersweet) opportunity.
A few years later, the Velvet Teen’s original drummer, Logan Whitehurst, became sick. (Eventually he’d find out the cause of his prolonged illness was a brain tumor. It’s since been successfully operated on, with no lasting effects expected.) When the band called Deitz four hours before a tour stop in Berkeley a few months ago, all they knew was their buddy was sick and that Deitz already knew how to play all their songs.
Calling him during his shift at Pizza Guys, the band asked if he’d leave work immediately, which he did (with his boss’s blessing), filling in that night for an exciting and nerve-wracking show.
“It was insane—so much craziness,” Deitz remembers. “I was so nervous I locked my keys in my car.”
Even though things turned out OK for Whitehurst, he decided to forgo the increasingly fast-paced whirlwind of the Velvet Teen and concentrate on his own band, the Junior Science Club.
Deitz was now on the drum throne as an official member, and his plate is suddenly full, which is exactly what he’d always hoped for: “I don’t know how to describe it … how lucky I am to have a dream come true.”
As he gets ready to tour the world, his folks have noticed their son changing, subtly but appropriately, considering his man-of-few-words nature. Now, when they ask him how his rehearsals are going, instead of saying “all right” or “good,” he says they’re “great” or “awesome.”
“Those are adjectives we don’t typically hear from him,” said Mo.
Now Dietz is stepping out on his own for the first time. You’d expect a mom to be worried.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so excited,” she said. “I would love to be in a little glass bubble [and just watch].
“He has to do music. It’s like breathing,” she added, “It’s exciting and scary—it could go nowhere, or it could go somewhere.”
The tour started Tues, July 20, with a CD release party at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco.