Juan Wauters talks riding solo and college performances in anticipation of his SLC debut

John David Crosby interviewed Juan Wauters, a Uruguayan singer/songwriter who will perform at SLC this Friday. Photo courtesy Juan Wauters

John David Crosby interviewed Juan Wauters, a Uruguayan singer/songwriter who will perform at SLC this Friday. Photo courtesy Juan Wauters

In 2000, Alberto Wauters immigrated to Queens from Uruguay. Two years later, his son Juan joined him. Their story is one that has become familiar rhetoric used by politicians and fictionalized by writers—an odyssey of sorts. Yet as cliché as Juan Wauters’ story is, it is equally as real. Coming to the States at age seventeen,  without many friends and little family, Wauters’ turned took solace in listening to music and eventually delved into songwriting and lyricism.

His first music project was The Beets: a garage-folk band for which Wauters’ was the architect, primarily singing and writing the songs. It contrasted a vintage, folk lyricism against a more grungy, dirtier sound. Songs like “You Don’t Want the Kids to be Dead” and “Cold Lips” helped shape the band’s likeness to older groups of the early sixties’ such as The Hollies or The Pretty Things.

In 2014, Wauters’ released his album N.A.P. North American Poetry which featured the brilliant song “Water”. Pitchfork Magazine called Wauters’ a type of “playground philosopher...staring hearts and daggers into the center of the universe behind a pair of beat up Ray-Bans.”

The New York Observer also praised Wauters’, declaring that he is “the next big singer-songwriter…a hipster prince, [and] indie visionary.”

Ahead of his show here at Sarah Lawrence, I interviewed Juan over the phone, as he sat in his apartment in Queens. One of the nicest people I’ve interviewed, he is a real conversationalist; we spoke first about his tour— he will be passing through my hometown in North Carolina, so I have to tell him where to get good barbeque. We talked about his home country, about Uruguayan football and the World Cup (about which he is, like most of his countrymen, extremely passionate) and finally about his music: his American Dream of sorts.

John David Crosby: You’re playing Sarah Lawrence to kick off the new tour, and then you’re up to Wesleyan University and later James Madison University in Virginia. How do like playing college crowds compared to larger music venues or festivals?

Juan Wauters: I love it, it’s different you know? It’s different because college kids come with their friends and their groups, and they treat it as like a party on campus. It’s funny, because in some ways, I feel like a house band at someone’s party.

JDC: Does that mean you have to sort of work for the crowd at these places? More than you usually would?

JW: No, not exactly. College kids are really fun, so they’ll typically have a good time no matter what. [On tour] We’ve had some great after-parties too, so that’s always a plus.

JDC: Do you prefer this crowd  best then?

JW: I generally like any crowd that comes out when I’m playing!

JDC: The people you’ve worked with on N.A.P. make up quite an international band. Does that bring something to the table musically? You’ve worked with a core group of musicians from Israel, Japan, Argentina, and Mexico.

JW: Yeah, absolutely. They all bring some sort of style and sound that’s new and refreshing. It’s nice, because everyone is very different. I’m not working with them on this tour though, since I’m going for a new setup.

JDC: What sort of setup?

JW: I’m really interested in the idea of the traditional singers of the sixties’, particularly Alfredo Zitarrosa, who is this Uruguayan folk and traditional singer. He was incredible. So, because I’m interested in that, the band for this tour consists of just me on vocals and some piano, and two guitarists accompanying me. I wanted a change from the old setup, because I don’t really like playing with the same band over and over.

JDC: Why is that?

JW: Well, I’m very comfortable playing alone, writing music for myself, and I like playing with different players. It helps me grow as a musician. I am always searching for that right sound, that right direction. And hopefully I never find that, because I can continue to push myself to find new outlets in search of that perfect sound.

JDC: I want to ask you about the difference in songwriting for yourself, as opposed to for The Beets. For some, going solo can seem limiting, as it’s just you and your instrument instead of three or four other musicians who offer other options and outlets musically. How have you changed as a songwriter?

JW: Honestly, I feel more “free” as a songwriter than I ever did as a member of The Beets. For The Beets I wrote a bunch of these songs that I thought wouldn’t work for our sound. I would write stuff and save it for later, and now I can really go in any direction and use anything I like. I really love playing alone, and I’m still finding myself –my voice–which is the most important thing I think.

JDC: Playing alone also instills a lot of confidence in one, like it hits you and you think ‘wow I really can do this alone,’ which must be a really rewarding feeling.

JW: Absolutely, I think I’ve gained confidence in all aspects, you know? I feel really good about writing, performing, music, and lyrics.

JDC: You’ve put out a new single: “Wearing Leather, Wearing Fur”. It’s a duet with Carmelle Safdie. How did this come about? Were you looking to do some sort of musical collaboration?

JW: It just sort of happened. Carmelle featured on a couple of songs from N.A.P and she’s really fun to play with. I think the song is really weird, and it’s like fifteen minutes, which nobody ever does. But I like it, and it was fun for us to work on. It’s totally weird, but in a good way!

JDC: You’re from Uruguay, but you left at seventeen. You didn’t get to return for a while either, right?

JW: Yeah, because of my improper paperwork I didn’t go back for a while. I go back now a lot, but I don’t call it home. My family lives in Queens, so I don’t even have a home in Uruguay anymore. I still see friends of course, but my home is Queens.

JDC: So, would you consider yourself more American or Uruguayan? Obviously, you will always have that Uruguayan heritage ingrained.

JW: Yeah, I will always have Uruguay, and I love that. I am extremely proud of that. But I would say I am as American as I am Uruguayan. I’m a proud American citizen now, and an equally proud of being a citizen of Queens!

Catch Wauters in action when he performs at SLC on Fri., Feb. 13.

by John David Crosby '17

The Top 10 Best Albums of 2014

It was a weird year for music. 

Taylor Swift reinvented herself as the unwelcomed ambassador to New York City. Millions of people everywhere figured out how to remove U2’s new album from their iTunes library. Tom Petty scored a win for every AARP member still rocking out by finally achieving a Billboard Number One Album chart topper. Jack White got a really cool haircut while releasing the best-ever-selling vinyl for his record Lazaretto. Finally—and most recently—the lead singer from Creed became homeless and penniless. 

It seemed to be the year of comebacks and debuts in albums. Bands and artists like Royal Blood, Temples, FKA Twigs, Interpol, and Todd Terje all had an incredible 2014. Spoon, TV on the Radio, and Damon Albarn came back stronger than ever. Sophomore slumps seemed far rarer than not, and the likes of The Orwells, Jack White, Future Islands, and Parquet Courts heavily outweighed the underwhelming works by Warpaint and Foster the People. 

While it seemed impossible to top 2013’s year in music, there was no AM or Modern Vampires of the City or …Like Clockwork,  the music gods managed to send some gems this way. After all, it is the time of year where many publications release their Albums of The Year, and The Phoenix is no different! So without further ado, here are the 10 Best Albums of 2014:

10.    TV On The Radio – Seeds
TV On the Radio is the most recent arrival on this list, with Seeds just being released on November 18. It is the band’s first album since the death of bassist Gerard Smith, and it is a fantastic return. TV On the Radio has always been soulful and funky, but they exude those qualities on this record. “Happy Idiot” is the most danceable tune on the record, but there is no artificial pop element mixed in; there is no sort of over-production or engineering in the song or really the record. 
Key Track: “Happy Idiot”

9.    Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
It is fascinating to think that this is Damon Albarn’s debut solo album. After being frontman for the Britpop band Blur and co-founder of the virtual band Gorillaz, the singer/songwriter has churned out a beautifully melancholy record in Everyday Robots. The title song and opening track sets the tone of the album with a piercing string section and somber lyricism by Albarn. 
Key Track: “Lonely Press Play”

8.    Todd Terje – It’s Album Time
The intro to this album deserves recognition for it’s creative mix of electronic funk, - and the fact it’s called It’s Album Time. For fans of electronic music, Todd Terje has become a household name, and upon its release It’s Album Time has received top tier reviews. The album does well with combating the notion that all electronic music sounds the same, just look at track 8: “Alfonso Muskedunder – an eclectic mix of jazz and electronic music. 
Key Track: “Intro (It’s Album Time)”

7.    Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
Certainly the feel-good record of the year, Salad Days lyrically and musically achieves DeMarco probable aim: a very relaxed, vintage vibe. DeMarco is a Sarah Lawrence staple since headlining SLC’s S.L.A.M. FEST last year, utilizing his “college-sound.” There was no doubt that his album was met with great acclaim. not only by colleges nationwide but also by critics. Demarco incorporates African music, reggae, and independent rock into an eclectic mix of vintage sounding rock.
 Key Track: “Blue Boy”

6.    Spoon – They Want My Soul
Spoon does something exceptionally well on every album they release: they make pure rock and roll, the kind that never seems to grow old. With their first album in 2010, and lead singer/songwriter Britt Daniels off of working with indie super group Divine Fits, Spoon has made a solid comeback. Opening with “Rent I Pay,” Daniels and co. brings back a vintage sound that Spoon has perfected. They Want My Soul takes a turn with possibly the most beautiful song of the year “Inside Out”: a synth ballad utilizing Divine Fits’ own Alex Fichel’s keyboard abilities. The title track, “They Want My Soul,” holds the wittiest lyrics on the album, even referencing former Spoon track “Jonathan Swift.”
Key Track: “Inside Out”

5.    The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream
Though The War On Drugs were called out by Sun Kil Moon earlier this year for being “a beer commercial band,” Lost in the Dream cannot be denied its place amongst the greats of 2014. Living up to its hype and critical acclaim, the album opens with the beautiful and long-winded “Under the Pressure,” which seems to set the tempo for the album: an aesthetically pleasing, classic rock album that succeeds in producing a beautiful vintage sound. 
Key Track: “Under the Pressure”

4.    Royal Blood – Royal Blood
The heaviest of all albums on the list, but by far one of the best, Brighton duo Royal Blood broke thru this year via supporting Arctic Monkeys throughout their European tour. They also succeeded in achieving the fastest-selling debut album in Britain in the last three years. Royal Blood is a fast-paced and driving record that mirrors the work of The White Stripes, with just a drummer and guitarist providing the hard-rock sound that they have managed to make. Royal Blood has also become known as a fantastic live act (they have just recently been named supporters for Foo Fighters nationwide tour next year).
Key Track: “Figure It Out”

3.    Jack White – Lazaretto
Jack White’s second solo record has boosted his reputation as one of the most influential artists of his generation. The experimentation he exhibits makes the album possibly the most original record of the year, filling songs with fiddle solos, eardrum-bursting guitar effects, and even making the first single off the album, “High Ball Stepper,” an instrumental piece. The record is a step forward from his last one, Blunderbuss, musically, with an emphasis on fiddle, electric guitar and a more original lyrical pattern. Jack White also became one of the most acclaimed live acts in the world this year, performing off of both Lazaretto and Blunderbuss as well as including tracks from The White Stripes and The Dead Weather. He will be performing at Madison Square Garden on January 30, 2015. 
Key Track: “Would You Fight For My Love”

2.    The Antlers – Familiars
The Brooklyn band has always had a knack of making quintessentially “indie” records, often including just enough musical creativity, artistic lyrics, a little pretention and a dreamy, melancholy vibe. However, Familiars has perfected this musical melancholia. Nine songs, each titled with a single word help set the stage for an album that sounds as if it was composed of nine beautiful epics. Musically, The Antlers draw off of smooth and dreamy compositions incorporating horns, piano, airy guitar effects, and lead singer’s, Peter Silberman’s, – often falsetto – vocals, all leading to a climatic crescendo. Yet, though all nine tracks follow a pattern, no two songs off the album sound the same. 
Key Track: “Hotel”

1.    Temples – Sun Structures
Having recently been praised by Rough Trade Records as number 1 on their top 100, Temples’ debut album comes through on top again. It’s a classic sounding album with a retro feel and look. With mystic lyrics reminiscent of a 1968 summer rather than a 2014 one, Temples has created a record that is vintage, yet original enough to captivate modern audiences. Musically, the record is up-tempo and filled with driving bass riffs accompanied by psychedelic guitar riffs found off of an Eric Burdon and The Animals record (but with even longer hair). Singer/Guitarist James Bagshaw and bassist Thomas Warmsley compliment each other vocally on the record, with incredible harmonies showcased as drummer Sam Toms drives the album forward.
Key Track: “Question Isn’t Answered”

by John David Crosby ’17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.