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

Ben Sherak '16 breaks down his top rap picks of 2014

From the struggling twitter-dwellers to the predicted stars of tomorrow, rappers of all types have been trying to ensure that this year will be their year. High quality tracks have been plentiful, but few have reached the true upper-echelon of transcendently exciting, fun, or inspiring music. Luckily, though, there have been seven tracks that stand tall, that will likely still be as impressive once year-end list season rolls around.

Here they are:

7. Future Featuring Pusha-T, Pharrell & Casino (Produced by Mike WiLL Made It) – “Move That Dope”

Of all the entries on this list, “Move That Dope” is most indicative hip-hop radio’s status quo, but if that includes Pusha, Pharrell and Future, the radio might be a good place to love hip-hop. Future, breaking drunk-robot form, uses a human voice to deliver inhuman, confounding flows that challenge the listener in the best of ways. Pusha continues to expertly poeticize his Kanye-sized attitude (“Wearin’ designer s**t that I misspell”) but the true gem is Pharrell, who slides out of the producer’s chair long enough to deliver a wrap-around-the-beat double time verse.

 6. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib Featuring Earl Sweatshirt & Domo Genesis  "Robes"

Freddie Gibbs is the meanest rapper currently making music; Earl Sweatshirt is an awkward teenager; Madlib is the most prolifically strange and diverse producer of all time; and Domo Genesis is, by all accounts, average. Here, Earl rocks the sonic bed-head he prefers lately, offering a few spurts of cockeyed self-mythologizing: “Threw his demons off the cliff / The scenic route below, tires screaming in the mist.” The other true highlight is a Madlib beat that leaves chopped bits of soul lying collage-like on the floor. 

 5. Isaiah Rashad – “RIP Kevin Miller”

When Isaiah Rashad signed to TDE, Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q’s label, expectations were set near Everest. “RIP Kevin Miller,” reveals that the world may be lucky enough to see those expectations met. Rashad sounds like a Southern-tinged mix between Kendrick and 2Pac and works in simple, bold statements: “If I die today / know my legacy is straight / I’m the best they never heard / I’m your brother, just relate.” Both the molasses-thick hook and verses are catchy, their chant-like nature birthing memorable piece of language and music after memorable piece. 

4. Dyme-a-Duzin – “White Girl”

Most hip-hop that people throw on for parties has at least a few of the following: a platinum-selling star driving the track, a menacing trap beat, a genre-bending tune, or, on this campus at least, a female or queer rhymer. Dyme-A-Duzin’s wild, jazzy “White Girl” offers none of these, yet is somehow a viable party song. Over a quick snare beat designed to make you jump around, Dymez twists his tongue with a distinct slickness that not only livens up the already raucous party but also casts him as the cool and collected centerpiece. 

 3. Mac Miller – “Erica’s House”

The funniest rap song of the year’s thus far also one of the best. Mac Miller, cozying to his role as the rap game’s increasingly trippy former-bro cousin, raps like he is bored with the acid he has just taken. He is self aware, he is absurdist, he is hilarious: “Let’s go to Syria and have a war / Stop calling me Macklemore / That's not my name, well kinda…it's kind of my name.” The rest of the lines are too gleefully vulgar to print —journey to Soundcloud and enjoy.

 2. Alex Wiley Featuring Mick Jenkins – “Forever”

Boasting two innovative verses and clocking in at under two minutes, “Forever” has the most talent per square second of any rap song in recent memory. Sounding like an immensely talented real-life Eric Cartman, Alex Wiley starts “Forever” with some sputtering sing-rap, his flows as pretty as he is ugly (Google him). For once, though, he is outshined--the calculated and passionate Mick Jenkins spits pure poetry: “Man I been tryna keep it--potent / My people blind and they thirsty, they hungry, they hurting, they searching for water I brought an--ocean,” Jenkins raps, pausing before each final word, pacing his sermon like a true master of ceremonies. 

 1. ScHoolboy Q – “Break The Bank”

ScHoolboy Q is the best hip-hop artist of the moment. He is far from the best rapper, though: hundreds of people in the world can run laps around Q’s wordplay, imagery, storytelling, rhyme schemes, or punch lines. However, when it comes to grabbing your ear with catchy hooks and a raw, aggressive attitude, the South Central MC is unmatched. “Break The Bank,” is a swerving 4AM ride along with Q at his most sneering and determined. The balance between his sloppiness (a decidedly non-melodic hook) and his craftsmanship (the mirror-image rhyme schemes of each verse) is what sets this coming-of-age drug tale apart from and above the rest. 

By Ben Sherak '16

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.