Some people may think it’s crazy that garage rock duo Deaf Poets would leave their hometown of Miami Beach this time of year to travel the East Coast, but after talking to singer/guitarist Sean Wouters, it’s clear that the only thing on their minds is getting their indie music out there.
Wouters and drummer Nicolas Espinosa have been working on just that since high school, and with this being their first-ever tour, the excitement they share is palpable even in a phone conversation. The Weekender caught up with them as they drove to Boston, just days away from a stop at The Keys in Scranton on Thursday, Dec. 19.
THE WEEKENDER: So what has the tour been like so far?
SEAN WOUTERS: It’s been great, actually. The only thing that’s been the most difficult for us would be the weather because we’re not used to it, being from South Florida, weather being 30 (degrees), and the wind chill is a little hard. But besides that, it’s been an awesome experience. We’ve been meeting a lot of great people in really, really cool venues, especially. We just left Nashville. Everywhere we’ve been going to has actually been the first time for me, so everything’s new, which is great.
W: You guys have known each other since you were kids, and you’ve had a few bands since then. Why is Deaf Poets the band that stuck?
SW: It’s actually the most serious project we’ve had. Nico and I used to be involved about three years ago in another band, and we had a little bit of an issue with the input of what the other members were putting in, and Nico and I were always the ones that were always the most determined, always the most committed. We were always there on time, and we ended up just jamming and having a few songs on the side for fun, and then when the last band ended up falling through, Nico and I just took this as a little fun basically, and people responded so well every time we played a show that we ended up keeping it going. Then I became the lead singer and lead guitarist and main songwriter, which is a role that Nico and I weren’t used to.
W: What influenced you as you learned songwriting?
SW: I always like making covers, from Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. I always had little songs I would play on the side for fun, especially in high school. And then one day to the next, Nico and I just started writing our songs, and the influences are huge. Nico’s favorite bands are My Morning Jacket and Elvis Costello, just to name a few, and then mine are some classics like Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and bands now – Iron and Wine and folk artists that I’m really into right now.
W: Why did you first take up guitar?
SW: My mom, actually, she forced me to do it because my brother and sister were always very into sports. They were always like the best in everything. I never was involved in that; I never liked it.
In fourth grade, I started. I ended up dropping out of that in seventh grade because of just a lack of interest, and then I got back into it in ninth to twelfth grade in high school and I took it very seriously. Nico and I started our first band in ninth grade where we were experimenting with all kinds of influences.
W: What made you keep going?
SW: It’s the only thing I really know how to do, I guess. I would say I don’t have too many hobbies except playing music – that’s really mostly what my life involves.
W: How did you choose the name Deaf Poets?
SW: Nico thought of the name. We used to work in a retail store together and we were just passing some time, and we were actually trying to think of a name for the band and we couldn’t think of anything. We saw a “Dead Poets Society” shirt, from that old Robin Williams movie, and we were like, “Oh, what about the Deaf Poets?” and it ended up sticking, and three years later, we still have it.
W: You have a very full-sounding band with only two members. How do you accomplish that?
SW: Well, when it comes to live, that’s the good thing that I always say in Nico’s performance. He’s not just the drummer – he really does do a lot in shows to fill in all the spaces that you would normally hear, other background drops and so on. When it comes to a song like “Cold Cold Thieves,” we do have a playback that we do just to fill in some of the sounds that are on the album.
W: What inspires your music?
SW: It can actually be from anything. Nico and I do have songs that are about girls and moments that are happening in our lives. We do also have songs that really don’t have much to do with anything. It could be the influence of a movie at the moment, or like music that we’re really into.
W: Tell us about your songwriting process on “4150,” the new record you have coming out.
SW: It’s really a compilation, actually, of all the different songs that we wrote in the last two years. It’s really an album that defines our sound because when Nico and I first started the band, to be honest, we didn’t know what we were doing, in a sense. Then we really became songwriters and really put time into writing lyrics and writing the guitar parts and fitting them perfectly with the drum parts.
Sometimes I’ll write a full song and I’ll just show it to Nico and we’ll put it together there. It could also be that I might have a melody or just a small guitar riff or so on, and then we’ll jam on it and we’ll write the song together. There’s also been many occasions where I’ll write something and then Nico will come back like, “Hey, I thought of this melody.” There’s actually like four songs where he basically wrote all of the lyrics himself. It works perfectly.
It’ll be funny because he and I both have very easy jobs right now in the sense that we have a lot of freedom. So he’ll go there with a notepad, and with the melody that he has in his head from the rehearsal we had in the morning, he’ll write down lyrics and text it to me or send it to me and we’ll be kind of sending each other messages and finishing it. So the creative process as much involves him as it does me. He’s not just the drummer.
W: So it’s a very collaborative process.
SW: Deaf Poets is as much his band as it is mine. Usually people don’t think that because they always give him just the title of the drummer, and that’s actually not at all what it is. He is really the other half.
With a lot of the songs, what we really love to do is to really give the power of not just two people, and that’s what a lot of people say when they see us perform. They don’t really miss the other parts that the stereotypical band would have, like a bass player or a second guitar player. That’s something that we’ve really put a lot of attention to.
W: What is the music scene like in Miami, and has that had any influence on what you guys do?
SW: Miami, as a music scene, is extremely multicultural. It’s very, very normal to play a show with a dubstep DJ and then a Latin band and then a metal band. The mix is always usually very profound. Definitely the music scene has influenced us in the sense that we like to have a very diverse catalog of songs, from heavy to folk to I would say more surf-based or even blues-influenced.
W: What can people expect here if they come to the show in Scranton?
SW: Definitely a good time. That’s what we love to do and what we try to do. That’s our job. … We’re going to try to give you every reason to love us.
It’s also exciting (for me) because I’m in the car with one of our best friends… and then of course Nico, and both of them have never seen snow before, so it’s going to be a pretty magical moment, if anything. I don’t know a better word for it. I’m excited for an extremely crazy snowball fight that I’m going to surprise them with.