INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY LAURA-LYNN PETRICK
PRINTED IN ISSUE 12
Juan Pablo Wauters of Queens, New York is a charismatic kind of man. When I met him he pulled up on Dundas Street in a late ‘80s white Volvo station wagon wearing Levi’s and a white collared shirt. His car is full of character—there are mounted photos and newspaper clippings, fortune cookie phrases, copious tapes, dangling wrestling figurines and an LL Cool J autobiography in the backseat. Juan speaks melodically and is a fond lover of fruit. His youthful demeanor compliments his pervasive wisdom and I’ve happily come to know him this summer.
What are you doing?
I’m about to get something from the Key Food supermarket. This time I got an apple, a pear, and some cookies. You know those Maria cookies? I love those cookies.
What is your favourite fruit?
I’m eating a pear right now. As with everything else in life, I like the classics so I have to go for a good apple. I also love peaches, grapes, and oranges.
You were a student in New York before. What did you study?
I used to study Math. I’m close to being finished.
How’d you get into that?
I liked numbers. And I liked solving problems. I mean like I said, this is something that I was doing before. And now I haven’t done it for like 3 years maybe. I feel like if I went back I wouldn’t finish, because I lost all the practice. Hmm… maybe I could do it. It would take a lot to catch up though. It’s kinda like exercising, like let’s say you’re a great athlete, right? When you stop going to the gym and stretching out and stuff like that, then you are not gonna be as good. Especially with math, it is kind of like a brain exercise.
What kinds of things do you do to relax?
I don’t know it is kind of hard to say, I don’t really like extremes so it’s kind of hard for me to relax. I try to be somewhere between relaxing and stressed out. So I guess to relax, what I like to do is to maybe lay down? But if I look at the water that makes me really relaxed. Sometimes I feel that by living in New York I’ve maybe lost something and that doesn’t let me relax. It’s a little bit annoying, sometimes I dream about relaxing, but I also really value time, so it is a little conflicting.
Like when you go away somewhere where you can relax, are you able to? Or are you still thinking about stuff?
The thing is I think about things all the time. The last time I went on vacation is when I went to Uruguay, but the whole time we were filming the video. I wondered what I would do if I would relax. Swimming relaxes me. I love the feeling of water all over my body, like being submerged underwater. It’s like water puts a pressure on your body. It feels really great. And the sound is different. What makes me really relaxed is turning off my phone. Just until last year I wouldn’t have an email account. I had one but I didn’t use it. People knew that I wouldn’t look at it.
In the summer, Do you ever go to the pool?
I used to when I was a kid. There was a pool in my neighbourhood. I go to Coney Island, Rockaway Beach. You know the Ramones song? Rockaway Beach… I love the Ramones. I am like, crazy about the Ramones.
Did you grow up with the internet?
We didn’t have a computer at my house until I was maybe 19. I guess my parents never bought one. I used one, like my friends had it but we never had one. I don’t like it right now, but I feel like slowly I’m giving in. I think it really takes you away from where you are, there is an infinite amount of stuff you can look at so you get distracted. I fear social media, I don’t like social media. Hopefully at some point I could cut it. You know things like Instagram, I mean I didn’t have it until I played music under my name. Right now, it’s kind of weird. It creates a brand new state of feelings for you.
Yeah, it’s kind of fake. I don’t like how fake it is.
Yeah it is really fake. It gives people a shield to hide away. It’s like stalking people, I’ve caught myself looking at pictures of people and I go, “what the fuck am I doing?” But at the same time you know, access to it is so at hand. Like when you are waiting on the bus, you should just be contemplating your surroundings. Perhaps we are like the generation caught in between. I mean through high school I didn’t have Facebook or anything, it didn’t exist. I didn’t have any of that until I was 19-20. But back then, you were kind of like a nerd for it, right now it’s normal but like back then if you were into instant messaging or chartrooms…
What are some of your favourite things to do in your neighbourhood?
In my neighbourhood I like to walk around and look at people. I love people watching, and over there it is a working class neighbourhood, so you see a lot of people walking home from work, and I try to imagine where they live and what kind of life they live. ‘Cause you know when you move to a new country in the beginning you are at the bottom of the social ladder kind of thing. You just got there. So you experience a completely different reality until you get settled. Like you are with people who are in the same situations as you and you hear about how people live. I kind of got addicted to thinking about how people live and make a family. It seems like a simple thing ‘cause a lot of people do it, but having to go through it you have to be really brave to assimilate into a new culture. For me, it was a little different because I didn’t have an option. It was not my decision to move to America. Even though I was already a young teenager, it was my parents’ decision, I could have gone back but I didn’t have their support. When I moved here I had a girlfriend in Uruguay, we were really in love with each other.
What can you tell me about Uruguay?
I don’t know, it’s a little confusing for me since I mostly lived there as a child. All my memories have to do with my early adolescent years and being a child. Everything seems so exciting and nostalgic.
You are nostalgic for it?
Yeah, since I moved here I became a really nostalgic person, not about moving back but about feeling great about life. I remember having good conversations with friends that I’ve never been able to have with friends here. My friends over there were a little bit different from the ones I have here. So I’m almost a little bit nostalgic about friendship. I mean I have great friends here, and we definitely have a connection. American people don’t really want to talk about their feelings so much. Over there it is the other way around, people will go out of their way to ask you what is going on, here they feel like they are bothering you if they ask you. They’re being invasive. But to me, I always ask, I don’t care. But perhaps Uruguayans are not like that, could be my nostalgic feeling. I could never live there again, when I became an American I learned to live here and it feels great to be here.
If you could live somewhere else, where would you live?
I love New York but lately I’ve been thinking about travelling. I love travelling and I love new experiences. It’s been a little complicated lately, because I’m going through a very special time in my life right now. I have committed myself to another person, but at the same time I’m thinking about what it means to be free, and what it means to enjoy life. So right now I’m in limbo. Perhaps, you know, I’ll be able to really enjoy living with another person, I don’t know yet. I fantasize about the idea of maybe next year settling down somewhere else and starting over. But at the same time I think in this world we are definitely alone—like you know me, I know you—but at the same time we’re alone. I wonder if I’m being selfish by thinking that way. Or if I’m going to end up completely alone just by alienating myself from the world by doing this kind of stuff…I fantasize perhaps about living somewhere else. I would love to live in a European city for a little bit.
If you didn’t play music, what do you think you’d be doing?
I don’t know because I’ve always played music, I’ve always had it as a hobby. I never wanted to make a career out of it until just maybe two years ago. You know, I never really like made a career out of it but I got pretty far. I worked really hard, but I was never really thinking about it as a a job.
When did it become a reality?
There were a lot of things going down at this point in my life. When I was 27 or 28 maybe. You know I had been playing music for a long time, things had been going really well, I was making records with my band. But I was doing it to have fun with my friends and then at some point I found myself lost because I didn’t know what to do. I was going to college and I didn’t want to finish college because I didn’t know what to study and I didn’t want to get a job. I started thinking about how music had been my only constant for like the past ten years. And I see all these people making a living at it. And I see people enjoy it. So I thought I could try and make a living off of it too. It’s been kind of hard ‘cause I kind of just started but I’m really positive that I’m going to do well. “Well” is relative, I think I’m already doing well.
One time when I was in The Beets, the band I had before, we released our third record and right when the record came out—the record got some good press and stuff—the band kinda broke up. This wouldn’t have happened if I looked at it like a job. I was looking at it more like a group of friends having fun. When I wasn’t having fun anymore I just kinda stopped. Somebody told me that it was a shame that I stopped doing it because I was just about to make it. And when I heard that, I got really offended because to me, since the moment I started playing, I knew there’s no such thing as making it. What’s making it? ‘Cause once you “make it” then there’s no future. As long as I can keep doing it and not get tired of the ups and downs, I’ll be good. It’s kind of hard because sometimes you don’t have economic stability. So far I haven’t had that with music. I just started taking it seriously and in the past 6 months I think things have gotten much better. I expect it to get much better still. Doing this, you don’t have emotional stability either, it’s kind of a risk. At the same time, one gets addicted to that. You must know as an artist, you’re doing what you like but sometimes you don’t know how you feel about it. Sometimes you stop yourself and think, “why am I doing this? I could get a regular job in which I could get a regular paycheque and then I don’t have to worry about anything.”
That’s not a very fulfilling life though.
Yeah that’s why we do the things we do, even if those things don’t pay the bills. We kinda try to challenge how we live. I fear routine, and to a certain degree I fear stability. Kinda like that feeling of making it. Like what does that mean? It would feel like life is over.
What other art forms do you relate to?
I mainly focus on music because I like how instant it is. Sometimes it is like writing a diary about my life. A lot of the songs I write right now I am keeping to myself, sometimes they are a little too private and I don’t want to share that. It’s good to be able to voice your feelings through an art form. I could write a song and play it over and over again, just for myself to recreate that feeling. It’s kind of like creating your own language, it gives you a way to be listened to. With music, people have to listen, it gives you a voice. Sometimes you don’t have to say it. Let’s say I have a problem with my father, I can’t say it to him because he won’t understand. But I could write a song about those feelings. And you know, I do paintings and I do drawings. I’ve been wanting to get into it, to show that side of me. I do drawings on my own but I haven’t been able to connect them to my music. I think it would be really fun to try to connect my visuals to my music.
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