Scene from the green room of Scottsdale's Martini Ranch: A burly security guard approaches Phoenix rockers Vayden, who are hanging out before their headlining Friday-night set at the club.
"I heard you guys are all the rage," the guard says.
"Ah, man," Vayden singer Curtis Casey sighs, tucking one of his long brown curls behind his ear. "Now you put all this pressure on us."
The security guard laughs and asks when the guys plan to sign autographs. "There are a couple of ladies that saw you guys walk in, and they're itching right now," he says.
"Oh, that's cool," Casey says.
"Just tell them to meet us at our merch table after our set and we'll take care of them," drummer Bruce Weitz says.
Signing autographs and building a fan base filled with bar owners (Tempe's Last Exit and The Clubhouse Music Venue) and bar staff (even Martini Ranch's production manager has been talking them up to New Times for a while now) is par for the course for these budding hard-rock heroes. In this town, they're quickly becoming stars.
"It's kind of a crazy-cool experience," Weitz says.
Casey credits 98 KUPD, which has been playing the single "The One You Left Behind," off their 2008 debut disc, Children of Our Mistakes, for helping them gain some of this newfound fame.
"They were playing us (on their local show) and they were getting a lot of calls from people requesting our music," he says. "It started building up steam and the next thing you know we're testing top five in their caller research, above Disturbed and all that stuff. So now they've been putting us in regular rotation, which has been really cool."
While the band (which also includes guitarist Armin Peterson and bassist Jason Salomone) certainly seems to be building a buzz in the Valley and on the national level (the group signed last year with Silent Majority Group, a label distributed through Warner) and has been getting radio play outside AZ, there's no Grey Goose or green M&M's backstage — simply a bottle of water and a bowl of colorful candy.
In 2002, before they started filling venues like Martini Ranch, Vayden were known as Simplfy. Weitz had met Casey when he was trying to put together another band, and Casey tagged along with an interested friend. He later pursued Weitz at Mesa's Milano Music Center, where the drummer was giving lessons.
"He came in and handed me a pair of drumsticks and said, 'I don't really want a lesson,'" Weitz explains. "'I wanted to get a half-hour of your time and see if you wanted to start a band.'"
The musical chemistry between the two musicians was evident early on and the guys formed the more poppy Simplfy, Weitz says. Later they switched to a harder sound and became Vayden, named in tribute to Weitz's son.
"I think we definitely have matured," says Weitz. "When we first came out, we kind of wrote all over the board, from pop to reggae to rock. We kind of found what I feel is the sound, where I don't feel like all of our tunes sound the same but I feel like we do sound like the same band with each tune — whereas before, it didn't necessarily sound like that."
As for the name change, Weitz explained it in a MySpace blog post in May 2008:
"Vayden Zoe Weitz was my son," he writes. "In July of 2004, Vayden and his mother, Marcy, were killed in a car accident. On the morning of the accident, it became very clear to me that how I handled this would determine the outcome of my life. It was as if I had to choose right then and there between life or death. After walking around all morning, I found myself in the restroom of a local coffee shop, staring into the mirror and vowing to my son that I would make him proud. At that moment, I chose life. I chose to believe that Vayden and Marcy fulfilled their purpose in their own lives as well as mine. I chose to be grateful for the time I had with them and to search for anything and everything positive I could find relating to my experience with them."
Casey wrote the touching "Zoe's Song," the last track on the group's disc, as a tribute.
The drummer says that dealing with his loss greatly affected Vayden's music.
"It just gave me a lot more purpose in life as a whole," Weitz says. "It kind of made me just decide that I was going to live and not wait around for things to happen. In my mind, it's a tribute to him, and it kind of helps me to stay and keep on playing and just be aware of the kind of message we're putting out and the kind of image that we're portraying, because it is his name and that's a very sentimental thing to me. I wouldn't want to be known as the party band or the womanizing band."
Weitz says that the message the band wants to convey comes across in its music.
"It's really all about living in the moment and going after your dreams and enjoying life and not trying to get caught up in all the mundane details of life," he says.
Vayden have had more than a few details to work out in the past year, ever since Casey moved to Los Angeles. Naturally, Casey's move presented the band with some challenges. Though many bands wouldn't have weathered the separation, Vayden still rehearse and get together two or three times a month for Valley shows.
"It would be nice to be able to call [Casey] up and put together a writing session or whatever, but we definitely figured out some ways to get around it, and it's working well," Weitz says.
And the Internet has definitely helped, Casey says.
"We all have our own little set-ups in our houses now to record ourselves," he says. "We kind of just pass it around via e-mail, and it has its pros and cons. The pro is that when you feel creative, you work, and sometimes it's hard for four people to all feel creative at the same time. And the con is that you don't sit in a room and really try and hash it out."
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Since Casey's moved to L.A., the guys have been performing there more often, playing shows at famed hot spots The Whiskey, The Viper Room, and The Key Club.
Is a move to L.A. likely for Vayden's three Arizona members, who will hit the road with Casey next month?
"Basically, when the album goes multi-triple-quadruple platinum and everyone's buying houses in the Hills, I think that's when everyone will think about moving out there and become a little more serious about it," Casey says.
Fri., May 15, 8 p.m., 2009