By Jess Goulart

Photo courtesy of Jenna Putnam.

You won’t believe the raw power of the garage rock band Winstons. Not because their aesthetic is complexly spontaneous or because that spontaneity is anchored by irresistibly danceable riffs, but because they sound like an eight piece band when they are, in fact, merely a duo.

And we use the word “merely” ironically–Lou Nutting (guitar, harmonica, vocals) and Ben Brock Wilkes (drums, vocals) don’t do anything halfway. Though their sound respectfully pays homage to rock roots, it soars far, far above the genre’s conventionalities. This is especially felt on their latest EP, Turpentine, which features an inviting vulnerability and a willingness to change directions on a whim.

BTR caught up with Nutting and Wilkes to talk Virginia, trucks, and soul.

BreakThru Radio (BTR): Did you guys grow up as musicians?

Lou Nutting (LN): I learned how to play cello as a kid and then taught myself to play guitar, then banjo. [I] did that professionally for a couple years in Virginia. I played a lot of blues guitar before the banjo and now I’m kind of returning to the blues stuff, but a little heavier.

Ben Brock Wilkes (BW): I learned to play sax when I was 12 and played in jazz bands for a while until I started hanging out with people and drinking beer and realized that playing sax wasn’t very easy with just a couple friends. So I played in a punk band in college and learned to play the drums when I moved up to New York.

BTR: When did Winstons form?

BW: The first time we played together was New Year’s Day, 2014.

LN: We’re exactly as old as we are far away from New Year’s Day.

BTR: Were you super hungover for that show?

LN: [Laughs] Well that was our first time playing together as in just jammin’. We lived in the same town in Virginia before we moved up here, but met here. We met both working at Baby’s Alright and had a really quick “where are you from?” “Virginia.” “Where?” “Charlottesville.” “Who do you know?” And blah blah blah. Then we got together to play on a lark, because we were both looking to play professionally, and then we just got to jam New Year’s Day and it was really fun! [We] booked a show two months later.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Langley.

BTR: You guys call yourselves garage soul. Can you expand on that?

LN: The genre aesthetic is garage and DIY–the two of us, guitar, drums, and our voices–but the music can be emotional vulnerability, and the material is much more stacked records, like Otis Redding and soul stuff.

BW: A lot of the time we’re playing tunes that were written for a big six-to-eight piece band but in the effort of us boiling down to the meat and potatoes, bare bones of just us two, that’s where the garage comes. So the soul is first in terms of the songwriting, the way it comes across and our sort of raw, spontaneous nature makes it the stuff you can relate to.

BTR: How does that affect your style when you play live?

LN: Our performances are very improvisational, we go after it pretty hard. We at times are very quiet with three to five harmonies and on the lighter side of things, and then we also go really, really loud. We maintain a really expansive dynamic in terms of volume.

BW: We’re not from New York, and we appreciate it here because there is so much opportunity, but a lot of stuff here is very cool. And while we’re cool, we’re not too cool. We’re not afraid to fuck up, make a mistake; it’s all part of the fun for us. We’re just trying to have a good time and inspire everyone else to do the same, we’re not worried about stuffing our leather jackets on the stage or–

LN: We have less accessories than chops.

BTR: Well said! And how about the recording process for Turpentine, was that pretty spontaneous too?

BW: It was pretty much just like a live show except for a tiny bit of sweetener. We went in one afternoon and recorded to tape. We had one reel, 25 minutes worth of, what, two-inch tape?

LN: Yeah two-inch width tape, and we went and played five songs on the tape, stored that tape, erased it, and did that again–played five songs again.

Photo courtesy of Walter Wlodarczyk.

BW: We did it at Serious Business with Hansdale Hsu during fall fashion week in SoHo, right before they moved locations. If I’m not mistaken it was either the last or one of the last recording sessions in that location for Serious Business. Hans said, “Hey you guys wanna come do this?” And we said, hell yes.

LN: Yeah we did two takes of each song, but ended up keeping the first take of the first four songs we did. It was a three hour session and then we came back the next afternoon and put really light overdub on two of them and a harmonica on one, a piano on one, but it was all first takes. So it’s super live on tape and that comes through pretty clear.

We don’t want to step in the same river twice with the way we perform our songs. Lyrics shuffle around, structure shuffles around, we always leave ourselves a lot of room to play it honestly and in the moment we’re doing it–song to song–there’s a lot of note writing with the guitar so we can take sharp turns pretty fast, if the performance calls for it.

BTR: How does that affect your songwriting process?

LN: A lot of it is us trying to go into the studio with blank heads and just start playing. We record all of our rehearsals and I think listening to rehearsal is about as valuable as the rehearsal itself, if not more so. We’ll have just free-form sessions and then it’s a lot of me sitting on my green love seat, inspired by something we recorded, and putting words to it. One song we recently recorded I wrote while driving to Ben’s house in my pickup truck.

Which just died. I’m super sad about it. She is toast now. I’ve had her for like 15 years.

BTR: Oh no! We’re so sorry.

LN: It’s alright. She’s in a garage in Virginia right now, probably with cinder blocks under her axles.

BTR: So what’s the future looking like for you guys?

BW: We have four tunes that we’re hopefully going to record in the next month and put them out this summer, hopefully in time for a tour. Do like a little East Coast banger with our friends Killer Ghost from Seattle.

LN: And I’m going to retrieve my truck’s ashes, and scatter them along I-81.

For more from Winstons head to their Bandcamp, Facebook, or BTR’s own In The Den.