Tongues’ frontman and lead guitarist Marcos Vaca walks us through some of his latest solo recordings, folk influences, and what it’s like to leave Los Angeles for the desert.
I met Marcos for the first time two years ago on Halloween at a DIY warehouse space called The Worble, which no longer exists (rip). He was playing with his band Tongues, straight-up ripping garage punks, and not long afterwards, I was writing about their last release. It’s been some time since that release, so we were delighted to hear that Marcos had been recording some new material — but it wasn’t for Tongues. It was for himself.
Who would’ve thought? After a few texts, I found out he had moved out near Palmdale, out in Antelope Valley, a place which couldn’t be further removed from LA socially and culturally. Where most bands tend to temporarily leave the big city for the desert to record, to find inspiration, and then return home, Marcos stayed. He’s there for the long haul, at least for now. And with these new recordings, we get a glimpse at the effects that both time and place can have on one’s artistic output.
These recordings are so far from Tongues, it’s wild. These are Western. These are slowed down, slightly warped bedroom folk musings with tinges of pysch and an overall weirdness.
The following is a brief conversation we shared over e-mails and texts the last few weeks.
First, are all these from 2016? Or were some written years ago, and just found they’re way back in this long, gap away from Tongues?
Actually, some of these songs were written as recently as a couple of weeks ago, and some were written almost 2 years ago.
It’s weird because as Tongues was going weekend to weekend, playing shows and recording, I was writing some of these songs. Tongues is such a loud band and its based around these four dudes who love to play that stuff. This stuff, my stuff, is the total opposite of that, which is great for me because I sort of gave myself permission to write the songs I’ve been wanting to write for a long time.
Songs like “Proponent” and “Carry Me Straight” conjure up so much imagery. You get a sense of movement, but in a trippy way. Like you’re wandering, you know. Actually, across most of the songs, I feel like a wanderer in an old-timey fog, because there’s that lag, that slow drip, in the warped effect your using. But you are longing about the past, about someone, yeah?
I’m glad it’s got that vibe. I want the songs to all be different, but contain a constant feeling and make the whoever is listening know that it’s coming from the same person if that makes any sense.
I wanted to write a childish kind of song for “Carry Me Straight,” which is about a friendship that towards the end sort of turns into how complicated things get with people, but it’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way things are sometimes. I did indeed write that song about a close friend, but I’m not sure if she’s heard it.
Maybe one day. There’s something both sunny, yet dark, about these musings. Being out in Palmdale, what’s there to do?
Well, I’m somewhere in the middle of Palmdale and Lancaster, so I just call it the Antelope Valley.
There’s nothing to do here except go to work and watch television. There’s just long strips of desert, which is super depressing, but also kind of beautiful to look at sometimes. It’s super hot in the summertime and it snows in the winter.
I get really lonely out there sometimes, but I channel that energy into writing songs or getting my health right. I don’t drink or smoke like I used to, so my body is benefiting from the isolation. I guess that’s the sunny yet dark thing explained.
Do you see a contrast in the people, or is it the place?
What surprised me is the abundance of trump supporters out there. I had no idea it was such a conservative area. It freaked me out to find out how many people were down for that guy. It’s a shame and it’s pretty frightening.
Right, once you start venturing inland, it’s a different, harsher reality. Out there you can’t escape those attitudes. But like I mentioned before, about these new songs, is that I get a sense of serene melancholy, like riding on train or rambling along a field of tall grass. If there’s sadness being evoked in these bedroom recordings, it’s conveyed well.
I’ve had a frustrating time within LA’s music scene. I had to distance myself from it to be a happy person. I’ve made so many mistakes within the past few years, so that’s definitely where the sadness and subtle paranoia of the songs comes from. There’s a bit of sadness in the songs, but at the risk of sounding cheesy, I really want to show that playing and writing music really is like therapy for me. I’ve found this area where I can express something from deep inside of me and write songs that have a meaning to them, whether the people listening grasp the meaning or not.
“I never cared about no one else
Holding your books up and down the hall
We didn’t need anyone at all
Hanging around the same saloon
Walking beneath a spotlight moon
So carry me straight today
I wish I knew what to say”
– lyrics from “Carry Me Straight”
Based on your visual output lately, I can get a sense that you are channeling Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, as well as the older folk legends. Can we dive deeper into that? Who are your (folk) heroes?
Elliott Smith is my favorite singer without a doubt and Nick Drake is fantastic. My musical heroes are Townes Van Zandt, Vashti Bunyan, The Beatles, Harry Nilsson, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley. The list keeps going on and on. More modern artists I love are Jessica Pratt, Angel Olsen, Marching Church, and Sharon Van Etten. There’s a lot. Jessica Pratt is probably the most underrated singer today. Her songs are incredible. Beautiful and haunting music.
Right on, Marcos. I always dig it when someone throws out Townes Van Zandt. I remember being in Berlin in 2009, and an American friend of mine was like, you gotta listen to Townes while you’re traveling. Definitely, changed the perspective of my trip as I roamed from village to village.
Discovering Townes was like finding out God is real or something. The dude was amazing.
Totally. Definitely looking forward to learning about what you have planned coming up. What can you share so far?
I am doing this Elliott Smith tribute show at The Smell on February 25th, with a ton of amazing people. That’ll be my first show. And then I’m planning on releasing a full album this year, and playing plenty of shows both solo, and hopefully, with a full band.
Listen to other recordings by Marcos here.
Catch Marcos Vaca’s debut solo performance at The Smell on February 25 for the Elliott Smith Tribute Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of “Either/Or” along with members of Feels, Surf Curse, BOYO, Girlpool, and more.