Interview — Dani Klemes
Photography — Danny Licht
Interview — Dani Klemes
Photography — Danny Licht
Uruguayan heartthrob Juan Wauters picked up music as a neighborhood pastime when he moved to America in 2002. As a member of pop-punk band The Beets, Wauters saw his first release on Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks in 2009, and by 2014, he strayed from the familiar garage rock sound to produce music under his own name. Perched atop a Citibank balcony across from The Echo, Wauters disclosed some sweet anecdotes about mathematics and happiness.
Did you feel rebranded when you moved from Uruguay to America?
I don’t know. In America, they pronounce my name differently. They give you a name and you just go with it. Having come here at such a young age and changing my name for Juan Wauters might have changed my personality a little bit too.
You think so?
You lose sense of yourself a little bit. You have a personality crisis, like you don’t know who you are anymore [laughs]. Your name changes, your surroundings change, your position in the world. Before, I was a person who was born in his own country, then I was an immigrant. Which I love. But it’s different.
Can you tell me about your adolescence? What was life like for you when you lived in New York and studied mathematics at Hunter College?
I went to school because we came from another country and it’s important for us to do well. So I never thought that I could “get there” doing music. I never picked up music to become a musician or performer. I just kind of did it. Then I was in a music group but we weren’t all on the same page.
So Captured Tracks came to you to put out Spit In The Face Of People Who Don’t Want To Be Cool?
We were their first release, their first LP. They weren’t a label yet. I mean, they were a label but they were just starting. They had put out a couple of 7”s.
How does it feel to have been there since the beginning?
To me, it’s very natural to work with them because it’s the only thing I know. I worked with another label for a little bit but I didn’t like it so much. Hardly Art. They were part of a bigger label, Sub Pop, so they had all these closures, like “you can do this, you can’t do that,” in regards to artistic direction. Captured Tracks lets me go anywhere, which is very important to me. What I do has everything to do with my day to day. So yeah, when things weren’t working out with The Beets, I went back to school and that’s all I really did from mid-2011 to 2012.
Studying math still?
Yeah. I really like math, it makes me feel really good. It’s like meditation. It puts you in a really good mental space.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with Bertrand Russell? He’s this British philosopher who claimed that his desire to learn more mathematics kept him from committing suicide.
That’s crazy. Yeah, it’s all just an exercise.
How does money management play into your music career?
I’m very stubborn when it comes to my music. It has to be a certain way, otherwise I won’t do it. I don’t want to play the rebel artist. That’s not me. But I left math to do this, so this has to be my turf. I know that some things I do really don’t take me to a place where I can make a lot of money, but you never know. Money this past year, I haven’t had a lot of it, but I’ve had enough. And I’ve always had enough. I’ve always eaten, I buy new clothes, I have a place I can go to. At this point in my life, I’m not really worried. I know there are certain things I can do or change in my music to make more money but then I’d be fake. I stay true to what I like.
Is there a reason you keep your songs around the three-minute mark?
I get bored. I like The Ramones, I like The Beatles. And for a pop song, I think that’s the best. I think in the 90s they took songs up to three or four minutes but can you imagine one of my songs for that long? [laughs].
Can you sit through movies then?
No I can’t! I always fall asleep or pick up my guitar. I’ve watched a few movies, not too many. I love Back to the Future, it’s action-packed. I like cartoons and Disney movies, Home Alone, the classics. The Godfather, The Shining? Love how they look, but I have to watch them in segments. My friends and I venture into filmmaking with our music videos.
Do you learn specific things for your music videos, like you playing guitar on the bicycle for the I’m All Wrong video?
No, you know what, in New York, let’s say I’m going to your house. I’ll bring my guitar. But I don’t put it in a case, I just hold it. Then I realized I could play it and I got really good at it so we put it in the video. I could probably ride from here to New York doing that.
Everything is pretty much based on your 24-hour happenings. Do you actively work on coming up with things to make your days distinct from one another?
Yeah. I have an anxiety around 9 to 5. When we first moved here, we had to work—my brother, my father. And I went to school to learn English and worked at the same time. I have this thing in my head about waking up early and going to work; it makes me sad. Being on the subway, I don’t know. At the same time, I have a lot of respect for working people. But for me, I just get very nervous. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but I like it like that. I get a thrill.
I’m sure you’re asked this all the time, but is there a distinction between the songs you write in English and the ones you write in Spanish?
Last year, I made a point to record more in Spanish. It’s nice to come across kids who had to “become American“ as well, we can relate in that sense. But at the same time, I write in the language that it comes. I write in English a lot because I live in the states and I want to communicate with the people here. It’s funny, my parents don’t speak much English so when they hear me sing, they don’t know what I’m singing about. They love the music but they don’t really ask.
How is your relationship with your parents?
This record, maybe it’s about serious things but it’s always with a positive outcome. It’s always like, it’s great that we’re alive! If my parents ever put me in a position that made me uncomfortable, writing a song about it would just be to process that moment. They’ve always cared about me and my brother and they were always very supportive about my music. It was mainly me who was ambivalent. They’re just happy that I’m doing what I like.
Can you tell me a little bit about the difference between North American Poetry and Who Me? I know most of this record was a collection of first takes.
North American Poetry was during this time when I guess I came to terms with myself. Sometimes I say “you” but the “you” is like a voice talking to me. This record, I rushed it a little bit. I wanted to have new material out. I was writing a lot throughout the year and I didn’t give myself much time to record, so I recorded it altogether in maybe a week and a half. So it has more of a steady sound but I don’t think it holds the emotion that N.A.P. holds, because I recorded it as I wrote and at the end I did a “best of” with all the takes. It has more of a spectrum of sound and ideas and feelings. I like my catalogue to be constantly evolving. And I don’t really like singing about things that happened to me a long time ago.
Any final words or thoughts?
I’m really glad that I have an audience that I can play for, it makes me really happy. I want to continue doing this until I don’t want to. I will do it sincerely until then.