With a melting pot of influences and backgrounds – The Ramones are a touchstone influence, and guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Juan Wauters was born in Uruguay — Queens-based The Beets might be the quintessential New York City band.
Having opened for Pavement, Vivian Girls and Mountain Goats, The Beets, which also feature Jose Garcia (bass, vocals) and Chie Mori (drums), recently released a video for “Doing As I Do,” filmed at Rockaway Beach before Hurricane Sandy and from “Let The Poison Out,” the band’s latest album released on Hardly Art in 2011. (You can view the video below.)
With a show scheduled for Wednesday, April 17 at the Crimson Lion Hookah Lounge in Wilkes-Barre, we chatted with Wauters about New York, why he’s glad he finally broke down and saw Bob Dylan in concert, and why you shouldn’t miss Wednesday’s show.
H81R: What are you working on currently? Are there plans for a follow-up to “Let The Poison Out”?
JW: The Beets have been playing shows and we are picking up steam to do a new album. There is a lot of material that could go into the album but, as I said, we are now looking at building tension within the band til the time is right for us to work on new material.
H81R: How would you describe The Beets’ live show to someone who hasn’t seen the band?
JW: From playing out and seeing other acts, I realized that The Beets’ strength at a live show is the live quality that their shows have. The band sounds very spontaneous and reactionary to the space where it is performing, and besides the music there are other elements that add up to the actual show. We have our own stage setup. Our own light show, our own decorations on the stage. The show is intended to take up as much space as possible within the space where we play.
H81R: Why do you think Chie has been able to stick around as the drummer? And why had it been so difficult to keep a drummer?
JW: Chie is very efficient at what she does and has a good vibe. That makes it easy for everybody to be cool. I am not really sure what makes it so hard for us to stay with the same drummer for a while. We have changed drummers for many different reasons. Something what might get in the way is that the drummer could at times feel left out by the fact that Jose, Matt and I grew up together and developed a sense of aesthetics together before they got involved in the project. This doesn’t mean that we won’t accept their input; they become a vital part of the group, but we are (as a band) very culty and clicky and that might turn them off. We don’t get tired of each other because we are used to it, but to other people it could be a spoonful.
H81R: How old were you when you moved from Uruguay? What type of musical experiences did you have in Uruguay before moving here?
JW: I was 18 when I came to Queens. In Uruguay I used to play music with a friend of mine. We were working on creating a new music style. We named it Construction Punk. We wanted to find the perfect sound between Ramones music and the sound of a construction site. We were quite successful at it. A neighbor invited us to play at his bar. We never played out.
H81R: Obviously many bands are based in New York, but press coverage of The Beets always seem to strongly identify you as a “New York band” and more specifically a Queens band. How do you feel living in Queens and New York in general has influenced your music?
JW: There are a lot of bands in New York, but there are only a few in our circuit that are actually from around here. Most bands are formed with kids from other places. We were formed in a New York neighborhood and our aesthetics represent that.
Being from here, walking around, feeling like the city is ours put us in a place of enlightenment that shows through our creation. We are very proud of our heritage and wanna represent our breed.
H81R: Speaking of New York, the Village Voice called you “One of the most underappreciated bands in New York.” At this point, do you feel underappreciated? Obviously, most bands want to be as successful as possible. What would be a comfortable level of success for you in this band?
JW: We want to reach as many people as possible. We carry a positive message with the option of change and involvement. That will endure. Appreciation by others is always positive, too, but our goal as a band is beyond that. Our goal is to fulfill a space in the arts that we see as vacant. We are just trying to create our own parallel world.
We don’t feel underappreciated. We have always gotten better at what we do and have been on top of our game, and that is enough for us to feel good about our position in the present.
H81R: Last New York question: You filmed the video for “Doing As I Do” at Rockaway Beach. How does it feel watching that video following Hurricane Sandy? And were you personally affected by Sandy at all?
JW: I was out there right after it happened and everything was messed up. I helped at the time as much as I could. The band played some benefit shows. Many friends got their property messed up. Everything is getting better, but there are still a lot of people that are suffering from it. I am so glad that the video was filmed there. A nice homage to the beauty of our town. Not to say that it is not beautiful now. Always the most beautiful one. It was a very special moment at a very special place.
H81R: What was it like opening for Pavement? Are you able to learn or observe anything from a band that has made it to that level? Or in many ways is it just another gig and your job is to play?
JW: It was great to play there because we were able to invite our families and friends to a really nice venue [Rumsey Playfield in Central Park]. The show sounded great and we were treated very nicely. I brought my father backstage for a beer. I got a massage before I played. My family and Jose’s family watched the show together from the bleachers. Overall, a great experience. The guys in Pavement were great, and it would be great to get to their level of professionalism.
H81R: How would you describe the songwriting process in the band?
JW: I constantly write songs as they come to me. I do it as a way of studying my present situation in the world. Sometimes they study my inner problems and sometimes they study things that draw my attention and are part of my surroundings. It is, to some degree, a way I found to deal with my conflicts. Once the songs have a general structure, I present them to the band and we work them out together, shaping them in a way that works with our elements and our sound. Sometimes, the songs end up becoming Beets songs. Some other times, they don’t fit the spirit of the band and they are put aside. Those songs are sometimes revisited years later and for some reason they end up working out at that particular time. It is all a continuation of something that we have already done. A very nice, endless way to approach a project.
H81R: What have you been listening to lately?
JW: I have been listening to a lot of Ramones lately. They have always been the greatest school form me. I study them line by line as a source of inspiration. Besides Ramones, lately, I have listened to a lot of tango. Old mix tapes that my father used to make off of the radio when I was a kid in Uruguay. An album that has been almost a religion for me over the past couple of months is called: “En Persona.” It’s an album by Astor Piazzola and Horacio Ferrer.
H81R: What was the first record you owned?
JW: I don’t remember. There was always music at my house. Though, I remember when I bought my first record with my own money. It was a record I bought at the old Kim’s on St. Mark’s. It was a Los Mockers record. Great record. It flipped my head.
H81R: What was the best concert you attended?
JW: The best concert I have ever seen was Bob Dylan at Jones Beach during the summer of 2011. Great concert. I’m crazy about Dylan but I was always against seeing him perform live because I was so obsessed with the old footage of him. However, one day I realized that that was a stupid preconception I had and that Dylan will always be Dylan as Dylan is today. Meaning, to go see him is to go see Dylan today. The guy has always changed and has always been unpredictable. When I realized that, I knew I was up for a treat by going to see him. It was just like that. He played a 10-minute-long harmonica solo on “Ballad of a Thin Man.” Blew my mind.
H81R: Is there anything else you would like to add about this tour or anything going with the band?
JW: The tour will be great. Don’t miss it. The band sounds really fresh and tight and, as always, we keep getting better at what we do. Great show. We are now concentrating about the show factor. The actual entertainment that we offer as a package.