Kate Vargas stalled out. The early days of the pandemic left her saddened, lonely, and desperate for a creative escape. Stuck in second gear, the Corrales, New Mexico native picked up Jackson Browne’s guitar and began picking out what would eventually become a new song. “RumPumPo,” premiering today (May 18), captures all her angst, especially when not only hitting the studio was no longer an option but the whole world had ground to a halt.
“It felt like I, along with the whole world, went from an object in motion to an object at rest,” she says. The song didn’t take on this meaning until much later when Vargas linked up with Mikel Ross at Lucky Recording Company. She expressed how she was feeling, and 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,” the singer-songwriter tells American Songwriter.
“Perhaps [this song] will inspire someone who feels stuck, either at rest or in motion, to look for an external force. Or even just bring a bit of comfort to someone who is currently in one of those states,” she continues. “It can feel overwhelming and, sometimes, isolating. But, ultimately, it is a human condition. Not just human, in fact, a universal condition.”
Now based in New York City, Vargas gained quite a bit of attention with her last studio record, For the Wolfish & Wandering (2018). Her voice remains unmistakable, particularly the weathered rasp and the way she glides over melodies as a trapeze artist underneath the big top tent. With most of her work, songwriting unlocks a way to “explore more deeply” the avenues of her existence. “It’s an opportunity for me to explore different perspectives. That’s about the nicest way I can put it,” she says. “For me, songwriting is quite uncomfortable when I’m doing it properly. As Dorothy Parker said, ‘I hate writing but I love having written.’ Ultimately, it’s what I love. But it’s a messy love. As all significant ones are. And there’s no right way to write a song.”
Frequently labeled as “junkyard folk,” Vargas’ work is marked with deep intention, frequently emerging as some of the most “honest, authentic” in the Americana scene. In total, she has released three full-length records, each as impressive as the last. “I was drawn to music early on, everything from Andrew Lloyd Weber to Selena to Hendrix. And no one told me not to!” she reflects on her musical gateways. “I don’t remember anyone telling me it was a waste of time or a poor career choice. That was a gift.”
“RumPumPo” is the lead single to Vargas’ forthcoming new record of the same name. As she and her band “slowly get back to playing live gigs,” including a short run in California ahead of the record, she also eyes a side project called SHEELA! with Liv Mueller and Ruby James.