"What is Real?" asks the Rabbit in Margery William's classic children's tale, The Velveteen Rabbit. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," answers the Rabbit's nursery mate, the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you.... It takes a long time.... Once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
If it were up to literature, not much in music would be considered Real. Few listeners truly love bands past the decade in which they discover them. But The Velvet Teen's Judah Nagler and his trembling falsetto voice know-and long for-that feeling of Real love.
So, with a striking combination of Anglo-indie sensitivity and torrents of guitar, The Velvet Teen was born to seek out Real love, referencing the rabbit story and the innocence and purity of youth-and even porn-in the process.
"I like things with multiple meanings," Nagler says. "I like that the kid's toy [in Velveteen Rabbit] needed to be burned to become real, and I like that people always ask me why we named the band Velvet Teen."
Thankfully, Sonoma-based Nagler moved on from burning his toys to burning up the stage. Joining drummer Logan Whitehurst and bassist Josh Staples for an exhibition of floating guitar pop, Nagler moved out from behind his former instrument (bass) and out in front with the microphone. The transition, he says, has been a bit daunting.
"You know how it is when you see yourself on video for the first time in one of those home movies?" he asks. "You're like, "God, I really sound like that?' I've recorded a good number of times, but it's still a weird thing to do."
The recording process, Nagler says, is made easier by home production, which Velvet Teen is currently conquering for their next EP. For the last few months, the band has been tediously poring over takes for seven new songs and enjoying the control they wield by being their own producers. Not to say their last producer-Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla-was all that bad during the recording of 2002's Out of the Fierce Parade, released on Slowdance Records, the indie label owned by former Che Café figure Ezra Caraeff.
"Working with [Chris] is great, but this is a completely different process," Nagler says. "[Working at home] is great because of the lucidity you get from it. You can work on it whenever and however. You're not worried about money or time running out.
"For this record, we recorded the drums and bass in this big brick warehouse where Logan works-they make vitamins and nasal spray there. We're recording vocals right now in my dad's closet. We recorded strings at Josh's mom's house. It's all a free process."
A self-described music geek and self-professed clairvoyant, Nagler took up classical violin at age 5 before "realizing there was practice involved" and begging to give it up. In retrospect, he says, the violin probably helped lead him to the musical life he leads now.
"Writing music is the thing that keeps my head above water," he says. "If I go too stagnant for even a couple days, I get nutty. There are certain things I have to do to stay sane. I get into patterns when I do nothing for too long and I get out of that lucid state. I stay a lot more on top of things if my mind is more active all the time.
"I think if more people did that, the world would be a better place, but that's not really my concern."
The Velvet Teen plays with The Statistics and Engine Down at The Casbah, 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 18. $8. 619-232-4355.
Slowdancing: Other bands on Ezra Caraeff's label
Roots of Orchis-A silent party of ex-San Diegans who spin a thumpy post-rock akin to DJ Shadow manipulating old Tristeza records. (We like.)
Kissing Tigers-Ezra signed this band over drinks at the Imperial House in Bankers Hill. Keyboard-laden punk, heavy on the distortion; plays well with Hot Hot Heat. (We like.)
Rescue-A new signee from Detroit. High-octane emo-rock with odd time signatures. Like At The Drive-In if the movie screen was tilted. (We really like.)
The Intima-A post-punk Northwestern band with a violin and some aggressive punch. (We'd sorta listen to it if it was on.)
The New Trust-A band featuring Velvet Teen's bassist on vocals, his wife and Benton Falls' Mike Richardson on guitar and the chick drummer from Transistor/Transistor. (We haven't heard "em.)
Oma Yang-Another kinda noisy instrumental band that, if it copulated with Roots of Orchis, would yield deformed, incestuous offspring. (We yawn in its general direction.)