AM/PM: Tall Juan
By David Weiner
We first saw “Tall” Juan Zaballa at a small venue in Brooklyn. He wore a nice button-down shirt and bleach stained jeans. He was quiet and calm and carried with him a beer onto stage. Within minutes of his show the 6-foot-4-inch Argentinian rocker had stripped his shirt off, taken two shots of alcohol and began humping a floor speaker.
The pure organic energy that came from the tattooed 26-year-old resonated with each staccato lyric. He describes his short songs as little poems with a sound influenced by the Ramones. His gyrating hips and and sporadic stage movements slightly resembled that of a modern Elvis, minus the goofy outfits and commercial appeal.
Juan has been spending his time at Jizz Jazz Studios with his housemate Mac DeMarco wrapping up his first album between gigs in New York.
We spent the day with Juan at his home by the water looking out at the New York skyline as we watched incoming planes land on the JFK strip. He talked about quitting drugs, tattooing, learning English and strangers showing up at his door.
JUAN: When I got to the US I stopped smoking weed. I moved here when I was 22-years-old. I have a Visa but I can play music only. To me it’s cool as fuck. I’m able to be in America and be a musician. [But] the same way you don’t know Spanish, that’s how I was with English. All I knew was like, “Hello.” If I was smoking weed I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I would get shy. Whenever I listen to Bob Marley I like to smoke, but otherwise I don’t smoke anymore. I get too quiet when I smoke.
POND: Does your family know English?
POND: So they can’t understand your music?
JUAN: No. I have a very different relationship with my family. When I was in Argentina they came to all my shows. I talk to them often on the phone, maybe a couple times a week, but I’m doing my own thing. I could show my parents my music, but I know they wouldn’t like it. It’s not like it would make me sad or the other way around and they like it, but it’s whatever. I don’t do it for my parents. I do it for me.
JUAN: We recorded 16 songs for the new album. Mostly the songs are 1 minute and a half. I’m going to select maybe 11 songs and leave five just to release. I’ll have an 11 song album and 11 songs is going to be 25 minutes. I didn’t plan it that way, but I really like that.
If you start getting bored, it’s already gone. It’s like a little poem with music, a short one. In Spanish it’s called prosa [prose]. It’s like prose with music. Maybe when I learn the language better I will have longer songs, but not even my songs in Spanish are long. I’m not a big writer. People change over time. Who knows in maybe five years I’ll write totally the opposite with 10 minute songs. I can get bored when I listen to songs that are that long.
Tall Juan wanted to hold a "Cacktoose". He used a seashell as an ashtray.
A wild brawl involving dozens of people erupted at a Queens casino, and the melee was caught on cell phone cameras. Video posted online showed angry patrons hurling chairs, brandishing weapons, exchanging punches, running & shouting. Coincidentally Tall Juan was there, and this is what happened.
JUAN: You know what’s crazy about the South American people and about me and my friends or whatever is that when we listen to music in English we don’t understand shit, but we like it a lot. I love the Ramones albums and Marilyn Manson since I was six. You don’t understand the lyrics, but you like the vibe.
POND: When did you first meet Mac DeMarco?
JUAN: I met Mac last year. We started hanging out a little bit then the guys went to Europe and I stayed in New York and Mac was calling me to go to his house in Brooklyn to hangout. He knew that I was looking for a place and he wanted to move too and he said “Hey, you want to move to Rockaway with me?” The first time I heard Mac was when we played a show with him. I didn’t like it much the first time I think. Then I heard more of his shows and we went to Europe together and then I started to like it more. Now I like it a lot and it’s probably because I know him too.
We talk about music, but not about each other’s music. We recorded five songs together and they sounded really good. I like that I like my music. I listen to my songs a lot. Mac was very supportive as Juan Wauters is supportive too. They helped me to record.