Juan Wauters is a man of the people. He travelled the length and breadth of South America in search of sounds for his 2019 album La Onda De Juan Pablo, incorporating street musicians he passed by. And on his new album, Real Life Situations, he’s enlisted a plethora of musical friends to create his most vibrant album to date, with the sound ranging from the hip-hop tinged “Unity” with Cola Boyy to the electronic infused “Monsoon” with Homeshake. Intertwined throughout it all is Wauters joyous personality, weaving every shifting moment together into a storybook of life, or as he likes to call it, “the JPW sound system”.
It seems even more important these days that he’s releasing an album that celebrates these friendships when most of our connections to friends have been impeded. Although Real Life Situations was completed during 2020 it’s very much not a lockdown album, but rather a reminder of those sunny days with good company. We spoke to Juan to learn how this album came about, the influences behind these newfound sounds and what, for him, a real life situation is.
Over what time and whereabouts was the album recorded?
I started making the album when I finished touring in December 2019. The idea was to work on the album up until March 2020, which is when I had been scheduled to continue touring. The first idea of this album was to include my friends in the songwriting process. I had an album before in which I included instrumentalists from different countries around the world, so this time I said “Let’s bring in people to do the songwriting with me”. And because of the nature of the idea of the album it was going to include some travelling to go and meet these people. I recorded in London, Toronto, LA, Oxnard in California, one in Mexico City and then in Europe.
When March came around and travelling stopped for most people, did that shape some of the album as well?
Yes definitely! Everything came to a stall and in late February and early March which is when we were in the middle of the process of making the album. We had planned to continue recording with more friends but it was right when the pandemic happened. For me I felt like it was such an impact for people, I lost ambition in a way. We had been so used to be able to project things for the future that seemed stable. You know you could project a year ahead and it seemed fine, everything was gonna be the same. Whereas when this happened I was like “Oh shit, what’s gonna happen?”. So I put everything aside for March, April and into the beginning of May, I didn’t touch anything to do with music. I was feeling very disconnected from my source of inspiration.
In New York as well the civil rights movement was happening and it felt in a way that this is not a time to do something personal, this is a time to be connected to the world in other ways. So I put everything aside and when I came back to the project everything had a new meaning, things had changed so drastically from before so I had to find a way for them to work within a concept. Then I started recording new things at home because I couldn’t go to the studios. I rearranged everything with new material and although a lot of the things in the album were conceived pre-covid, the album as a whole was conceived with a different mindset. The process was a very particular one as I had to deal with life at the time as well.
You can hear that with some of the samples that intertwine that nicely.
I wanted to bring that onto the album as well. Some voices to paint some kind of landscape to describe a feeling.
Yeah you can definitely hear that. I wanted to ask about some of the collaborations. One of which being “Real” with Mac DeMarco, when did you first meet him and how did the collaboration come together?
Mac and I met in 2013 in New York. At the time he was living there and we were both working under the same record label (Captured Tracks) and we had been scheduled by them to get together and work on a song back then. We got together and started working on music at his place but the machine we used for recording broke so that material got lost. But then our friendship became about something else, we hit it off that day and we became friendly. We went on a lot of tours together and we had a lot of time that we would just hang out. A lot of times there would be music intertwined in the hang out, but a lot of times it would be just a straight up hang out. So when it came time to do this album I wanted to include mostly friends because I have a history with them. It’s not just two people that know each other getting together. And so I definitely thought it would be a good idea to invite Mac who I really like as a person, but also as a songwriter.
So I asked him and right away he said “Yeah let’s do it!”. I really like the song that we made because as much as myself as much my music and my persona shows through the song, his also comes across equally as well. It’s definitely not a Mac DeMarco heavily influenced song let’s say. Just as much as all the other collaborations I did, they’re very well balanced.
Is that balance something you were aiming for when working with these other artists?
Yeah definitely, I think that’s the point of them. I didn’t wanna have a Mac DeMarco song on my album haha. That would have been a completely different approach. But if he invites me to sing a song on his album and he says “Hey I have this song written already, do you want to sing on this verse? But this song is already finished”. I would say “Yeah of course let’s do it” but that’s a different experience, we started from zero. We got together and went from zero to one hundred and there wasn’t anything pre-made.
As well you mentioned your other collaboration album, La Onda De Juan Pablo. Did making that album open up your willingness to collaborate with other people?
Yes definitely, that was the first time that I had other musicians play on my album really. Up to that point i’m the kind of person that developed through home recordings. I have a studio at my house and I would record my albums by myself, playing and arranging everything all by myself. At some point I grew up and I saw the world and I saw people. Like “Oh shit, look at this person right here, they play really well!”. Then I imagined what a song of mine would sound like with that person, I started thinking about those things. Then I started saying “Okay let’s see how it sounds with these street musicians playing my songs on my albums”. I was definitely very happy with the final product then, and it opened up so much that I thought “You know what, It’s cool to have people play my songs, but why don’t I write songs together with other people?”.
It has to do with how in other genres or music styles singers come on each others songs all the time, on rap for example. So I was thinking “Wow it would be really cool if we did that amongst ourselves, why don’t we do it?”. I’m a big Queen fan and I really liked it when they brought David Bowie on for “Under Pressure”. I always thought that’s a great song and within that, as much as the song we made with Mac, David Bowie comes off really like David Bowie and Queen come off as Queen. They both preserve their element within the song. So I thought it would be a good idea to test that and see what happens when we do that. Then as I said Covid hit and I had to reimagine the album, but the initial idea behind this album was to do an album with all these singers and songwriters that I know.
Within all the collaborations there’s a lot of different styles going on. Were there any particular influences you had for these as it varies from electronic to hip-hop?
I grew up in New York and the most popular music there is hip-hop, so we’ve always had it very present in our lives. You go to a party and that’s what you listen to. You go around in a car and somebody puts the radio on, that’s what you listen to. We are all very much aware of what happens in that world. I happened to gravitate towards the guitar as a kid, but that had always been present in my life. So what happened is that when I got together with these other people it gave me the freedom to think “You know what, this isn’t a Juan Wauters song. This is a song we’re making together and in this space I can do whatever I want, I’m gonna let loose”. We let loose and this type of thing came of, but nothing was really planned like that. Like we didn’t plan to make a hip-hop song lets say, we didn’t go with that mentality. But from letting go and exploring and trying to see what would happen, then that came about.
The song “Unity” with Cola Boyy, i’ve known Matthew for more than 10 years, and we’re both hip-hop heads, we both like that style and we both know that we like to fuck around with that style. Like if we go to a party and somebody starts freestyling, then we start freestyling too. He laughs. So naturally when we both got together we gravitated towards that, because we both love that and neither of us had done anything like that on our own music space and we found a safe space to do it in. By finding that middle ground, he was not in his safe environment, I was not in my safe environment. So from just starting to mess around with things then these songs came about, but it was not planned prior.
From listening to the album it just sounds like a very fun album, was it a fun album to make?
Yeah definitely, we definitely had a kick haha.
One thing I wanted to ask about your songwriting, some songs are in Spanish and some are in English, is there a pre- determined feeling of what language they should be going into the song, or does it just come naturally?
It comes to me naturally, Spanish is my native tongue but i’m familiarised with English to a point in which it comes to me naturally. In my songwriting i’m very much affected by the environment. If i’m writing songs in England surrounded by English people then I will sing in English because I would want to communicate with my surroundings. For example with the song with Cola Boyy, we express our ideas to each other in English so naturally we would write a song in English. There are other songs on the album that are in Spanish, but for those particular songs I happened to be writing songs with Spanish speaking friends of mine. Or I was in a Spanish speaking time of my life. We switch back and forth between the languages but our brain doesn’t pick up on that, it’s just natural to me. But the surroundings and the moment affect the language that I use.
The album title “Real Life Situations”, what does this mean or represent to you?
I was listening to a lot of the Outkast’s early discography during the lockdown. I knew the songs but I reconnected with it a lot then and there’s a song on their Aquemini album that has a really long title, “Spottieottiedopaliscious”. And there’s a part of that song when Big Boy talks and he says “Funny how shit come together sometimes (ya dig), One moment you frequent the booty clubs and the next four years, You and somebody’s daughter rising y’all own young’n” meaning you had a baby with the person you met at the booty club. And then he says “Now that’s a beautiful thang, that’s if you’re on top of your game, And man enough to handle real life situations (that is)”. And I don’t know why but that phrase really caught up with me and it made a mark on me. I really like how he explained that moment, from just goofing around at a booty club, just saying hello to people you could end up having sex with someone and then having a baby. Then all of a sudden this babies in your life and how do you take care of that? I really like how he used that “Real Life Situations” phrase.
At the beginning I wanted to have the whole quote on the cover of the album and make the “Real Life Situations” bold. Maybe it had to do with the life we were living at the same time. Also real life situations, when I met with all these people to make the songs with, those were definitely real life situations. You know we would get together and say “Let’s make a song together now out of nowhere, let’s go!”. And that moment was definitely stamped on the album. And all the songs were like different moments, they were different situations and that collection of all those different situations made the album. So I wanted to tint the album with some sense of reality. Like this is real, this is not make believe, this is actually real life happening in front of your eyes. You know I think everybody’s music is like that in a way, but as I keep going in my music career I put down the guard more and more so i’m closer to the listener and i’m closer to the core of myself.
Do you think it’s about having those interactions with people as well?
Yes in many different ways.
Going onto an interaction we can’t have at the moment, what’s it like at the moment without being able to play shows around it?
It’s quite strange. In a way it’s a new experience, as you said in this album I go into genres that I hadn’t gone into before and when I was making the album I was wondering “How the fuck am I gonna play this live?” he laughs. What am I gonna do this show live? Up to that point I had mainly just made my shows me and a guitar. So in a way it’s a relief because if I make a new album now I can think of music in a way separately from a live show, whereas before I hadn’t been able to conceive that. I do miss the live show, I miss going around and being in contact with people. That’s something I really like about a show, the back and forth between the audience and the performer. But at the same time it gives me the opportunity to think of music in a different way from the live show and the way that I had conceived it up until then. It feels strange, but I try and think of it as a different moment only, neither worse nor better, just different.
Just adapting to the situation.
Yeah I mean we definitely don’t have control over it, you know, us personally.
Do you have an livestreams planned instead?
Not really yet, we might plan something later but I haven’t yet thought of that. Maybe what I could do when the album comes out now that you ask me, we could have a live listen. So I go live and we listen the album together with everyone, singing along. I could bring in the other people from the album and sing along with me just for fun. But I haven’t thought about doing concerts really, it seems quite strange to me to do a concert in a room on my own with a phone. I don’t connect with it. But as you said we’re adapting to this whole new thing so maybe I will do it. I haven’t really played together with the other musicians since we made it. I haven’t played my songs with a bass player or a drummer but that I would really like for the fun of it. Just get together and work on some songs and see how they sound, see what happens.
Yeah that would be really nice.
Real Life Situations is out May 31st via Captured Tracks. Pre-order here.