Interview: Gabriel Vargas on deeply personal single “Like Wolves”

Recently, we caught up with Melbourne indie rock artist Gabriel Vargas, who has recently been revelling in the release of his latest single, “Like Wolves”.

An extremely personal release that has seen Vargas open up possibly more than ever before on record, “Like Wolves” is a strong statement from the songwriter, one he tells us more about below.

How did the response to “Like Wolves” affect you when the song was first released? Understandably, there’s a lot of emotional weight behind it.

I was extremely humbled by the response and support from my fans, family and friends. In particular, there where are number of online messages and comments which people shared their own experiences of trauma as a result of the single and music video…and I guess, in essence that’s what this song set out to do… to open the door for honest, authentic connections and conversation by embracing all of our parts….from light to dark.

With a lot of conversation in the music industry at present surrounding the treatment of women in a personal and professional capacity, how crucial do you think music is for us as not only a platform of expression, but avenue of escape from the negativity?

I think the mistreatment of women in a personal and professional capacity is something which has been going on for a long time, and what we are seeing now is a mass shift in consciousness where awakened and empowered women are mobilizing in a way which is influencing perspectives and social change.

Again, it all comes back to sharing those most vulnerable parts of us which allows for these conversations to open up and people to realise that in fact they are not alone in experiencing these thoughts and emotions as a result of past trauma or conditioning. With this in mind, history has shown that music and art have always been at the forefront of such movements not only as a means of self-expression, but as a representation of the wider movement taking place.

Obviously there will be songs, which seek only to entertain and provide a form of escapism from such “heavy topics”, and this has it’s place and time, but I believe, in music as in life, great change never comes from escaping but in fact confronting. Music, in this sense, can be that vessel which holds you as you enter in to these realms…like a big brother or sister saying, “It’s ok. I feel it too and I’ve got your back.”

With “Like Wolves” – has the final result on record matched the initial vision you had for the song?

It has probably exceeded it! I’m very grateful for having my good friend in Jimi Maroudas produce, engineer and mix the track. He did and amazing job and really made the vision a reality. The recording of the song was by large a collaborative effort by an array of musicians who were mostly good friends of mine, and Jimi was instrumental in overseeing the production and creating the space to ensure we got the best performance from each musician.

What was the most important element of this creative process that still sticks out as being a significant moment for you (if there was one)?

As I mentioned, it was really a collaborative process throughout – both for the single itself and the filming of the music video. The most important element in it all was maintaining the balance between having a strong clear vision so others could work towards, and allowing the freedom for each one’s individual expression to shine through.

Were there any breakthrough moments of creativity in studio that you weren’t expecting to have?  

I think the beauty of the collaborative, creative process is that there are many breakthrough moments. When you invite other musicians in to share their talents and give them the freedom to express as they feel, we have moments that are totally unexpected and beautiful.

For instance, Red Horse who is an Apache Native American appeared in the music video and on the track itself playing the Native American Flute. During recording of the song, he was simply guided to play his flute and picture he was in the Grand Canyon. The rest was up to him and we were able to capture his spirit through his playing. Likewise, Teila Packman provided the amazing female vocal lines at the end of the song with the instruction to use only sounds (not words) to express the feminine pain and anguish of being held down for so long and its moment of liberation. She did an amazing job in capturing this with such rawness and power. It was really a special moment and the emotion she channelled permeates that part of the track. 

What have you learned about yourself as a songwriter through the making of this song (and any new music you’ve been working on since)?

If anything this song was really an exercise in playing with imagery, in particular the element of “fire” to tell a story. At the time, it was a way of writing which I was working on developing, so lines such as “…dance like wolves in the fire”, “Release my words like embers in the wind” are just some of the lyrics and ways I explored this concept.

It was also very clear that this song was influenced by a number of outside texts such as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, The Cherokee Proverb Two Wolves and Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. At the time of writing the song, I wasn’t conscious that these texts where actually influencing the writing of the song, although at a sub-conscious level they definitely were. However, once I realised this, I understood how much we take in as people that we are not aware of, and consequently learned that as a songwriter and artist we probably take on more than most. What’s changed on songs that I have been currently working on, is that I am more aware of where these influences are coming from, and can therefore draw on them much earlier in the process.

When writing songs, where does your mind go to first for inspiration?

It varies. Usually it is from my own experiences and observations. However, I have recently recorded a song, which I am releasing later in the year, that is inspired by a character I had created in my head. So in this instance, I am writing form a perspective which is not my own but rather one which I have created. So as you can see, inspiration is always changing! I just try to be open enough in myself so that I see or hear those little glimpses of magic when they present themselves.

What is the rest of 2018 looking like for you?

I am really looking forward to supporting Jeff Martin for his Victorian dates in late June and then releasing a couple more singles before years end. I’m also working on album with my song-writing partner Jake Lowe which we hope to start recording in the coming months.

Gabriel Vargas performs acoustic at Bar Open in Melbourne on April 28th. Stay up to date with him here.