- A crew in an elevator: At center, Jon Gregory, aka Juan Huevos, with French musician 202 Project (left) and rapper Subtitle (right) in a Geneva rock club
Durham rapper Jon Gregory, better known as Juan Huevos, lives as though he's collecting stories to rhyme to: A cancer survivor who works full time as a butcher, Gregory responded to a laudatory MySpace message from black France-based rapper Subtitle last year and asked, in short order, if he had time to collaborate in Europe.
The rest is just risks and logistics: Next week, Gregory returns from six debauched weeks in Saint-Etienne, France. He didn't record as much as he'd hoped, but—by phone from his studio apartment—Gregory says that whether opening a string of shows by popular Canadian indie rockers Islands or smoking hash cigarettes and drinking too much, he's returning to the Triangle with plenty of fodder for more of his smarts-and-smarm party songs.
Editor's note: We've added two words to the online version of this story.
BUTCHER: [Laughs.] I have not been eating a lot of meat out here. I've been going into butcher shops and just seeing the craziest shit. It makes me think about America and how sanitization crazy we are. Working at Whole Foods, like, gloves all day, temperature checks, sealed cases, separating every piece of meat with a piece of paper because if a steak touches another steak, and it can't breathe, a section of the steak will turn brown. And some fuckin' lady with a ton of money doesn't want to buy a fuckin' ribeye steak with a brown spot on it because a piece of ground beef was on it for a second and it made it change color. Out here, you go into the butcher shop and they're cleaning the case, they just sit all the meat on the top of the counter. It's not cold. There's flies buzzing around. These fools aren't wearing gloves. Shit's just stacked up on other shit. It doesn't look pretty as a picture. It's a piece of meat. Take it home and eat it.
EXPATRIATE: I really had this fantasy that I was going to come out here and get a new outlook on life, staring out the window at baguettes steaming on trays and birds flying and beautiful women traipsing about. I was going to write all this inspiring, amazing shit, just sitting in my room in France. That turned out to be not the case whatsoever. My writing has been very stagnant. But what's interesting for me is it's the experiences that I'm having here that I'm going to take with me back home, and that's when I'm going to write.
OUTSIDER: I didn't make any effort to learn any French before I came out here because I thought I could just coast on that level, and that was a big mistake. I wish I would have made more of an effort to learn more before I came out here. The fact that you're an American, it's almost like you're a spectacle: "Oh, the American! Let's pick his brain. Who are you going to vote for?" I'm at some party, and some guy has me cornered and is asking me if I think they planted bombs in the Twin Towers. I don't want to talk about that shit, dude...
I'm a very gregarious person and I get wasted and I cause a scene and I get down with everybody, but there are definitely a lot of moments of me just posted. I went with a group of rappers from Saint Etienne—I only knew one of 'em—to see a festival they played, basically like in Boone. It was in the mountains of France, and I didn't know a soul. There were a lot of times with me just posted in the corner, waiting for me to pass a fuckin' spliff so I could keep smokin' so I had something to do.
SWAGGER: Especially out here, I'm rolling around out here with a very loud, 7-foot-tall, very interesting looking dude. Everywhere we go, people stare at us. It's going to happen. It's wearing tight pants in a town full of motherfuckers that don't wear tight pants. I brought these ankle boots with me, and I'm like, "This is what fools rock in Paris." And I'm over here like, "I'm keeping these fresh, white, big-ass white high tops on everywhere I go." Give me an excuse to walk down the block and act like a fool. I was walking down the street last night, dressed in all black—bright white high-tops, otherwise all black—wearing prescription sunglasses, bearded out, looking like the Unabomber with a wine-bottle-sized beer in my hand, walking down the street in Paris and walking up on people and just breakdancing on them. You're going to see the fucking fool.
SATIRE: There's this label that's getting' thrown around a lot right now of fucking "hipster rap." I don't want people to see me doing these shows where I'm running around with my shirt off and kickin' these little raps and think this is just some kind of joke, like I'm a satire of myself, like I'm some kind of clown. I fucking look like a hipster, act like a hipster and listen to hipster music, sure, but what the fuck is a hipster? Compared to what? Who is a hipster? I don't want someone to see me up there doing this funny, fun electro hip-hop shit and think this is some kind of joke.
NETWORK: The Internet is the best networking tool for musicians—ever. If it wasn't for MySpace, I wouldn't be here doing what I'm doing right now. I'm not plugging MySpace, and I'm not endorsing MySpace. All I'm saying is that if it ... I'm out here right now because someone hit me up on some random shit on MySpace and it spread and it spread and it spread. Maybe people have already said this before but little simple things through the computer, it's amazing who you can get in contact with. I never met Subtitle in person before I came out here, and I came out here just to hang with this dude. We wouldn't even know each other except for this kind of shit.
HOMECOMING: I had this blog going, and I was writing about my adventures. But it got to the point where every day got crazier than the next. And I was, "I can't write about this." I think people are going to be like, "Tell me what happened, man." I'm going to look at you and be like, "Bro, you had to be there." I don't want to be the dude that comes back and every sentence starts, "Well, when I was in France..." The times have been crazy.
One day after returning to America, Juan Huevos joins Astronautalis and Kerbloki at Local 506 Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $6.