"This Is I" from Who Me? released earlier this year by Juan Wauters.
So, who is he?
Is he the South American re-incarnation of Jerry Seinfeld?
Or is he the next big thing to take the rap world by storm?
One thing's for sure: Juan Wauters is one of the most unique and entertaining musicians currently making music. Earlier this year, Juan released his second solo album, Who Me?, on Captured Tracks. Two minute's into the album’s closing song, “El Show De Los Muertos”, Juan leaves us with a rap: “My name is Juan, and I do it as well / Now let me tell you baby that my life has been swell / I’ve been skiing, raking, I ate on a boat / And just like Cool J in my head I’m the G.O.A.T.” This crafty rap surprised us because Juan is primarily a folk musician, and we knew he was a rap fan, but had no idea he had aspirations to make rap music.
Seeing that Who Me? is full of wonder, visions of New York, and Juan’s “hustle everyday” attitude, we thought it most excellent to catch up with him now that the album’s been out for a few months. During our chat, Juan reveals the truth behind the album’s title, why it ends with a hidden rap track (from “Juan Lennon” and “Willy K”), and why he keeps inviting fans to bring fruit to his shows.
When I first spoke with Juan for our interview, I caught him while he was driving around New York. He told me he was out to see some friends, pick up some equipment, and record some “stuff” for his next album.
For his next release, Juan told me his plan is to record several songs over a long period time and then pick the best ones to create a “Best Of” mixtape. “Who Me? was a little bit rushed,” says Juan. “It doesn’t really have that vibe that I like about the recordings I do. You record different days; you get different vibes. I’m not rushing this one, and I’m recording for the fun of it. I’m not expecting much from the recordings either.” I asked him if this mixtape would see its release through Captured Tracks, and Juan responded by saying he’d like to keep working with them, but that it's still in discussion.
After our brief chat about the mixtape, I decided to warm up Juan’s wit with a game of word-association. It went a little something like this:
Juan followed up his first thought of Toronto with, “I don’t know much about Drake. It’s really easy to hate on popular people so I don’t want to hate on him but I don’t really enjoy his thing so much.” Everything Juan had to say was completely genuine and typically he had me laughing.
Once we warmed up with some word-association, it was time to uncover the mystery of Juan’s obsession with fruit and his plans for making more rap music.
MP: Do people actually bring you fruit at your shows?
JW: Yeah! I did it actually the first time when I was in Europe. I’ve always been really into fruit so I just though it’d be cool if people brought fruit to the show, and yeah, they brought it. I really like fruit.
MP: What’s your favorite kind of fruit?
JW: I go through different phases of different things I like. Right now, the summer, I like watermelon. Yeah, but I like peaches of course. Apples, grapes, I like Blueberries a lot. I like everything. Fish also makes me feel the same way. It makes me feel good, like high. I eat everything. I’m not a vegetarian, but when I eat beef I feel a little bit stuffed, you know what I mean? When I eat fruit and when I eat fish, I don’t know, I feel really, really, good *chuckles*. I wish I could just eat that. I don’t really know why I asked people to bring it to the show, but I’m happy when they do.
MP: Have you had the chance to play a show in your hometown of Uruguay?
JW: No, never never, but I’d love to. There’s an opportunity to go play there. I’ve been there three times since I moved to the states, but I haven’t played a show there. It’s gonna be good, but I’m a little bit anxious about playing there. When I go I really want to take care of it. I want to play in a theatre so my neighbors can come and my family, they can sit down. It would be really crazy ‘cause I know a lot of people there.
MP: Tell us about your style? What’s with the turtlenecks and 90s denim?
JW: I really like the Beatles. When I used to wear that stuff, I guess I was really into the album, Help!. That’s kind of the clothes they wore around that time, like jeans and a turtleneck. So maybe I was trying to look like John Lennon? I dunno. At the same time, I don’t like it when my neck gets cold. So I always like to wear a scarf or a turtleneck. I don’t know, I’m very sensitive to the cold on my neck.
MP: So you studied Math in school before you started playing music full-time. Do you ever notice any relation between math and your music?
JW: Yeah. It’s all about solving problems. Knowing about numbers really helps me out when playing chords as well. Back in the day when the classical musicians were doing their thing, getting paid by royalty to do their music, they were also trained in math. Math was what I studied at school and music was what I did at home. I never really did them both to complement each other but I like that they do a lot.
MP: So tell us about the hidden track that follows “El Show De Los Muertos”. Who’s rapping with you and who made the beat?
JW: It’s called “Willy K, an introduction” and that’s my friend Willy K! . I used to play in a band called the Beets. We were playing all over, and Willy’s friend brought him to one of our shows in Ohio or somewhere. He came up to us after the show, told us he liked it and said, “I wanna rap for you.” He started rapping and I was like whoa, this guy’s pretty good. Then he sent us his Soundcloud and we became big fans of him. Always on the phone, I asked him if he’d want to do a rap song. He’s like, “Yeah, I haven't been rapping in two years, but you guys are the only people in the world who still bug out about the rap I did two years ago. I’d be thrilled.”
MP: That’s crazy. So who’s Juan Lennon?
JW: Willy calls me Juan Lennon always, I don’t know why. But, he came over to my house, I did the beat on my keyboard and we just rapped it right there. We both wrote our verses on the spot. At the time I was kind of obsessed with LL Cool J, I still am. I think I drop his name on there *laughs*. I’m actually looking forward to doing more work with Willy. We actually recorded another song. Back then I was rushing a lot and going through a lot of personal stuff, but now I want to see it from another place and take my time with it.
MP: So it’s possible we could hear more rap from Juan Wauters?
JW: Oh yeah! We have another one that I hope to put on the mixtape album. Hopefully we will do more because I love working with this guy. Sometimes people think I’m joking, I mean I have a sense of humor, but I really like rap. I guess that’s my take on it. It’s not supposed to be like a joke, but I can see how people might think it’s funny.
I’ve always listened to rap because I’m from New York, but I’m more of a pop music kind of guy. So my stuff is gonna be a little different from the classic rap tune. I’m not afraid to try different stuff. Sometimes people say, ‘you’re not like a rap dude,’ but I don’t care about that.
MP: Wu-Tang or 50 Cent?
JW: 50 Cent. I’ve never really gotten into Wu-Tang, but I’m about to. My friend told me about this crazy book that RZA wrote on the philosophy of the Wu-Tang Clan. That guy is crazy, like really smart. I’m gonna read that.
MP: Why’d you call the album, Who Me??
JW: I don’t wanna say things came to me because I wasn’t looking for them, but at the same time I feel like I’ve always been in the right place at the right time. So things kind of moved smoothly for me with music. I’ve always been into playing in bands with friends, and writing my own music, but it also felt like it made sense to ask the world, who me?
When you write your own music, you usually write about yourself, and you put yourself in this realm. You become a little bit more public. So what I’m really asking is, you’re really interested to hear what I have to say? I’m 31 now but I’ve recorded music since I was 18. I have hundreds of songs recorded and it’s just my natural instinct to do that.
MP: So you’d be making music even if you didn’t find success?
JW: No matter what happens, I feel like I’ll be doing that for a long time. It’s just how I deal with my existence. I question a lot of things in life and through songs, and drawing, I can look at it differently. It’s like I can only deal with reality by putting it in an abstract perspective. As for money, I never had a problem making money. I’ve always had a job. Like right now, I don’t have that much money and sometimes it makes me worry, but I’ve always had enough. Of course I don’t wanna live like this, counting my pennies. It’s not healthy, but at the same time it’s thrilling. I’m sure doing music or something else, I’ll catch a break someday.
So, who is Juan Wauters? He’s a lot of things, but he’s surely a blessing to those who know him and enjoy his music. Juan is about to tour Europe again and planning to do another state-side tour beginning in November. He hasn’t played in Salt Lake City before, but tells me his family has a history with the city and that he’d love to do a show here. If you want to see Juan Wauters play a show in SLC then spread the word, and support Juan’s hustle!