This land is their land
The Americas cook up a melting pot of intricate, interactive post rock
The film is gritty and washed-out and the sound quality—a tinny squall of compressed cymbal crashes and half-distorted guitar—suggests that the camcorder’s microphone is being clobbered by the volume. It’s shot from the side of an outdoor stage, with drummer Casey Deitz at center and guitarist-vocalist Travis Wuerthner on the right, playing a particularly bombastic part of a tune called “Now Is the Season Of Evil.” Even though the YouTube-hosted clip is only 52 seconds long, it says a lot about their intuitive interplay.
As Deitz bashes out unhinged embellishments on the kit, Wuerthner stands aside, playing a simple, looping guitar part and lolling his head in slow circles along to the beat. A few seconds after the drums come to a roaring climax, Wuerthner approaches the microphone and Deitz sits out for a minute, leaving space for the weaving guitar line and arching vocal. It takes less than a minute to understand that the Chico duo known as the Americas (find that, Google!) comprises musicians who actually play together, not just at the same time.
“Sure, there’s a kind of chemistry between us,” says Wuerthner via phone from the practice space of his parents’ garage. Since both of the Americas work restaurant jobs—Wuerthner at an organic restaurant and a Chinese place, Deitz delivering pizzas—the band typically practices in the middle of the day, when most of the quiet neighborhood is at work. “As far as the collaboration between us, well, we’ve been doing the same thing a long time, and it definitely runs really smoothly. There’s never any butting heads or anything like that. Even though we’ve thought about bringing in other players, we just work well together on our own.”
Since late 2000, 25-year-old Wuerthner and 24-year-old Deitz have been collaborating on their own. Along the way they’ve produced a pair of impressively four-tracked, self-released recordings (all engineered by Deitz), become a commodity of the small but vibrant Chico underground rock scene, and hit the road for national and regional tours. The biggest of these was a 2004 U.S. tour with Deitz’s popular other band, the Velvet Teen, which is now on hiatus.
“I was pretty much a big swamp the whole time,” says Deitz of the double duty on the Velvet Teen tour. “I was drenched by the end of the night but the Americas show would get all my energy out—and by the time the Velvet Teen played, I wasn’t trying to go off anymore. I was just sticking to the simple matter at hand.”
It’s true that most of the Americas’ tunes aren’t a simple matter. Take the explosive “California Games,” from their recently released EP. Over a spaghetti bowl of guitar lines and technical, propulsive drumming, Wuerthner’s vocals offer a simple, elusive melodic line. Like most of their other songs, it’s informed by a kitchen sink of influences, including underground Chicago acts like Cap’n Jazz, elaborate structures of ’70s rock and aesthetic elements of post-punk. When the songs turn on a dime, as in “Siam Brass Knuckles,” they can catch you off guard from either ferocity or refinement—but the connective material always is based on the duo’s intuitive interactions.
“Once I settle on a beat and we get the structure of a song written, we’ll go back through it and break everything apart and try something that’s new or interesting and fun,” Deitz says. “And we just try to play off each other.”
“Our songs are never done,” Wuerthner says. “Even after they’re recorded, and we’ve been playing them for a while, we’re always looking for ways to improve them. We’ll go back and forth sharing ideas about them and changing them and rework things forever.”
From their individual statements, it’s evident that the Americas are a nearly ideal partnership. But we already learned that in 52 seconds of grainy video.