Sticks and shears

Chico drummer finds his groove in the growing field of barbery

NewsReview.com - Published: May 29, 2014

By Ken Smith — “I’ve never wanted to stop playing music, but I’ve also always wanted to find something else to also do,” Casey Schmidt said recently from behind a barber chair at Chico’s Marinello Schools of Beauty, reiterating a musicians’ mantra that’s likely been uttered since music began.

Schmidt, however, believes he’s one of the lucky few to have heard that elusive second calling, which in his case beckoned him to the barber shop. He certainly looks the part in his student’s smock, with an immaculately kempt beard, black-rimmed glasses and razor-clean coif. But, sans the smock, he’s more often seen behind a drum kit in numerous local jazz projects or with Chico metal bands Amarok and Into the Open Earth.

Schmidt has been a drummer for the majority of his 29 years, and studied jazz and musical technique at the Los Angeles Music Academy. He also owned a short-lived drum shop at the age of 21 and is a long-time employee of The Music Connection, but said he’s long been searching for a permanent day job.

“I went back to Butte [College] for a bit, but it got to the point that any time I had to tell someone what my major was I’d just be making something up, because I had no idea,” he recalled. “I took a test there to see what I should do for a living, and it said either a musician or a barber.

“That made me start thinking about going to a barber shop, which I had never really done. When I did, I thought, ‘OK, this is awesome, I totally get why people go to barber shops.”

In fact, after many years of decline, the field of barbery is on the rise, growing at a rate of roughly 13 percent a year. Whether due to a desire for a cheaper alternative to beauty salons or a renewed appreciation for the art of a men’s haircut, barbers are becoming hip again, and as a result more and more young men are joining the old man’s game.

Schmidt said one major appeal for him was the social atmosphere: “You come in and see people you know and everyone catches up on their lives, especially when you go to the same barber for a long time,” he said. “It’s like a relaxing part of the day.”

He started seriously considering the option, and it was—oddly enough—music that solidified his choice to become a barber. While on tour with Into the Open Earth, the band played a show with Reno’s Drag Me Under. The next morning, they visited Maxwell’s Barbershop, which is owned by the Reno band’s drummer, Patrick Sutton.

“I walked in and it was just a bunch of band dudes in black T-shirts and cut-off shorts and Converse, and I got to hang out with Patrick and talk to him and ask him lots of questions, and I realized this is something that can be done.”

Schmidt enrolled at Marinello last August, and just completed his course work last week. In order to be licensed, barbers must complete 1,500 hours of formal training before taking a licensing exam issued by the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, which Schmidt plans to take next month. Barber training differs in some ways from cosmetology training, including the fact that barbers—unlike cosmetologists—are taught to shave clients with a straight razor.

Since beginning his training, Schmidt said he’s approached barbering with the same old-school sensibility he applies to music: “My favorite drummers are those who take a traditional approach but play very modern. I want all my haircuts to look like they came from a classic barber.”

To accomplish this, he said he applies traditional techniques, such as using a comb with his electric clippers instead of clipper guards, whenever possible. In addition to his prescribed coursework, he studied classic men’s cuts from a 1960s printing of A.B. Moler’s Standardized Barbers’ Manual, a textbook originally published in 1911. He also invested in some Oster Classic 76 clippers, a model favored by traditionalists (“The difference is like swinging a Louisville Slugger after swinging a crappy aluminum bat”).

His attention to vintage styles has made Schmidt a natural fit for many of his fellow local musicians, who appreciate the retro look of his cuts and have been his willing (and repeat) test subjects during his training.

Schmidt also said he’s found lots of parallels between drumming and barbering.

“There’s an old jazz saying that you’re only as good as the last gig you played,” he said. “It’s the same thing with hair. A barber can give somebody the best haircut ever one day and then screw up on the next guy that walks in.

“Your reputation lies directly in your own hands and you’re performing, in a sense. You have to be consistent.”

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