I’ve been to Miami, Florida a grand total of one time in my life, and it was exactly the way I imagined it to be: somewhere between a city-wide porno set and an adult-sized McDonald’s playpen. Techno blared from every hotel, car and restaurant I walked by, I drank one of those crazy fishbowl margaritas with two bottles of Corona sticking out of it, and every graphic T-shirt I spotted was more sexually explicit than the last. I loved every second of it.
Based on that experience, I would have never thought that Deaf Poets, one of the best garage rock bands to come out of anywhere in American in recent memory, would call Miami home. Perhaps this just shows my ignorance of the region, but it’s hard to not imagine them gestating in a sonic womb of down ‘n’ dirty, heavy-as-fuck guitar riffs with the candy-colored whirlwind of South Beach swirls around them.
I caught up with Sean Wouthers (guitar) and Nico Espinosa (drums) for a quickie interview after seeing them basically destroy NYC’s Cakeshop with a scalding live performance a few months ago.
When I think “Miami”, I think crazy electronic dance music and parties till dawn. What is it like being a garage band from Miami, and what is the rock scene like down there? Nico: Miami has a few hidden gems of rock ‘n’ roll and the following is very consistent. You perform with the same bands and for the same people, so there’s a sense of community. You get close to your peers and fans, which is important. Competing with electronic music can be a blessing and a curse: the blessing being that there are groups of people that want to avoid that movement all together and just listen to rock ‘n’ roll. so we have that advantage. The curse is that most venues in Miami host parties that are very electronic-oriented. The number of venues suitable for an underground scene are definitely diminishing.
What are the perks of living in Miami? Nico: Definitely the weather! No matter the season, it is hot all around. Perfect for bike riding and going to the beach.
One of the things that struck me when I first saw you guys play is how rip-roaringly loud your live presence is. Production-wise, how do you make a two-piece sound that intense? Sean: I am a huge gear geek, as people call it. My obsession with my rig started at the age of 12, from purchasing my first typical Boss pedal to now personally modifying everything myself. I encourage everyone to experiment and explore the sonic possibilities available today. I love using vintage analog pedals and pulling the tone out of whatever guitar Im using. My tone is a combination of pedals I’ve acquired over the years to help create the full and low-end mix you hear live. Nico: From my end, I try to tune my drums as low as possible and use big cymbals. I keep my drum parts as easy and full as possible.
How long have you been playing music together? Sean: Nico and I started playing together during our freshmen year in high school. From there on we separated and experimented in different music projects till we reformed a group early of 2008. A year later we accidentally formed the Deaf Poets.
Who or what above all do you think inspires your music the most? Sean: Our inspiration is a never-ending list of past and present experiences.
Brand new Tommy feat. anonymous Italo disco diva Sally Shapiro. An excellent slice of ice-cold electro-pop called “Why Did I Say Goodbye”, as if there weren’t enough chilly vibes in your life right now…
[Ed.: ‘SUP 2014 is an online series where we check in with some of our favorite artists of 2013 and see how their year went, while looking forward to their upcoming work for 2014. Here are 2013’s top musical moments from musician, author and drag superstar Alexis Blair Penney.]
In short, this year was really amazing and really fucked up. Music is kind of my driving force, the thing that lives beneath and within and above and through everything I do, kind of the purpose and the practice of my life, so I’ve been through some high highs and very low lows with music this year.
Finishing my album
I worked on this damn thing for so long and we finally wrapped her and released her this year. It was such a strange and amazing journey with my collaborators (Nick Weiss of Teengirl Fantasy and Jamie Crewe of Poisonous Relationship), from a place where I was just like, “Ok, let’s see if I can do this,” to “Oh my goddess I’m doing this if it kills me ahhh!!!” So I feel like I really grew up with this record, and it’s really important to me and I’m pretty proud of it, even though right away it has that first record feel for me, like, thinking of things we could have done different, stuff like that, but you just at some point have to go with it, and luckily this is something I’m fairly good at, just letting an idea fly later regret be damned. My idea is to build and grow on and with my music and am already hard at work on that, so I feel like someday (and already even) I can look back on Window and be like oh, cute, love her.
Listening to the Tamaryn discography on acid
Just do it. Even if just from The Waves straight into Tender New Signs. Do it a few times. Throw in Led Astray, Washed Ashore. Just let it all resonate. And actually another thing we did on this same night was listen to the self-titled album by Quilt from 2011, it’s also seemingly made to reveal itself on psychedelics, really beautiful record and I don’t know anything about that band. That was a cool night.
I actually can’t remember if this happened in late ’12 or early ’13 but I don’t really have a concept of time anyway and it was incredible. I had kind of randomly happened into the club (Santos) because my girls were hosting and eaten molly before I realized it was an acid night and I think also DJ Pierre was playing? The sets were mind-blowing and then Phuture came on, dude with really heavy gear and a guitarist doing seriously manic technical shit along to this blistering acid house, I was totally blown away, and had 303 lines chittering in my head for days. It was crazy.
Everything I’ve cried to walking around
Always, every day. Especially before drag shows when I’m like rehearsing a lip synch to, say, “Love And Anger” by Kate Bush just walking around and spontaneously burst into tears. Or listening to “The Last Time I Saw Richard” by Joni Mitchell walking back from the grocery store as the sun is coming down. Waterworks. That’s my everyday.
Singing in Colin Self’s Elation choir at PS1
Colin is of course a truly devastating, angelic diva force of nature, kind of like a celestial light being chose to inhabit a body made from DNA of Arthur Russel and Celine Dion, and getting to be a part of this choir was really cool, with lots of amazing vocal talent from New York and beyond, wearing masks with LED faces and singing three part harmonies along with his beautiful synth hymns, it kind of made me really start thinking about singing again, where I came from in church choir and where I can maybe go. Live for her.
Is the best DJ in New York City. Not to bash on anyone else, but he really takes it there in so many ways, definitely has a really cool and deep and gay magic with house magic but his sets always hop across so many genres, and he mixes so beautifully and with really good energy, everywhere I am hearing him I am dancing my ass off. I’ve gotten really into going to see him downstairs at Vandam on Sundays but 11:11 on Fridays is also really fun and he kills it there (with Physical Therapy and sometimes Honey Dijon upstairs, also amazing). Basically anywhere you can hear him, do it. I always do this thing when I’m trying to flirt with guys on the internet (we were friends from the internet for a long time before we’d met) where I ask them to swap .zips of our 13 favorite songs, and his were SO good. And not only that but he’s a super talented artist and just the sweetest guy. Total genius.
Raul de Nieves
Raul is another just like sonic boom of so much talent and heart and energy, I always feel so just excited when I get to see him perform. This summer we did a show together that Stewart Uoo put together at Art Space that was really incredible. Raul was just like goofily, nonchalantly binding himself up in this crazy carapace of a body he had made with clear plastic tape that kind of had a life of its own, and started his set on his knees with the false legs of the thing kind of acting as his legs, and slowly evolved into this shrieking commanding demon goddess creature standing with 4 legs, bellowing to the gods to like really blistering electronic music, it was maybe one of the most powerful performances I’ve ever seen, and he’s so chill and casual about everything he does before and afterward it’s really cool. His sets with Haribo are always like so beautiful and conceptual and like weirdly bone-chilling, like he is getting to really deep emotional places but has a really exquisite mind and way of delivering, I think he kind of defies classification musically, like somewhere between Lydia Lunch and a spirit medium, and then you see his visual art and everything else he does and it’s just like, woah. He’s also blown my mind with some drag, from Swans to Smashing Pumpkins to Alicia Keyes, so brilliant. Love love love her.
Something I almost never allow is for people to fuck with my iTunes when they are hanging out at my house, so when I not only let Grant do that on our first night hanging out but was blown away by everything he had to play me, I really kind of knew that he was special. When maybe 2 weeks later he said he had a room open up in Brooklyn I just knew that this was it, that was where I wanted to be. Some of the best times of my life, and this year, were spent hanging out in each others’ rooms late at night, sometimes stoned, sometimes stone sober just playing each other songs, giving each other head rubs, talking and arguing and theorizing about music, from wacked out bizarre country Americana deep cuts to Rihanna and Miguel to Bruce Springsteen and especially Joni Mitchell, he was about the only person who could get as deep with Joni as me. I love so much when we would talk about folk and rock singers critically panned 80s synth moments, one of my favorite micro-genres, and I would list a particularly crazy record of that bend that I loved and he’d gleefully shout, “You’re a maniac!” He was one of the only people who listened to everything with as much analysis and deep love and connection as I feel I do. Possibly the only that I’ve met to date who so exactly sat where I sit with music.
Grant was also an incredibly talented musician in his own right, one of the most gifted guitarists I’ve ever heard and had the pleasure to work with. He always understood exactly what I was trying to do artistically, especially with my music, and I think I understood exactly what he was doing and where he was going with his band, Icewater. Our collaboration began with him accompanying me just on guitar for some more down-tempo renderings of my songs, and some really wild covers, doing things I’d always fantasized about doing but never had the means. He laid down the guitar that took my record over the edge to the places where I had always wanted it to go, and his band backed me up on some shows. The first time I went to their practice space to hear that they had completely nailed all of my songs so eloquently and perfectly, reinterpreting so perfectly, and I started singing in the practice mic, I got so many chills. I felt I had found my musical kin, super talented sweet heart hotties who got where I was coming from and could easily bridge what some would see as a gap between my weird house music and their beautiful melodic psych-rock.
For awhile Icewater had a studio set up in our living room where they were recording their first full-length on all analog reel-to-reel. The energy of having them in that space and hearing them work out those songs was so inspiring and vital to me, and I loved having this family of boys around, though it was always Grant who took care of me the most. My favorite song on their recently released album is “Sandbox,” which he wrote and sang on, nailing the eerie, sexy vocals in our living room I’m pretty sure. I heard them play that song so many times, and lots of his songs, and really started to feel where he was going. I had a vision of all of us changing the idea of American music. I believed in his melodies and his music so much, and still do.
Grant died on July 26. Immediately on hearing the news, “Sandbox” started playing over and over in my head, and stayed there for a really long time. One of the first things I cried for, wept for, and still do, is the songs, his songs, all the songs I know he had sketched out on his phone, or half written in his head, all the songs that would never be heard, selfishly by me, but by everyone. I’ve made some peace, I understand that music is the message, and a musician the medium, that it all comes from the same kind of unknowable absolute, the source, but it gets filtered through experience, through a body, and I miss his body channeling music so much, and I mourn for the music he never got to channel, for the music we never got to channel together. I know it will find a way out somehow, and like to think it is through me in some small part, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
At his memorial in our backyard, his amazing friends had strung lanterns between the eaves of the roof, and we all sat and watched Icewater, sans Grant, accompany their friend Cassandra Jenkins, another lovely and talented musician, in her song “The Bird.” As they lit the kind of lanterns that float through the air like miniature hot air balloons via candle, she sang,
“Now I know
What you are
And it does me no good”
And the lanterns flew up and into the air as the sun went down and they just wailed on it, just destroyed the song, and it was so beautiful, the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, and the most devastating, and I’ve never cried so much.
[Alexis’ debut record and novel, both entitled Window, are out now. More information on his site.]
[Ed.: ‘SUP 2014 is an online series where we check in with some of our favorite artists of 2013 and see how their year went, while looking forward to their upcoming work for 2014. This is the 2013’s top musical moments from UK post-punk newcomers Eagulls.]
1. Listening to Nick Cave play “Jubilee Street” outside the venue in Texas as we couldn’t get in. We made a band banner and had some drinks and listened on the pavement.
2. Our guitarist Goldy getting kicked out of our own show five times whilst supporting Buzzcocks in Barcelona due to the promoters being too… generous.
3. Cradling our best friend to sleep as he took too much acid. That night he was reborn and we christened him “BABYMAN”.
4. Going to Mexico to play Festival Normal and not getting abducted or decapitated whilst doing so.
5. The most important thing this year was Goldy purchasing an iPhone. He made this statement on the matter, “This was a life changing experience for me.”
[Eagulls’ self-titled EP is out now, with their debut LP Eagulls poised to be one of the freshest rock records of 2014.]
'SUP 2014: Bella Union and snowbird's Simon Raymonde
[Ed.: ‘SUP 2014 is an online series where we check in with some of our favorite artists of 2013 and see how their year went, while looking forward to their upcoming work for 2014. First off is ex-Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde of Bella Union Records and the new symphonic pop band snowbird.]
Simon: Have to say 2013 has been one of the best years of this decade to date for music, and thankfully the UK has begun to unleash some fearsome bands for the first time in a long while. I was born in 1962, so the golden era of post-punk for me was in 1979-80, when i was a 17-year-old already bored of “three chords”. Wire, Buzzcocks, The Slits, The Clash, Subway Sect, Gang of Four, Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League and Joy Division, (to name a few) were the UK bands who I loved dearly and ever since, I have been waiting for anything resembling a scene that vibrant. Running my label, I found more originality and musicality inside the USA for the first 10-15 years, but just recently, let’s say since 2011, I’ve slowly fallen back in love with British music. Lanterns on the Lake, PINS, Money, Landshapes, Cashier No. 9, Zun Zun Egui and Veronica Falls are all bands from the UK I’ve signed in the past two years. Seeing them develop and achieve success, even on a smaller scale, is what makes this job the best in the world.
Take PINS for example. A teenage all-girl band from Manchester who got thrust into the limelight very soon after their first show ever, it seemed unfair and lazy to me for the press to lump PINS into the same bracket as fellow Mancunian all-girl band Savages, who were coming up around the same time. Ironically, I saw PINS for the first time supporting an early Savages show at The Bunker in Manchester in May 2012, and signed them shortly after. They were raw, and had only been playing their instruments a short while, but there was 100% something there that I felt would grow and grow, and I felt an excitement that I hadn’t experienced since seeing The Slits for the first time supporting The Clash!
Fast-forward to this month and their show with Dum Dum Girls in London, and PINS have grown into everything I could have hoped for. They still have that raw power that comes from growing up listening to Sonic Youth, The Stooges and MC5 no doubt, but with great songs and fantastic chops! Yes, they are adorable and stylish but it’s them, they are the real thing. They have attitude and swagger that must never to be mistaken for arrogance. Only one year from their formation, they are selling out shows and blowing minds, not as a result of hype but because they are a superb modern gothic rock ‘n’ roll band.
For this article, I could have picked Midlake’s return with the fabulous Antiphon, the Iceland Airwaves Festival, my trip to New Zealand and Brisbane this year, Money (another mercurial Manchester band), my first ever Coachella, or the Flaming Lips shows in 2013 but I have to choose PINS for their continued emergence from the chrysalis as a beautiful, strong butterfly.
[Ed.: PINS’ debut album Girls Like Us will be out in the US in March 2014 with a tour to follow. snowbird’s debut single “Porcelain” is out now with debut album moon this spring.]