Updated: May 6, 2019
Written by Jose Benjamin Montaño
Juan Wauters confesses that stability gives him anxiety. He reassures me that he’s serious, his gaze intent on proving the point. Despite his laid-back demeanor, it’s hard not to believe him. His track record from the past few years certainly attests to his experience.
Since the release of Who Me? in 2015, Wauters has made his directorial debut in the southwest of France, toured extensively throughout Latin America, sojourned briefly in Mexico City, and recorded a trilogy of new material, the first album set for release early next year.
The time spent away from his beloved Queens—his adopted home since immigrating from Montevideo in 2002—gave him the opportunity to collaborate with other musicians, and to think more seriously about his craft and his career. “Do I just want to play my songs?”, he mused.
"I want everyone to understand what I'm talking about."
It’s been a looming question, which is somewhat unexpected for an artist who also prides himself on getting to the point quickly, (“I love pop music. I like to go straight to the core.”) His work from the N.A.P.-era was stripped nearly bare, wispy, and infectious. And although his 2015 album is not much more arranged than anything from looser, grittier The Beets-era , he’s also long-ditched lo-fidelity recordings. His voice is forward in the mix, his heavy accent present. No frills, just candid conversation.
It’s Halloween when we sit down to talk. Clothing him are the remnants of an apparent “murderer” costume; a thick, leather vest without an under shirt, and a black, felt ski mask pulled off his face. Earlier that night the holiday frenzy lightened the atmosphere. There was a costume contest, a clapping challenge, an interlude at which he queued the crowd to find out how many people shared the same names.
Wauters ran back and forth from one side of the stage to the other, whipping his guitar high above him with his right arm, as if it were a rodeo lasso. In the forty-some minutes on stage, he sang the same verse at least twenty times. Amusement turned to annoyance, and by the tenth time, enjoyment again. The room was mesmerized.
“I fail every night out there."
I wondered if that was always the case. “It's trial-and-error. Sometimes it fails,” he admits. “I fail every night out there. Sometimes you can be booed. And it's nice when people like it, but that's not why I'm in it. I'm in it to let loose in my expression.”
Pre-emptively, he tells me that he isn’t political. That it isn’t his thing, and that he doesn’t want it to be when he’s performing. His brief call to boycott Wal-Mart during his set had been out of character. So I try to avoid the obvious questions. I don’t want to try to look too much into it, or put words into his mouth, but at times he sets the tone without being prompted to.
Wauters speaks with conviction about how music functions under capitalism. He says it makes going to concerts exclusively about the people on-stage. It becomes a one-sided rapport. “And you coming from Latin America,” he continues while pointing towards me, “You know that there, music is about making everyone a participant.”
This is apparently something that he is about. This is a part of his performance that is very thought out.
He retreats again into his seat and looks even more easy-going, if that’s possible. He changes topics, streamlining from one though to the next, but he speaks with a calm certainty—a kind that is self-aware enough to seem honest. “I’m always changing, and I don’t put pressure on myself. I would love to make a living out of this, but I know that I am not commercial enough, and that’s okay. We live in America, and there’s space for everyone.”