Q&A: Juan Wauters Takes a Walk with his Guitar
Ahead of our interview with Juan Wauters in Toronto earlier this summer, Riffyou.com had a hell of a time trying to find him. We were at the meeting spot on time and eventually asked many musicians around the club if they’d seen Wauters.
At last, someone did. As directed, I looked over my right shoulder, and there he was about 100 yards away strolling down the street, jamming on his acoustic guitar with a big smile upon his face. All was immediately forgiven.
Moving around isn’t anything new to Juan. In 2000, his family opted to move out of Uruguay and come to America – New York, more specifically. A few years later, Wauters joined them, eventually leading to a musical career built in one of the most artistically crowded centres in the world.
For years, Wauters has been best known as the focal point of garage-folk band The Beets, but eventually that creative outlet wouldn’t be enough for him. Although he’s done solo stuff aside from The Beets for some time now, February 2014 was when Wauters would finally release a more experimental folk album, N.A.P. North American Poetry (via Captured Tracks).
After introductions, Riffyou.com spent 10 minutes curb side with Wauters to discuss going it alone, and what his Uruguayan roots have meant to him.
RY: What made you decide to move away from The Beets in order to pursue the solo side of your career?
Juan: “I’ve done stuff on my own in the past through Captured Tracks. It’s something I’ve always done on the side, but not something I’ve pursued because I had The Beets – that was my outlet for getting music out to the public. When The Beets stopped happening for me, I decided I’d focus on this because it gives me a different freedom. The Beets…I can always come back to that.”
RY: What kind of freedom did you find in this situation?
Juan: “The Beets was guitar-based with drums…everything was very minimal. So, all of the songs I wrote had to fit that setup and cater to that sound. When I started playing by myself, I realized that songs should be treated individually and not have every song fit within one category [based on] the band’s sound. I felt like I was trapped. I really love the sounds of The Beets, but [going solo] gave me the freedom to study different sounds and interpretations.”
RY: Did you find that shift exciting or intimidating?
Juan: “It was pretty comfortable doing the record, but what’s been challenging is figuring out how to play on my own on stage.”
RY: Must be strange not to have anyone to fall back on.
Juan: “Yeah, everything is on you. Every sound that comes off of the stage, comes from you. There’s a lot to figure out, like how to make [the show] entertaining, and exciting for me. When I am entertained, other people will be entertained. If I’m doubting what I’m doing, you know…”
RY: You’ve mentioned that you could always go back to The Beets, but is this something you want to pursue for the long haul?
Juan: “This is a forever kind of thing. The Beets will happen here and there, but this is what I want to focus on for the future.”
RY: Now, you’ve been in New York for a long time now, but you’re originally from Uruguay. How in touch with your Uruguayan roots do you continue to be?
Juan: “My parents’ house in Jackson Heights, my neighbourhood, is very much Uruguayan. I also try to go visit friends back in Uruguay as much as I can. I didn’t play music when I was in Uruguay, so my music is extremely New York, but at the same time, I was born in Uruguay and I love Uruguayan music – it’s part of my personality. But, that’s what makes New York: people from all over the place trying to fit in.”
RY: Even though you didn’t play music when in Uruguay, did you have an interest in it?
Juan: “It just happened when my parents decided to come to America…that’s when I got interested. I went to shows here and there, but never really had a band or played guitar when I was over there. My first recordings were in New York, I wrote my first song in New York. Luckily, I ended up in Jackson Heights – everyone is either from there, or they came from another country to Jackson Heights. For everybody, that’s their home – that’s been very influential on me.”
RY: As much as New York is your musical home, it’s also one of the most challenging and competitive music markets in the world. Do you see it as a tough place to be for a musician?
Juan: “It’s been a funny trip for me thus far, because I come from an immigrant family where work ethic is really important. [At first] I played music on the side, but luckily people were interested enough to allow me to do it [full-time]. I embraced whatever I had to do. It’s a little bit different for me, because this happened casually for me – I didn’t try to make it. There’s always space to go farther, but once you think you’ve made it, you can’t go any farther.”
-Interview and Photo by: Adam Grant
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