Smile Politely

Beautiful Minds

This story is not about how Nic Dillon almost died last summer. It’s a story about how Nic and his wife Heather (who make up the Champaign-Urbana duo, Casados) choose to live a quiet and idyllic life together in this charming town.

I pulled up to their yellow stucco abode on an unusually warm day. Stunning. Nic scooped up their loveable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Sadie, before she got the chance to pounce.

“You’re not allergic to dogs, are you?” Nic asked politely.

“Nope. Not a chance,” I said. She pounced away.

Nic gave me a tour of the living room, dining room and kitchen. Light bathes the hardwood floors and vast space. I hadn’t expected the interior to be so large judging from the outside. Nic and Heather’s housemate, Zack, came bounding in from another room. After the how-do-you-do’s we headed toward the hearty aroma emanating from the kitchen.

Before I had the chance to question it, Nic answered, “Split pea soup, cauliflower poppers and cornbread.” A stranger comes over to bother them with questions about their lives, and they prepare a homemade feast. Well now I felt like a dope.

“I figure if we need to be cooped up inside because of the winter, we might as well be able to enjoy the smell of some food cooking,” Nic said.

“He’s been dying to try some recipes for the crock pot,” Heather chimed in. She checked on the poppers and cornbread in the oven. “Just about ready.”

I had yet to be let in on the secret of who Zack was. Brother? Close friend?

“We found him on Craigslist,” Nic said. And here I thought you could only find pedophiles and stolen bikes on Craigslist. Zack had been looking for a place to live and the Dillons found they had too much space for the two of them.

“I never understood why a couple would need so much room,” Nic explained. “If we’re heating a space I think we should be able to share it.”

The sustainability of their lives manifested itself in the next section of my tour. “Would you like to see the garden?”

The three of them share a 1,000 square foot plot of garden in the backyard. They have baby seedlings growing in the basement, they hand-paved a brick path through the back, and they’re going to dig out an area for increased efficiency in properly clearing storm water. The poppers were impressive enough. It was clear they had big ideas and weren’t afraid to get dirty in executing them. Physically dirty, that is.

They asked some questions about my current state of affairs. No yard projects to speak of. No yard, actually. We sat down to eat the grub, and I asked them how they met.

“It was in a media writing class at Illinois State,” Nic said. “She sat next to me one day early on in the semester. I was that guy who always got too close to his friends who were girls, and then they didn’t want to break that ‘friend bond.’ ” Heather smiled coyly. “My friends told me to ask her out, so I did,” he finished.

I took a pretty hard look at the two of them. They look a little alike, in a cute-couple-best-friends sort of way. Like the kind of couple who could finish each other’s sentences, and indeed did a few times while I was there. We talked about Sadie (whom they take on tour with them), Vermont (not as friendly as it seems) and living the quiet life.

They started a band named Winter in Alaska when they were still dating, because it just made sense. Two musical souls living together are bound to make beautiful music. Casados began later as just a duo, but they toyed with the idea of more members. They were a seven-piece at Pygmalion two years ago. In the end, it wasn’t for them.

“It felt a little strange when we decided to switch back to just the two of us,” Heather said. “Something felt wrong about not having drums or a bass, but I think it took us a lot of confidence in what we’re doing to realize we didn’t need it.” They joked about the idea of buying a Prius to drive them and Sadie around on tour. In fact, we all laughed quite a bit throughout the afternoon. It was truly serene.

Heather explained she once had a job writing encyclopedia articles about boy bands, a job as a waitress and a teacher at Parkland. Nic works at the College of Engineering and gives guitar lessons at C.V. Lloyde. Music isn’t the breadwinner of the family, but it certainly seems to be the passion.

We got on the subject of the new project of Nic, Ryan Groff and Cole Rabenort called The Shadowboxer Collective, which Smile Politely recently profiled. “We wanted to be able to provide the amenities, services and publicity to out-of-town acts that we wish we could have when we tour,” Nic said. Too hospitable for their own good. Both Heather and Nic have an innate enthusiasm to help people, to treat others as they’d like to be treated, and to make an impact on the world around them. The duo also discussed the possibility of taking a quick tour around Europe in the fall. From what I’ve heard, it will undoubtedly be more fulfilling than any time spent in Vermont.

Heather insisted that I leave the dishes for them to clean up later. Was there a catch? Were these seemingly wonderful people secretly collecting my hair to make a voodoo doll after they lured me in with their toasted cornbread?

They led me into their studio, and Sadie (pictured right) happily followed underfoot. “We’ve got about 8 songs out of 10, so it’s coming along,” Nic said of a new record. They gave me a sampling of about four songs, each of which was surprisingly different from the last. One was entirely piano and vocals, another was quick and strong and a third was relaxed but with a political message. The tentative title for the album is Money Is a Serial Killer.

“If people are going to spend 40 minutes listening to our record, we wanted to take them on a journey,” he said. Mid-speech, Nic picked up his guitar and gave me the string rendition of the solely piano song — just like that, like it was nothing. And let me tell you, it was really something.

We parted ways, and I came to the realization that with Casados there’s no catch. They are just two people who have decided to live a quiet life of cozy socks with slippers, cute inside jokes, a dog, music and family time. It’s very commendable to live such a simplistic lifestyle these days, if the slipper fits.


Top photo by Ryan Patrick Clarke. Middle photo by Samantha McGranahan.

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