Artist: Winona Avenue
Genre: Christian pop/alt-rock
Band Members: Daniel and David Deputy
Powerful bass riffs, punchy and upbeat drums, gritty guitar, with hopeful, positive lyrics? Winona Avenue has it all! Their debut self-titled album, set to release June 25, has everything fans of early 00s emo pop-punk could ask for and more. I had the pleasure of interviewing the band and let me just say, these two brothers are absolutely delightful in conversation. They are kind, humble, and quick to crack a joke. One can absolutely tell they love what they’re doing, and that God is working in their lives and through their music. It’s truly a joy to see in action.
Winona Avenue’s music is inspired by many of the early 00’s pop-punk and emo bands, both secular and Christian. Daniel and David Deputy do a great job of making their music unique and fresh instead of copying what everyone else does. Their songs feel nostalgic and new at the same time. I’m excited for their album release and to see the feedback they’ll receive. I enjoyed every song on this album, and I know everyone else will, too.
Now, onto the interview…
On camera, David and Daniel both appeared relaxed and genuinely happy to be speaking with me about their album. I warned them this was my first interview and to go easy on me, but I quickly learned that wouldn’t be an issue. We had been trying to get an interview scheduled for a few months now, but the timing never seemed to work out for one reason or another. Now, with their debut album releasing, everything just fell into place and the timing couldn’t be better. I am grateful to them for their patience and for making time for this interview right before they were scheduled to perform at Kingdom Come Festival. I know they had plenty to do and songs to practice, but they were still willing to meet with me for a couple of hours to discuss their debut album.
David is the drummer for the band and the expert lighting tech. Daniel plays guitar, bass, sings lead vocals, and also produced the entire album himself. Isaac Moreno, the former sound engineer for Seventh Day Slumber, mixed the tracks once Daniel was done with production, and Justin Perkins created the masters for the album. For their music videos, Andrew Rozario directed, and Winona Avenue had several friends and actors, plus themselves, for a full cast. Later in the interview, they go into detail on how God orchestrated the connections they’ve made and how so many people have supported their band throughout the last two years. It’s inspiring to say the least.
You’ve been Winona Ave. for about two years, but how long have you been playing together as a group?
Daniel: We’ve known each other our whole lives, of course. I had been in our previous band, Blank Pages, since 8th grade. That would’ve been around 2006. So, we performed under that name for a long time. I think David joined around the time we were playing our biggest show to date. It was a big crowd of about 2,000 people. Everything we’d ever played before that was not even in the same ballpark with the number of people there. I don’t even know how we booked that concert, truthfully.
David: Yeah, we definitely didn’t belong there (laughs).
Daniel: It was when Superchick was still a band, actually. They were scheduled to play the first night, and we were scheduled for the other. Our drummer had just left the band two months before that. We already had the show booked and we needed a drummer. I knew David had been playing drums.
David: I knew the three worship beats you needed to know to play at an all-country church and that was it, though.
Daniel: Yeah! So, we practiced for about two months leading up to the concert and I taught him all of our songs. We were practicing every day, almost non-stop, and he ended up absolutely nailing the show. If you watch him today, he’s much more energetic than he was at that first show (laughs).
David: I was stiff as a board! I was so nervous, but I think I played everything right!
Daniel: That was our first show performing together, and that was 2011. We’ve been bandmates ever since.
So, it’s been about 10 years since you’ve both been performing and recording together. That’s great! A family band!
David: I always like to tell people I’m self-taught at the drums, because I don’t want my brother getting all the credit (laughs).
What instruments do both of you play?
Daniel: I play guitar, bass, drums. I actually grew up playing drums the most. The only time I play drums now is when we’re on tour and I’m helping set the drums up. I get on for a few minutes until someone stops me. It’s been a while so I’m a little rusty (laughs).
David: Yeah, it took me a while to become the best drummer in the band.
Daniel: (looking at David) I think you only play drums, right? Unless you’ve been hiding some talent from me.
David: If someone handed me a bass and showed me all the notes to play for a song and I had a week to learn it, I could pretend to know how to play bass. But no, I really just hit things for a living.
You definitely do not have to play more than one instrument. Some people choose one instrument and focus on that and some play a little of everything.
David: Then you have the freaks of nature who master every instrument they touch and the rest of us are stuck just being jealous (laughs).
Is there a deeper meaning to your band name “Winona Avenue,” or is it simply a street name from your childhood?
Daniel: Yeah, there’s definitely a deeper meaning, and I’ll get to that in just a second. When choosing our band name, we wanted something unique to us. One of the biggest problems we had as Blank Pages was there are so many other bands using that same name. When we chose it in 8th grade, it never occurred to us to check online for any other bands with the same name. So, when someone would try to pull us up on Spotify, you’d hear one or two of our songs, but then you’d hear a song from the band in Germany, one from the band in New Jersey, and so on. Each sound was entirely different from ours. We decided to change our name completely. We were going to use Winona Drive, but when we Googled it, we found a production company with the same name in Washington. We didn’t want to take away from what they already had, of course. So, we went with Winona Avenue, and I kind of like it better anyway. It sounds nicer together. As for the deeper meaning behind the name: We all have different paths in our lives and roads we walk down, you know? Life is basically one long road. It’s formed by the decisions we make, who we follow, and the directions we’re given. Then, it directs where we eventually end up. No matter if you hit a dead-end or if it’s a busy time or a lonely time; no matter where you are on the road, there’s always hope for a new beginning. So, that’s basically the message behind the name.
It’s like a message of hope for what’s to come and remembering where you’ve been.
Daniel: Yeah, it kind of goes along with the message of our album, too. Positivity, hope, and second chances. We have a song called “Beautiful Beginnings” and when you look at the album art, the cover is a road. Looking through the booklet where the lyrics are, it’s a bunch of different roads. Then, at the end, the last song is called “Day of our Lives” and the art is of a sunny beach and Ferris wheel.
The imagery is very powerful in the booklet for your album and also your music videos. I can definitely see how it all boosts the message of hope from your lyrics.
Daniel: We worked closely with Nick DePalo at Empirical Designs to create the art based on the album. He was fantastic to work with and we’re really happy with how it turned out. Shout out to Nick for being awesome! (laughs)
David: We’re not great at a lot, but we’re good at surrounding ourselves with people who are really talented and willing to work with us and help support us.
Who are some bands or artists that have influenced you?
Daniel: Growing up, David actually introduced me to my first pop-punk band, MxPx. You can definitely hear the influence in our music, too. He introduced them to me, and I would ride the school bus everyday with my little anti-skip portable CD player blasting MxPx. Then, we started listening to lots of other bands like The Starting Line, Relient K, Sugarcult…
David: I actually remember listening through our album and trying to compare them to some of our favorite bands. Well, not compare…just identify the different influences in our music and guess which band they came from.
Daniel: Yeah… Blink 182 was also a big influence for us all throughout high school.
David: I think both of our tastes in music have evolved, too, though. I still listen to all the pop-punk bands from when I was growing up, but I also listen to the new stuff like Machine Gun Kelly. I also like regular pop music, country, and even some rap. I can kind of listen to anything now…
Daniel: I think, if I had to pick a favorite artist from the last 5 years, I’d say The 1975s.
David: In the Christian world of music, we grew up listening to Stellar Kart, Hawk Nelson, Relient K, Switchfoot. Bands like that were also big influences for us.
Daniel: Oh, and Skillet, too. They were one of my favorites.
I could definitely hear a lot of those influences on your album. Winona Avenue has its own unique sound going on, too. It’s a great mix of both worlds. With that in mind, how would you say the music you perform has evolved over the years?
Daniel: When we performed as Blank Pages in high school and even after, we basically wanted to be another Blink 182. Different lyrically, of course, but we even had two singers that would switch back and forth like Blink 182. I don’t think we realized we were trying to be Blink 182 until we went to the studio to record. The producer was like, “You don’t need to be Blink 182. That already exists. You need to just be who you are.” I think that was what made me realize we needed to find and create our own sound. I think we’ve done a good job of it. It’s tough for me to listen to our album and say, “This sounds exactly like this artist.” I can still hear all the influences, but overall, it sounds uniquely Winona Avenue. We’re still working on it and evolving the sound, but we’re getting there. We want to create something that is “us.”
You’re always going to have outside influences and it’s hard to do anything new given there’s nothing new under the sun. But you guys have taken your influences and put your own spin on them to make a sound that is creative and solely yours.
Daniel: I think you could probably describe it as a weird mix of Blink 182, Paramore, Coldplay, and The Killers. If you had to, that is.
Now, with that in mind, tell me a bit about how your songwriting process goes.
Daniel: Typically, the music comes first, then the lyrics. I’ll put together several different song ideas, like one verse, a chorus, or just a guitar riff. I’ll record and then listen to them all later to choose the best of the bunch. For this album, I recorded over 50 different song ideas and narrowed them down to the best 20. Then, I added more to the recordings, narrowed that list down to the best 12, and finished them out as full songs. I don’t really have the lyric writing part down to a science of “what do I need to write about?” It’s more “what is on my heart right now?” or “what message does the world need to hear?” It happens very naturally. I never go into a writing session with the mindset of “I’m going to write about this.” I listen to the music and start writing down lyrics and go from there. It’s a very natural, go-with-the-flow process.
It sounds like your lyrics are inspired by what you feel God is saying the world needs to hear right now. Is it typically triggered by something you see on the news or by a scripture you read? Or just genuine, in the moment feeling the music and writing the lyrics down?
Daniel: Yeah, I guess it’s just whatever God puts on my heart in the moment.
David: It’s like a mix of everything, I would say. Definitely God and our faith, but also things we’re experiencing or have experienced and things we see out in the world.
Daniel: Of course! Yeah, when I write, I try to keep everything vague. I think only one song on our album was about someone I knew or something that happened in my life. The rest were songs I felt like the world needed to hear. I kept it vague enough that the lyrics would relate to just about anyone. It’s not about it being personal to me. It’s about, hopefully, meaning something to the listener.
David: Also, maybe “inspired by” or “comes from a place” or “from a feeling” you’ve been or felt before.
Daniel: Yeah! For instance, “December Night” is about life changing experiences, being lost, and finding hope or a home. That can be about finding Christ and salvation in His sacrifice, but it can also be so much more. In our music video for that song, it was focused on this little boy who had no family, but in the end, he gets adopted. The video had a Christmas theme, too. We felt it could relate to all different kinds of people and situations. It’s about finding a home, a place to belong, whatever that means to the person listening. That’s just one example of how I write a song to relate to the listener, no matter who they are or what they’re going through.
It’s a powerful gift you have, to be able to write lyrics that are on topic but also vague enough for the listener to interpret them or for the Holy Spirit to interpret for them whatever message they need to hear in the moment. I like that you’re able to be vulnerable and relatable without being super detailed or direct. That way, people feel like you’ve been “there” too, wherever “there” is for them.
Daniel: You know, not every song on every album is going to be this deep, emotional thing either. Our next album may be a bunch of non-personal songs or it might be a mix of personal and not personal. It just happened that most of the songs on this debut album were a little more personal.
How do you feel your faith influences your music for Winona Avenue?
David: I like to tell people that a lot of our music is written with outreach in mind. We’re not a worship band. We’re basically Christians who play in a rock band. Being Christians, we’re not ashamed of our faith and we want people to know what we’re about. We feel called to write music that makes a positive impact on people’s lives and points them to Jesus, without beating them over the head with a Bible. We can play as a band in a bar and fit in, but also play in a church and fit in. We couldn’t really do that as a “worship band,” you know? Worship music is great, and it has its place. Anything that glorifies God is great! But, the music we play now is just what we feel we’ve been called to do.
Daniel: When I write, I don’t try to limit myself. Some Christians artists seem to feel like they HAVE to write worship music. I’ve never really felt that way. I just write from my heart. I’d never actually written any worship music until this album. We have a song on the album called “Alive in You” and it’s basically an alternative rock worship song. It’s not something you’d necessarily hear in a church on Sunday, but it’s still a worship song. It’s about how awesome it is to go through every day with God and live your life for and with Him. It’s letting God know how great it is to have Him in my life and how I want to share with others how cool this experience is. So, it was definitely something different for us and I’m glad we made it. When a believer hears it, they can hopefully identify with it. When a non-believer hears it, who knows? Maybe they skip it or maybe they listen to it and come to know Jesus from it.
That’s a really important point. As a Christian in a band, you want to find a way to bridge the gap between Christ and the lost. Outreach is incredibly important, and I think, sometimes, we as Christians forget God gave us our gifts and talents so we would use them to reach the lost and not just boost our own credibility or ministry.
Did you both grow up in the church or did you encounter God later in life?
Daniel: I’ve always believed in God, but never really knew about the relationship aspect of Christianity. We went to church when we were young for a while and eventually stopped. Then, a friend of mine started inviting us to church in 7th grade, and that particular connection was basically all about music. He was the one who traded CDs with me all the time and we really connected over that shared love of music. In my freshman year, I went to Ichthus Festival, which was a big three-day Christian music festival. I initially went because I wanted to skip school (laughs). But when I got there, I was blown away by the ministry aspect of the whole thing. While Newsboys was on stage, I ended up giving my life to Christ. I didn’t know that was going to happen, but between their performance and all the small groups going on at the festival, I learned what it meant to have a relationship with Christ. After that, I started getting more involved with the youth group at our church.
David: Once he got plugged into the church, I started noticing things. Growing up, I kind of laughed at the idea of God. As I got older, I started to become more open-minded about the whole idea of a “higher power” in general. Then, when our grandma passed, it was really rough. We were all very close. The idea of death was heavy on my mind and I was wondering what happens after death, so I started going to church with Daniel. I found out some of my friends also went there, so I felt more at home. I never had a moment where I can pinpoint when I gave my life to Christ. It’s just been a long road and process. Even today, I’m still growing, learning, and trying to study the Bible in context and how it relates to my faith.
Context is everything, right? Studying your Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to help you interpret what you’re reading is so important to working out your faith.
David: Yeah, and it’s important to keep an open mind and know your pastor won’t have all the answers and they may be wrong sometimes. You just do your best when you study for yourself, learn root words, and use the tools you have available. God still loves you and will help you. He sees you studying and working on it. That’s what matters.
Moving to the topic of live shows, what are some of your most memorable shows or venues you’ve played at?
Daniel: Well, as Winona Avenue, we haven’t had a lot of chances to perform live yet (laughs). We formed about two years ago and played about four shows in 2019. We had a whole tour lined up and ready to go for 2020, and then everything shut down during the pandemic. We have our first show this weekend, actually, here in Indiana at Kingdom Come Festival. I think I would have to say our very first show is still my favorite. It was in Pennsylvania at a youth group of about 200 kids and it was just a lot of fun. Kingdom Come festival is a lot of fun, too. We’ve been a part of that festival since it first began in 2010. Another great show was playing at a baseball field with Kutless.
David: Yeah, and then running into Kutless because someone gave them our hotel room and we accidentally kicked their lead singer out of the room (laughs). We didn’t know it was him until he came downstairs to help sort it out. He was really nice about it and a really funny guy!
Who has been most fun to share a stage with or to tour with?
David: We have so many friends from the road. One of the coolest experiences for me was touring with Manic Drive. They are awesome guys, super fun to tour with. The band and their whole crew taught us a lot. They’re those kinds of people who are important to have in your life as a musician because they’ll give you constructive criticism and encouragement to help you be better at your craft and put on great shows. We just had so much fun touring with them. When we started as Winona Avenue, everything we had was stolen the night before we were supposed to start filming our “Move This Town” music video. It was a great way to start off with our new band name (laughs). Our insurance company was incredible, but there were things they couldn’t cover that we still needed help with. All that totaled to about $15,000. So, we reached out to everyone we knew to see if they could help get the word out about our GoFundMe and about what happened to us. Manic Drive not only shared it, but they donated a bunch of money to it to get us back on our feet and back in the recording studio. They’re just really great guys.
Daniel: I would agree. It’s hard to get to know people when you just play one show with them, but when you tour with them, you really get to know them, and they can become good friends. We’ve gotten to tour with Manic Drive twice.
David: Another I would throw in there, just because their ministry is amazing, would be Seventh Day Slumber. They’re similar to Manic Drive in the way they kind of took us under their wings and we learned a lot from them. They’re really great guys, too.
What was it like making the music videos to your songs?
David: Exhausting, but amazing.
Daniel: Yeah, what he said! (laughs) But seriously, we put a lot of time and effort into our music videos. We currently work with a director, Andrew Rozario, and he is phenomenal at what he does. What’s cool about him is he gives us creative control up until we get to the set to start shooting the video. He might change some stuff to make it flow better or work on camera, but he works with us throughout the whole process. We spend months preparing these videos, getting all the props, securing all the locations, hiring all the actors or finding volunteers to be in the video, and then shooting the whole thing.
David: Usually the three-ish months leading up to a video shoot are crazy. Then, the actual shooting of the video is maybe one to two days because we’re poor and that gets expensive (laughs). We try to get everything set up as best we can before anyone arrives and then we end up shooting for 12 hours straight. We don’t sleep for about 36 hours when we are shooting a music video.
Daniel: Yeah, when we were shooting “December Night” we had so many crazy things happen.
David: A deer ran into your car, man!
Daniel: Well, yeah, that happened (laughs). But we also filmed the video at night, so we saved the band part for after all the actors were done with their parts. That meant the band wasn’t going to be shooting their part until 1 or 2 am. We decided we would stay up all night decorating and setting everything up, then just sleep all day and wake up rested the next night for shooting the video. That way we wouldn’t look tired for the video. So, I drank about five cups of coffee and I had so much energy. We were decorating this cabin so well and fast! When we were done, I went to lay down to sleep for a few hours and I just couldn’t. I just stared at the ceiling for about six hours and never slept a wink before we got up to go to the shoot.
David: I think I got about two hours of sleep.
Daniel: Yeah, that would’ve been nice. I was so worried about how tired I looked and how bad it was going to be for the video. I was so out of it!
David: We’re already ugly! We can’t look tired and ugly!
Daniel: (laughs) Well, we had the best makeup artist because I don’t even look tired in the music video! So, shout out to them! But if you get anything from this interview, don’t drink a ton of coffee and then expect to sleep anytime in the following 24 hours.
David: That’s the one thing you want people to get from this? (laughs)
Daniel: Well, I mean it’s pretty important, right? Don’t drink too much coffee and go listen to our album when it comes out on June 25.
David: That makes more sense, I guess.
How did this album come together? Did you use a recording studio or do it yourselves?
Daniel: I actually recorded and produced everything for this album myself. It was a huge learning curve and took a little longer than I would have liked, but it saved us a lot of money in the long run. Isaac Moreno, Seventh Day Slumber’s former sound engineer, actually mixed it for us once all the recording and producing were done. Then, it was mastered by Justin Perkins and made ready for release.
David: We do a lot of research into who we should work with. The right people can always help make the process easier and take you to that next level as a band. You want to be professional, so you look for other professionals in the industry.
Daniel: For our music videos, we tried to use as many people as we could that we already knew, but also hired some actors. They were excited to do it, too, because it adds to their portfolio and gives them time in front of a camera. Everyone was so helpful and great, and it made the process much more fun.
What are some sounds or effects that were important to have on the Winona Avenue debut album?
Daniel: We wanted a solid bass guitar, for sure. Our old bassist (from Blank Pages) had an old bass that had an amazing sound to it. I’ve never heard another bass that sounds like it. So, he let us borrow it to record the bass lines for the album.
David: I think we really just wanted a good, produced sound. We wanted it to sound professional.
Daniel: Yeah, we wanted something that sounded polished and clear, not raw and garage-band sounding. That was important, too. We used lots of different samples and tones to make sure each song had its own unique sound to it. The song “Paradise” probably has the best bass sound to it, and it was the hardest for us to play. It’s fast and very technical, but I’m really happy with how it turned out.
David: Yeah, we’re not very technical, but we like our songs to be (laughs).
There’s definitely something to be said about recording and producing your own album, though. Especially your debut album!
Daniel: That’s something I really wanted to do. I wanted to learn all I could and produce it myself, even if I only ever do it once, you know?
David: If we do get to a recording studio one day, he’s going to have all of this knowledge and he’ll be able to build on what he already knows or even make sure our sound is still coming through the way we want.
Daniel: Yeah. We never want to be like, “Hey, do this for me and I’ll pay you.” We want to collaborate. That’s the goal for future albums. We’d like to collaborate with a recording studio instead of doing everything ourselves or just paying someone to do it for us.
What do you feel like has been your biggest challenge in putting this album together?
Daniel: I think just how long it took and trying to make it as good as it could be. Patience was a big deal for us both. Even when we had the album done, we released singles and just wanted to release the whole thing! We basically took an album release and prolonged it for two years with singles until we could release the whole, finished product.
David: To add to that, just being two people basically doing the work of 20 people was a challenge. If you’re working with a record label, you’ve got a whole team of folks working to get the album completed and polished. But when you’re working independently, which we prefer and enjoy, you don’t have the whole team unless you’re able to hire people. If you don’t, you’re having to do all the work yourselves.
If you could give a startup band one solid piece of advice, what would that be?
Daniel: Well, I’ve got a few things. If it’s what you feel like God has called you to do, then don’t give up. Work really hard and always have fun with it. There are so many people who dream about doing what we’re doing, and we don’t take that for granted.
David: Maybe you’ll end up with dozens of fans like us, too (laughs). But yeah, I would emphasize the “don’t give up” part. It’s important to enjoy the journey. One thing I have always struggled with is wondering, “when will we be successful? When will we know that we’ve made it?” I’m constantly pushing myself and not always enjoying what we’re doing for what it is. I’ve had to learn how to enjoy the journey and be happy with where we’re at for the moment. If this level is where God has us for the rest of our career, then I’m happy with it. Isaac actually gave us some really good advice. He said, “Guys, making it is so subjective. How many lives have you already affected and changed?” We had to acknowledge he was right. We’ve had so many people come up to us after shows or message us online and tell us how our music has changed them. Isaac said, “Then you’ve made it! That’s it!” and it really changed our perspective.
That’s got to be a really unique, cool feeling to have someone tell you that your music changed their life.
Daniel: Yeah, it really is. To have someone reach out from across the world, someone we may never meet, and tell us our music affected them so positively, there’s no better feeling. That’s the best part about what we do. We have a platform we use to spread hope and positivity with our music, and it’s so great to know it’s working.
What do you guys like to do when you’re not touring or recording?
David: Video games.
Daniel: Yeah, lots of sports games. Madden, NASCAR, stuff like that. We do a Madden fantasy league. We draft our own players and set up games, kind of like a normal football season with playoffs and everything.
David: Also super dorky games like Super Monkey Ball and Elite Dangerous. Like, games that are cool, but hardly anyone has ever heard of them. Neither game is cool, but I enjoy them (laughs).
Is there anything else you want to say to your fans or hopeful new fans of Winona Avenue?
Daniel: Definitely check out our album that comes out on June 25. We hope you like it!
David: Oh, and check out how awesome the drummer is. Like, just how incredibly good the drummer is for Winona Avenue.
Daniel: Let them know we’re actually looking for a new drummer as of today (laughs). Just kidding. But seriously, thank you for checking out our music. We hope it touches your heart and hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we did making it.
Go order a copy of Winona Avenue’s self-titled, debut album at this link or stream it on all streaming platforms starting June 25! They’re on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as @winonaavenue, so give them a shout-out and let them know how much you liked their debut album! Thank you to Winona Avenue, David and Daniel, for your time and willingness to sit down for this interview. I look forward to hearing more music from you and seeing where God takes you in the future. Huge congrats on releasing your debut album, guys!