In 2014 Juan Waters stepped away from his steady group The Beets to release his debut solo recording, a gem on the Captured Tracks label titled North American Poetry. A songwriter of Uruguayan origin who has called New York home for many years, Juan is a real musician offering honest songwriting and substance to the scene today. A fresh record drops this summer, and as he explains, “Music has been a pathway…and things of quality have no fear in time”.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I didn’t listen to music until I was maybe sixteen. My father always listened to music at home, and my mom too, but I never really started digging in to listen to it myself at that time. I think for some reason I have an obsession with songwriting, like the songs themselves. I got into The Beatles when I moved to New York. They definitely exploded the songwriting. So, The Ramones, The Beatles, and then Uruguayan bands as well that were happening at the time.
How old were you when you moved to Queens?
I think I had just turned eighteen.
What was the contrast like between life in Uruguay and New York? Was it hard?
I came against my will, which was very hard. You know, as a teenager you’re very rebellious. I have always been going with the family; we have a strong family culture. But I had friends over there, and a girlfriend, and I had to come over here and work at a factory in the beginning. So it was a little annoying because in Uruguay I was just like a free boy. Then I came to New York and had to hustle real hard. It was sad in the beginning; I went through a really painful time. So I suffered, but at the same time I was exposed to New York, and the way I looked at it, it felt like being in a movie. That was very exciting.
Also, my father has always been inclined to the arts. He definitely has strong tastes. So we moved here and in the beginning it was just my father and me, and we went to a lot of museums, and my father explained to me all the different art currents, like art movements. That was very enriching for me. So at the same time that it was really hard, it was so thrilling…very thrilling. I was also was learning a new language. All this stuff was crazy for me.
What do you love about New York?
I think it took me a year and a half to say, “This place is for me.” In the beginning I was so attached to Uruguay. In a way I’m a little sad about the fact that I don’t have a place. I was born and grew up in Uruguay, and then I came here. I identify with New York a lot. I see myself as a New Yorker, and an American person, but at the same time I’m very Uruguayan. Sometimes I’m a little sad when I hang out with Uruguayans and they’re very Uruguayan; I don’t have that. I’m also very American, but I’m not. Also, America’s about being who you are. What I loved about New York was how everybody’s doing their thing, minding their business. I noticed right away that there’s a lot of judgment in New York, but there’s also the freedom the city gives you. If you’re walking around the street no one is really gonna be looking at you, but people are looking at you. Nobody’s gonna say shit, but at the same time it really encourages you to find yourself in the world…really be who you are, and push that and explore that. It’s been great for me to experience.
When did you start playing guitar and writing songs?
I started playing the guitar with my friend in Uruguay. We were big fans of Queen, the English group. Later on I moved from one neighborhood to another when I was eleven. It was in Montevideo-the city where I’m from. I met this guy who happens to be at South by Southwest with this Uruguayan band. We were laughing about this, how music put us together in the same place. I came from New York and he came from Uruguay and music put us together in the same place of the world. He was taking piano classes, but one day his mom busted out a guitar that she had from growing up and she showed us the first chords like E and A. We started playing and figuring out song from bands we liked. It came to me naturally to start writing songs when I moved to New York. My first song I wrote in New York.
So when you were 18?
Yea maybe around that time, but then you know I was working in a factory and I don’t like to idolize that time. I don’t want people to feel bad for me. That time was very fulfilling for me. It’s made me who I am so I definitely don’t dwell on that. It was very enriching for me to live a life like that, but you know I didn’t have time to be in a band for the first two years. Then slowly I met someone in the neighborhood who played music. That was very encouraging for me to start writing music because I had an audience, well, a friend. I had a friend I could show my music too. I wrote music steadily, and I was able to write a lot. I could write a song about what’s happening right now, but at the time it felt relevant. Right now it’s as a relevant, but as you grow you look into different things. I wrote a lot of music in the beginning, and I’m really happy about this music. I did a cassette tape that I showed my friends. I was maybe 21. I’m 30 now. Then I got to a point where something happened and I figured out the music wasn’t really talking about myself. So I was able to study my inner feelings and it’s really helped me to understand my life and cope with the day to day. It’s been a really good tool.
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