Closing the Distance is a new series in which we expose artists with desert roots who have since moved to other locales. Let’s bring this community a little closer together.
by Mark Anderson
Bryant Eugene Vazquez seems to epitomize the working-class artist archetype.
When not writing, performing, and recording his own music he works for a non-profit and finds the time to paint and write as well. We’ve been following Mr. Vazquez’s musical career for sometime now and I can say he always seems to be getting better, changing his approach to match the current state of mind he finds himself in, as he traverses along this plane of existence.
In 2013 he left his Flagstaff home for Philadelphia in search of new horizons. His subsequent album, All Damn Day/The Greatest Hits, is a must listen for any fan of 60s/70s singer-songwriter, lo-fi pop.
Those of us down at YabYumHQ are eagerly awaiting his forthcoming album, Grey Expectations, so before its release I reached out to Bryant to talk Philly, art, and what’s upcoming for this prolific artist.
YabYum: OK, I’m just gonna come right out and ask it, what’s Philly like, man? Please relay to us all that you do there.
Bryant Vazquez: I… survive. Haha! I love Philadelphia. It kicked my ass all over the place during my first year. The experience, of course, depends on the person. My time here has presented plenty of newfound inspirations, and perspectives. Some times just from walking the streets. It’s a vivid city, and it’s constantly evolving, even in the two plus years I’ve spent [here].
I work for a non-profit to pay my rent/etc… Aside from that, the majority of my time is spent working on music, painting, or writing. Culturally, it’s just about perfect. There’s a lot of history here. You can feel it, and you can see it. It’s there if you’re willing to go out and find it–whatever it is you’re looking for. A lot of people dismiss it, or say it’s just filthy or whatever, a lot of locals. It think it’s funny. The reaction I would get from people who found out I left Arizona, they’d just lash out in disgust. HA. “Why the hell would you leave all that beauty for this shit hole?” Stuff like that.
I don’t know. For me, it was time to go. Living in a big city has always been something of a dream of mine. Sure, I miss the mountains of Northern Arizona, and I miss the desert. But, I had almost no problem at all exchanging the San Francisco Peaks for the Philadelphia Skyline.
Could you tell our audience your ties to Arizona?
Well, I’m originally from East Los Angeles, California. It’s funny I mention that because I was practically brought up my whole life in AZ. There’s something about knowing where I’m from that… I just try not to forget that. My family moved to Yuma when I was a kid. I left the Southwest for Northern Arizona for school. Flagstaff is a magical place, and it’s really where I set my roots as far as songwriting goes. I started songwriting around 2008/2009 after finally getting over the fear of having a less than conventional voice. From there I just wrote/recorded solo acoustic. Down the line, I formed a few bands, including: Vagabond Gods with my brother, Chris, and Murdoch with some friends in Them Savages (RIP) and Redeemer. I also spent a good year and half as the bassist and resident rebel in decker. Haha. That was perhaps the tie that got me involved with Phoenix more than anything. It’d played in the valley before then, but I really got involved through Brandon Decker and his work.
Did you have any thoughts on the AZ music scene when you departed in 2013? What has been your experience with the Philadelphia scene so far? Any musician/band’s we should check out from there?
Thoughts on AZ music scene? Hmm. Haha.. Um, well… I don’t know. I mean, for me as a solo artist? Not much thought, to be honest. I got love from some places, for sure. It was actually through YabYum that I got my first taste of publicity outside of Flagstaff, which I will never forget (Thank you Carly/Mark). Much respect. A lot of earlier work was just acoustic and vocals, and it wasn’t exactly popular. It was pop music, and well…my concern wasn’t to be popular. I was too concerned with writing intricate finger-picking songs with somber lyrics and vocals. It was until Non-Sequitur that I really branched out musically, but even then, aside from a few nods (Mitchell Hillman, always love and respect), I don’t believe I had much of an interaction with a music scene. Playing with decker. introduced me to a lot of the Phoenix music scene. and with that I introduced my other projects. I owe a lot to Brandon, he’s a hard worker, and I learned a lot from him.
As far as bands/musicians go, I always enjoyed Field Tripp. Dan (the man behind the band) and I worked on a song together one time…which might not exist anymore, or is maybe hidden in his achieves of music somewhere. He’s a prolific songwriter, and he was always pushing to do the best work that was in him–we shared that mentality, and a love for Elliott Smith. Ha. Future Loves Past was probably the tightest band I’d seen in the valley, though I’m not sure if they’re still a thing these days. Eric Palmer, who I still keep in contact with from time to time, he would write these amazing bass lines. Captain Squeegee… I mean, those guys are all insane musicians. I’m sure I’m missing a shit load of others, but at the moment, those are the ones that stuck out for me. I could also go into bands that I thought were pretty bad, but no one wants to read what I have to say, much less about that. Ha!
The Philly music scene.. shit.. I mean, Philadelphia has an enormous and hugely diverse musical palette. There’s a lot of really popular indie/national acts that come out of Philly, and even more bands/artists that are just beneath the radar. I formed a band with a friend pretty soon after arriving in Philly: Beverly Mud. I did the open mic scene for a bit around the city, but I found the majority of my foundation at Fergie’s Pub in Center City. A lot of the local artists, and comedians would perform on Monday nights, and that’s where I met my friends Marcus Kitchen, and Scott Haldeman (who would eventually become the drummer for my current band). As far as locals, it was Ali Wadsworth (thank you) who pointed me in the direction of Fergie’s, she’s a super talented singer/songwriter and a hell of a bartender. She also introduced me to Marley McNamara, a key player in the whole Philly music scene. She also happens to manage The Districts, who are blowing up nationally, as well as a list of other great acts. I have her to thank for any sort of attention I initially received as far as local radios/shows.
It’s hard to pinpoint, really… I’m not gonna pretend that I have any real close knit connection to it, because there are so many different scenes going on, house shows/DIY/etc… I’m still pretty reclusive, but I can say since being here, I’ve pushed myself to be more outgoing. I could tell the difference immediately coming from AZ and then seeing all that Philly had to offer. It’s compelling to hear all these people really grinding away to create something different (or not, which is fine, too. Ha.). WXPN (radio station) is a so supportive of it’s local artists, and I think that’s probably one of the huge differences. I don’t know, though. Ha. I’m still just trying to do the best I can, and hopefully along the way meet and play with more rad bands.
In the realm of singer/songwriters, there’s Alec Stewart, Thom McCarthy, and Ron Gallo– all of them are incredibly gifted songwriters/musicians. I’d recommend giving them a listen. MINKA is a band we played with as well, they’re pretty wild. Kate Faust is a songwriter/producer who’s also just really all about giving everything she’s got. Damn, I’m probably going to think of a whole list by the time I send this out. But, it’s incredible. I need to meet more, I guess. Ha.
Stunning to hear your computer glitched out on you and you subsequently have to re-record an album you’ve already re-recorded TWICE before! Any news on Grey Expectations that you’d care to share? I gotta say, All Damn Day/ The Greatest Hits is my favorite album yet of yours, can we expect more of that album’s “pop” sound or will you be going for something different entirely? Has the album’s sound changed over the course of time it’s taken to record it?
Oh, man! Haha… yeah, that was a nightmare. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve it! I had this total meltdown when it happened. Like, it made me physically ill when I thought I’d lost all the work I had for Grey Expectations. That being said, I do have two versions of the album, the second being the album which I’ll be releasing. It’s pretty much all done, the album is comprised of eight songs. There’s not a trace of acoustic guitar [and] it’s definitely got a bigger sound than the last album. With ADD/TGH I went for a 60s/70s acoustic pop thing… like the The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society, The Velvet Underground’s Loaded, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and Hunky Dory from Bowie. I did the whole chorus verse chorus song structure, which was both fun and torturous.
Grey Expectations continues that formulaic song structure, but is hopefully more fine tuned? Ha. As far as influence… it’s more in the vein of bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen, Slowdive, and other noise/rock/pop bands from the 80s/early shoegaze. In a sense it’s also more lofi than ADD/TGH because I only had two mics to record the album… Anyway, I think people might enjoy it. Haha. It’s mildly “shoegaze”.
The songs from ADD/TGH are definitely different live. I think earlier on I tried to have the band (Los Gringos) play them as close as possible to the album, but they eventually took on new life as we all got comfortable with the songs. Lately, they’ve been taking a bit of a psychedelic route? Something of the sort…
How did you hook up with Los Gringos?
Well, the formation of Los Gringos started with Scott Haldeman (drums). I knew him through my former bandmate/roommate, Marcus. They had their own band (Daddy Long Legs) going on. After Beverly Mud fell apart and I finished recording ADD/TGH, I got in contact with him, he was real quick to pick up the songs. Afterwards came Marcus Kitchen (Daddy Long Legs, Mars) and filled in on bass for a minute. Frank Mashockie plays the lead electric and he is a master of noise and texture, as well as an accomplished guitarist. He kinda volunteered after I’d put out a request for band members online. We both share a lot of the same influences and ideals as far as music and art goes. He has his own solo project as well, Bleu Velvet, which is gnarly noise/pop which super fuzzed out guitars–real good shit. Finally, there’s Dean Custer on bass. Originally I met Dean through mutual friends, and I fell in love with the guy and his playing. He’s in a prog-metal band called Something Like A Monument. Once Dean joined the band, that really solidified our lineup. Everything just clicked, and we all just go along pretty naturally. I write all the material, still, but they put their own spin on the songs, and I love that. As far as the name… hahaha I don’t know, man. I forgot which one of them threw that one out, and I’m not sure it’ll stick, but hey… fuck it!
It seems you’re also dedicating more time to your fine art which is pretty darn awesome, how long have you been painting?
Ah yes. Painting. Um, well I started drawing at an early age…so that was always kinda in me. As far as painting, I’d say… about a year and a half? Sometime in the summer of 2014, I think. I’ve always loved painting, and I’ve always been a fan of the masters. I have a huge love for German Expressionism, and the Post-Impressionist/Expressionist movement as a whole. I kinda just went for it, and haven’t stopped since. I’ve had a couple shows, and I’m currently showing at a coffee shop in Center City. I’ve been selling pieces here and there, mostly on commission. But, my plan is to do a series of portraits, and hopefully have a gallery showing. I love portraits. They’re timeless, and I’ve always just preferred figurative art to landscapes or abstract works.
What does it mean to be an artist? I know you take the term quite seriously.
Damn. That’s one of those questions…. No one has the definitive answer. Art is subjective, says some people. Then, there are people who just have these rules set in place. I don’t know, man. I mean, I know I have my own… principles. I couldn’t tell you.There’s good art, and there’s bad art. There’s great art, and terrible art. There’s art, and there isn’t art. It’s a touchy subject to those people who really give their lives for it. Some artists give it all, put it all out there, and never expect anything in return. And on the opposite end, there’s the all the commercial stuff, the business aspect, the shit that really cheapens the whole idea of creating. Personally, there are times I can tell if I like or love something within a second of hearing, seeing, or reading it. Other times, I know right away if I hate it or think it sucks. Those people who know me best, or hell, might have just met me, they know how harsh I can be when it comes to anything in relation to art as a whole. There’s this quote by Henri Matisse, “I have been no more than a medium, as it were,” I think that’s the best summarizes it, as far as I’m concerned. What it means, I guess that’s subjective, too. Ha. As an artist? I believe having discipline and a respect for the craft can go a long way in separating who’s in it for the glory, and who’s in it for the long run.
Are there certain songwriters or fine artists that have influenced you and your work that we should know about but might not be on a lot of people’s radar?
I’ve been very inspired by composers lately, a lot of avant garde/noise stuff. Songwriters have always been at the top of my list, from the greats to the lesser known. Umm… artists outside of the radar…I just found out about a guy named Billy Childish. He’s insane. If you’re interested, you should look into him. He’s an artist.
Besides Grey Expectations, what do you have upcoming? More art shows? Music videos? Tour?
Well, I have a lot of music that’s recorded/written that isn’t from Grey Expectations. I have another two albums waiting in line. There’s also two albums of strictly compositions/instrumentals that I’ve been working steadily on, and I’m excited to eventually release those. There’s music videos in the works for the first few songs to be released off GE, and other video projects. I’m working on taking part in an art/benefit show that will go towards fighting breast cancer. We’re playing a show in November that is also a benefit show to fight cancer. A lot of performing is happening soon, and I’m ready to play the new material. There’s stuff I’m working on that is writing outside of songwriting/music. And hell, I believe we’re gonna try to make CMJ this year. I don’t know, man. All kinds of shit. I also have to remember to feed myself, shower, and keep my 9-5. Haha.
You honestly seem to love Philly, is New York still on the horizon or have you found a new town to call home (at least for a little while)?
I do honestly love this city. I find myself saying it often. By now, it almost feels as though it wanted to keep me here. For the moment, it’s definitely home. New York is in the back of my brain somewhere for someday. Maybe it’ll happen. I feel like it’s something I need to do. Until then, I plan on playing there as often as possible. After Philly, I have no idea where I’m going. Out of the country? Maybe? I’ve picked up and left is all behind once, I can see that happening again.