Kate Vargas shares “Rumpumpo,” the first song to be released from her forthcoming album Rumpumpo, due out on Friday, July 16 via Bandaloop Records. The world got their first listen to the new song earlier this week on Apple Music’s Record Bin Radio.
The New Mexico native, and now New York-based artist wrote “Rumpumpo” during lockdown at Kid Rock’s old house in Malibu, and on Jackson Browne’s guitar.
“We had planned two full days in the studio to record the whole album live” Vargas says. “It felt like I, along with the whole world, went from being an object in motion to an object at rest. This was not initially how I thought about it but, in July 2020, in a conversation with Mikel Ross at Lucky Recording Company (The Go-Go's, George Clinton, Talib Kweli), after telling him I stalled out, he simply stated Newton’s First law - ‘an object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest stays at rest, unless acted upon by an external force.’ I needed an external force.”
Thus, “Rumpumpo” was born.
About Kate Vargas:
A reformed wild child, in recent years Kate Vargas has traded the party for meditation, yoga, clean eating and a renewed focus on what she values most—her music. The New Mexico-raised, NYC-based artist is building ever more mindfully on her sound, and the music press is taking notice, Vargas receiving praise from a variety of respected outlets including Billboard, NPR, Noisey, and the Huffington Post, the latter assessing, “There is an unlimited amount of potential in this superstar on the rise.”
Vargas has packed houses from Ireland’s Westport Folk and Bluegrass Festival to The Troubadour in London, The Mansion on O Street in Washington D.C. to New York’s Bowery Electric. Featuring her singular folk-style storytelling, Vargas’ songs are grounded in a darkly melodic, reverb-washed sonic palette of dreampop, dusty folk and junkyard blues, all carried by rough-hewn vocals and guitar playing. In equal measure, she channels a surprising array of artists, from Tom Waits, Fiona Apple, and 16 Horsepower to Lana Del Rey and K. Flay.
In March of 2020, the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt just weeks before Vargas was scheduled to record her new album. With plans on indefinite hold, Vargas found herself struggling to find a way forward. Months later, while talking to a friend about her feeling that she had stalled out, he simply stated Newton’s First law - an object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest stays at rest, unless acted upon by an external force. She needed an external force.
Around the same time, in a fortuitous twist of fate, Vargas found herself on the west coast just as her producer was relocating out west as well. An external force. Not one to squander an opportunity, Vargas quickly made plans to record in Los Angeles. Two more problems emerged. One, Vargas’ beloved Gibson guitar was twenty eight hundred miles away in her apartment in New York and two, she still needed to write one more song for the album. Ever resourceful, calls were made and in the eleventh hour, Vargas found herself writing a song based on Newton’s First law on a guitar on loan from Jackson Browne. That song would become the title track, Rumpumpo.
“Gotta make the levee break, let the tonic take, double-stroking in a swim-or-syncopation
Well you won’t if you don’t get to doing, it’s Newtonian.”
Always challenging, Rumpumpo is peppered with restless moments, from the title track to the mesmerizing “Glorieta to the Holy Place”, a New Mexico-based story of a young girl’s pilgrimage to the town of Chimayo as a test of faith during the pandemic. Vargas escorts us to dark and uncomfortable places, but always with an arm around the shoulder and a reassuring grin. In the swampy “Spit 3 Times”, we are taken on a musical Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, exploring the nooks and crannies of obsession, then thrust into the stripped-down ballad “Someday”, a love song at once morbid, disturbing and yet beautiful that reaches a peak reminiscent of George Martin and The Beatles (circa 1967). Whether drawn from folklore or direct experience, Vargas injects an intimate feel into each song via her poetic lyricism and jagged vocal delivery. At times, Vargas damn near hypnotizes, her compositions seeping to the edge of the subconscious, hardwiring listeners to ponder questions that, in other contexts, might make them squirm.
Vargas’ childhood in Corrales, New Mexico, had a profound impact on the woman and artist she would become. This artist and farming village just outside Albuquerque was populated with Mexican-Catholic families like hers, as well as creatives and a variety of seekers. It was a community rich in oral tradition and folklore, steeped in tales of good and evil, ghosts and witches, sin, The Devil—even extraterrestrial visitors. “It was a strange and wonderful place that I’ve really come to appreciate as an adult. There was a culture of storytelling, and the stories were often dark—the way I write songs now is rooted in that tradition. The paranormal and the supernatural always seem to make their way in. It was a great place for an imagination to run wild. If I told my mother I was bored, she’d tell me, ‘Go outside and pretend something.’”
Still, the slow pace of rural small-town life was excruciating at times for Vargas, who longed for the action and possibility of the big city. She began playing the flute at a young age and by the time she was in high school developed an interest in jazz that led her to Boston where she studied music at Berklee. Once there, she consistently found herself coming back to writing and guitar after classes. Upon graduating from Berklee, Vargas relocated to New York City, playing an open mic night every Monday at the now defunct P & G Bar on the Upper West Side. “People were so disgustingly positive,” she says, “and that kept me coming back.”
Eventually, the club gave her a showcase spot and more gigs followed. With people continually asking her for a CD, Vargas knew the time had come to make an album. Her debut, the DIY affair Down to My Soul, was released in 2014, hinting at the promise of a vibrant new voice. Her follow-up, 2016’s Strangeclaw, was recorded at New York’s Mercy Sound Studios (Blondie, Macy Gray) and mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London, capturing Vargas’ impressive growth as an artist in gorgeous fidelity.
Vargas really hit her stride with 2018’s For the Wolfish & Wandering, connecting with audiences like never before, culminating in invitations to perform on NPR’s Mountain Stage, an official showcase at Nashville’s AmericanaFest, several performances at the 30A Songwriters Festival, as well as her songs appearing on television shows Stumptown (ABC), Midnight, Texas (NBC) and Good Trouble (Freeform).
With Rumpumpo, Vargas continues her meteoric rise with songs that stir the emotional cauldron, blazing a genre-bending path that is both sonically and lyrically daring.