Jose Garcia and Juan Wauters don’t have much in common. For those familiar with The Beets, the jangly, lo-fi trio the two New Yorkers founded a little more than four years ago, this may come as some surprise. Write-ups on the band run thick with spontaneous road trips in a 1985 Volvo and all-day hangouts in a pad littered with MAD magazines and filled with the sound of Howard Stern. All of this is, for the most part, true. Both men do love MAD, and they both adore the work of their self-declared shock-jock idol. But focusing on this side of The Beets hides an essential truth: Garcia and Wauters don’t really spend time together outside of their music.
“He’s very stuck in his ways,” Garcia says of his co-founder. “I like watching movies. He like falls asleep if we watch a movie. We don’t really have much in common except the music and I guess on the outlook on life stuff. But as far as hobbies or hanging out, it really is drinking beers and playing music, and that’s how it’s been for a long time.”
Garcia met his cohort while taking art classes at LaGuardia Community College. Garcia remembers that he dressed with an impeccable sense of cool and that he had sneakers signed by Adam Green of indie folk act The Moldy Peaches, a band that Garcia also admired. He assumed that Wauters had good taste in music, but, being quite shy, he didn’t approach him until halfway through the semester. One day, they found themselves sitting with a mutual friend, and Garcia asked Wauters if he played guitar. They’ve played together ever since, working through stints with two other short-lived projects before starting The Beets.
Their music befits these off-the-cuff beginnings. Wauters’ shambling acoustic strums are accented with a touch of Byrds-inspired reverb, but they meet up with DIY punk rhythms by way of Garcia’s bass and the drumming of Chie Mori. The combo stutters along in charming herks and jerks that find their way into catchy two-minute bursts. It’s a chaotic blur that imprints on your brainpan in one huge rush. On their first two LPs — 2009’s Spit in the Face of People Who Don’t Want to Be Cool and 2010’s Stay Home — their cheaply rendered recordings resulted in a booming, fuzzed-out product that led many to lump them with the host of lo-fi artists emanating from New York.
But as Garcia, points out the grouping isn’t quite accurate. For starters, their style sounds more a part of the past than presently trending styles, borrowing its hyper-relaxed garage aesthetic from myriad post-Nuggets rockers and grabbing Wauters’ slack-jawed sneer from the band’s most commonly cited influence: the Ramones. There’s also the fact that The Beets cooked up their sound in near-complete isolation. Garcia says they were mystified as to the way bands work their way from small, local gigs to larger out-of-town dates. Thus, the band didn’t really play out before they settled on a direction.
“I remember growing up and listening to music, it would always be like all of a sudden, a band is popular,” Garcia says. “I never really thought about local shows and bands starting out. I was just kind of clueless about it. I only started listening to music and playing the bass when I was like 18. I didn’t really have an older brother who listened to underground music or anything.”
The Beets’ new album, Let the Poison Out, increases the fidelity without forsaking the band’s rough-and-tumble allure. Though it’s fairly clean, it was still recorded to tape and hence maintains the warmth of the band’s previous recordings. The upgrade makes the band sound a bit brighter, which makes sense for these songs. As their album covers – and endless array of bloody, crayon-drawn violence — suggest, The Beets aren’t afraid to get dark. Here though, they take a twisted look at paradise. Opener “You Don’t Want Kids to Be Dead” uses the cynical observation of its title as the impetus to live a good life. “Do it well/ If not, don’t bother, man,” Wauters sings. “If you don’t care, then who will?”
It’s an intriguing evolution, but The Beets don’t think about it that much. They know they may soon run out of growing room within their bare-bones style. For now though, Garcia and Wauters just want to keep making music together. After all, it’s one of the few activities they both enjoy doing.
“We’re really into the music that we make,” Garcia says. “It just works. Juan writes the songs, and I’m one of his biggest fans. Then, he brings them to us and we play.”
The Beets play The Get Down in West Asheville on Monday night, with The Treatment.