A girl has a strange experience writing a song inspired by Newton’s 1st law on Jackson Browne’s guitar in Kid Rock’s old house… While that sounds like the plot to a modern psychedelic exploitation film that would play as part of a midnight double-feature with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it’s actually the true story of how singer/songwriter Kate Vargas wrote the title track to her latest album, Rumpumpo…
Kate Vargas, a self-proclaimed “junkyard folk” artist based in New York City, was planning to start recording her latest album last Spring, just as the pandemic cancelled all our plans. However, a trip out West quickly threw her back into motion and put studio time on her calendar. The only issue: her favorite Gibson was stranded back out East and she needed to write one more song for the album. After getting a guitar on loan from Jackson Browne, she recorded “Rumpumpo,” which would become not only the album’s title track, but a sort of commentary on the recording of the album itself.
I recently got a chance to chat with Kate from San Francisco, where she’s in the studio, recording another album (“I just love writing and I love to get more songs out,” she tells me.) For Rumpumpo, which is due out July 16th, the songwriter tells me she wanted to pick up where she left off with 2018’s For the Wolfish & Wandering, which earned her an appearance on NPR’s Mountain Stage and an official showcase at Nashville’s AmericanaFest, in addition to soundtrack placements on Stumptown and Good Trouble: “I’m really excited for this album to come out. I feel like my last release was the first time I really sort of realized this sound, my sound. And for this one, I feel like we just were building off of that, having a really solid sense of my sound and getting more mature with my music.”
“I don’t consider myself a performer. I just want to offer what I have to offer, which is music. I put a lot into what I write,” says Kate. The tradition of the tales told on Rumpumpo (and Kate’s music in general) begins in Corrales, the artist and farming village in New Mexico where Kate grew up amongst a plethora of Mexican-Catholic families, like her own. The community was known for its folklore and storytelling abilities, which is ever-present in Kate’s songs. And when we discuss her musical interests and influences, they seem to share a lot of similar sentiments.
“I’m a huge Tom Waits fan. My big two are Tom Waits and Nina Simone. And then people like Leonard Cohen and Dylan. I love songwriters, people who love songs. I listen to a lot of different stuff, but authenticity is something I’m sort of obsessed with.”
In addition to the formal collections of her work (or albums), Kate also participates in a weekly musical web series with Eric McFadden, LIVE from The Red Couch: “Eric is my partner — we live together — and we had played together before lockdown, and we had toured together. When we were locked down in our New York apartment we just started doing this, and we have this big red couch. We started doing that weekly, every Monday.” And apparently, as the couple travels (as they are now), so does the show (although not the couch), so as they spend time out West or even overseas, you can still tune in every week to see guest couches hosting the musical couple.