HAMMER: With the re-issue of your BLACK WIDOW album, now in 2014, there is a huge difference between this and the original 2007 version...Why is that?"
JIMMY VARGAS: "The BLACK WIDOW 'mark one' was culled with tracks that were more tuned to an already existing jazz swing market for whom we were performing live, and the more experimental / mood pieces were held off, now I'm raiding the vault from that time, and letting those vignettes out, to take their rightful place. It's a soundtrack album in the greater sense of the meaning. More sonorous moments, metallic gasps and back masquing."
HAMMER: "I hear alot of Stockhausen and Partch."
JIMMY VARGAS: "I might beg to differ on the Stockhausen influence, but I've always been a fanatic of the sound effect etherea of the forties and fifties, of which Harold Partch one of the leading progenitor and composers of that art-form. He has always been a favourite of mine, and even though theres no pieces on the WIDOW album that could be classified as Partchisch for want of a better word, his influence of form and construction and spirit took flght in my pieces Nostalgia, Spider Kellys and Metal to the Gristle.
HAMMER: "You said in passing earlier that there's a technical and narrative logic to choosing the form."
JIMMY VARGAS: "Yes, the three are more than merely white noise tunes as such, I think of them as imagined compositions from ghosts as they float through and bump into furniture of a boarded up musky cabaret. The pieces are also constructed as 'ectoplasmic' portals / veils to the more accessible musical tracks. It is deliberate."
HAMMER: "You still think in terms of album narrative, rather than single..."
JIMMY VARGAS: "Yes, in this particular oeuvre, it works pefectly for me, its a soundtrack movie. I can build an aural tale...I don't serve I-tunes, it's there to serve me."
HAMMER:: "You still have the more accessible tracks intact, like the eponymous title track Black Widow, and Racket and Cancan Hell Mambo. The latter with its off kilter rythmn, made me think of Picasso being the real author if he had a guitar instead of a paintbrush as his instrument."
JIMMY VARGAS: " Well the visual arts do influence my work heavily, but I don't recall Picasso painting a Cancan. My Cancan Hell Mambo rythmn construction is more like a cubist painting in musical form, the melody Diego Rivera."
HAMMER: "What no Toulouse Lautrec?"
JIMMY VARGAS: "Well the tune's etymological roots are more Tijuana than Paris. The title itself was re-mashed from a Mexican cabaretera movie called Cancan Del Mambo starring one of my favourite mexican movie queens Rosita Del Flores who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Black Dahlias muse Miss Liliana Scarlatta."
HAMMER: "Cancan's aside, theres a slower heartbeat to this album, and alot more melancholy because of it."
JIMMY VARGAS: "BLACK WIDOW is really was meant as a eulogy album of sorts, it's theme is about a ghost trapped waiting for his lover to come back, to unlock an enochian key hidden in the piano at which he sits, so he will be freed to move on from her. The theme narrative is loosely based on a e-book of mine called Torchin at the EL Rocco"
HAMMER: "I read once that all your albums are themed around your books."
JIMMY VARGAS: "Yes, the collection "DEATH SWINGS" (Album 1 & 2) traces in musical form an affair of the veils between a racketeer and his mystery muse from San Francisco in modern times, the sequel "MY SHADOW BRIDE" (Album 3 & 4), sees them return to the other side of Los Angeles 1947. All the albums are bedrocked on the narrative plot of my books."MY SHADOW BRIDE" & "TEMPLE OF LILY', rep the first four albums and they are available via the very cool publishing company DARK MOON PRESS.
HAMMER: "By the time of the initial release of WIDOW the Dahlias had actually broken up by then?"
JIMMY VARGAS:"Well, no we hadn't broken up as such, it was more a case of the combo had kind of run their spiritual credit limit, in regards to partnership. The muse herself Lily had moved on, and the album became a eulogy to what was, a contemplation of sorts, a melancholy reverie that something could never be regained. A ghost in a cabaret, reminiscing."
HAMMER: "You did reform for a short season in 2012 did you not?"
JIMMY VARGAS: "The original lineup reformed, we hadn't played together live for near on sixteen years. Within half an hour of our first rehearsals in late 2011, the machine just locked and loaded seamlessly...Lily has this saying, that we are all 'kindred spirits' and I think the muse was dead right."
HAMMER: "Any shows planned for 2014?"
JIMMY VARGAS: "We are trialing a couple of mystery gigs round Fall time this year, out of the country, see if the DAHLIA machine can ignite up some fresh interest."
THE GIRL IN THE DREAM
RITA MORALES, of Spanish media blog 'Balenciaga and all that', talks to JMMY VARGAS about his personal Latina icon of band the BLACK DAHLIAS and muse LILIANA SCARLATTA.
RM: "For the band, the BLACK DAHLIAS, who have cut seven albums, recorded well over a hundred songs and had one muse that inspired nearly all of them, it was most ironic that the muse herself Liliana Scarlatta was not a writer."
JV: "Well Lily was very good at living the art, she lived the song, rather than having to document it, her gig was to inspire, I always believe her life force was the art installation that became the Shadow Bride compendium of work in cinematic, novel and soundtrack form."
RM: "But there was one song that you did happen to write together...DREAMIN HER SMOKING YOU?"
JV: "It wasn't a sit-down kind of collaboration that brought the song about."
RM: "What was the story of its conception?"
JV: "It was on one of our first meets in '92, we were in a San Francisco cafe in North Beach called Toscas, and Lily was carrying around her vintage 30's velvet handbag, in which she had kept a blue-book with poetry and verses that she'd written. The song DREAMIN HER was kicked off from the line of one of her prose pieces She cries all alone in the dark. And it was a very vulnerable line. I was surprised that she allowed me to see it. It caught her alienation at that particular time when she was searching I think for those kindred spirits who'd accept her, understand her language, and take her seriously. I was one of the fortunate ones. Anyway, getting back to the song, I had a orphan tune that used as a dummy lyric that matched perfectly to that prose piece of hers."
RM: "So you co wrote it together...?"
JV: "No, it was 20 years later, and it was when we kind of finished our last live shows together in 2012, that I resurrected the dormant piece of the opening lyric of hers and then added a whole lot of my own lyrical interpretation of her at that stage of her life. Celebrating the vulnerable tender and melancholy girl who then she becomes this seductive and all knowing mystical woman. So the song became a valediction, or perhaps a benediction to what she was, what she became and what we were to each other."
RM: "It's such a ghost song."
JV: "Yeah, hence why the back masquing in the recording, that celebrates her smoky essence you could never capture. I'm proud of the finished lyric, it nailed everything abut her, particularly her incendiary vulnerability, But it took a 20 year perspective to finally nail it all down into a song. So hence the collaborative credit on the tune...She started it as a seance, I closed it."
BROKEN 'n' BLUE
GREG POPPLETON , Legendary Vocalist of the 'Bakelite Swing', and host of 1930' s radio show the 'Phantom Dancer', strolls down the Tin Pan Alley with croonoir JIMMY VARGAS', trading scats about VARGAS' new digital release 'BROKEN'.
GP: "Upon hearing your new recording 'BROKEN', your musical interpretation of these American standards, hits the nail on the head in evoking the hard luck malaise of a hustler in a 40's noir saloon."
JV: "I selected the songs from that era specifically to support such a narrative, that is, the red light hymns of bar-room balladeers."
GP: "The extraordinary thing about these songs is how the piano and sax listen to each other, and womb around the singer, as if the music is being created as you go. How did all of you get together?"
JIMMY V: "I teamed up with pianist Dannny Biedermann, and saxist Kent Parkstreet, after a long run of burlesque revue shows called 'Grindhouse' and 'Vaudevil', when I was becoming very disenchanted with a business that was becoming little more than an altar of on female self obsession and political pout, that had nothing to do with ironic narrative and entertainment. So the work was really about just going back to roots. No flash bang and wallops.
Just the music.
I met Danny in 2008 at a local bar and pizza joint in the red light side of town called El Mad, where he was holding down a piano gig. One chance night, we started kicking around the Hoagy Carmichael "Georgia". Magic flared immediately.
Danny B's incredible sense of colour, voicing and chordal genius at the keyboard immediately created a cradle and cannon for my voice. One of the best musicians I have ever had the luck and honor to work with.
Kent Parkstreet, the saxist, I'd worked with in a latin lounge combo called Machiniso. A very soulful sweet cat. Onstage and off.
Kent weaved a wistful tone between Danny's piano and my voice in the torch numbers, and on the more sassy numbers raised the temperature ever so slightly to create a sinuous and bawdy curtain for my warblings, without hinting at an over-salaciousness.
As for the immediacy of the recordings? Well, we had already done a number of live shows together, and wanting to catch the magic for an eternity of sorts, we went into the studio, performing the tunes in a stripped down direct to disk rendition. Pure. No after-thoughts or second guessing."
GP: "The standards Boulevard of Broken Dreams and St Louis Blues were total surprises in that the way they are performed is totally different to the canonical and standard way they are normally presented."
JV: "Call me a pagan, no, let me correct that, an infidel in the house of politically correct jazz. Fuck this nostalgia vintage candy wrapping. I believe in the religiosity of the classics, but not the hokey hosannah and the strict template arrangement they are bound in. The songs are so well constructed yet have a fluid openness about them in both lyric and melody, that it gives singers like myself room to interpret. They are classics because they are brilliant narratives of the human condition. 'Boulevarde' for example we were able to rework as a tango, as sung by a hustler who is just as lost as the john rubes he's pitching to."
GP: "St Louis Blues is up tempo. Why?"
JV: "The narrator in the song is not a defeated mournful loser, he's out to reclaim his doll, even if it means death for both of them. Hence the revengeful swagger in the vocal delivery, and the pumping piano and raspy sax his sidearms."
GP: "I also like the spoken word late nite bar patter about a 'A Man's either a Pimp or a John.'."
JV: "Just something I threw in that W.C. HANDY himself might have felt but never expressed. One thing you learn in the red light side of the business where I got my initial start, a man either has to be a cruel master or a rollover dead chump."
GP: "And you?"
JV: "I've paid out my apprenticeship as both, matriculating to becoming a nightclub priest of sorts."
GP: 'Zoetika Blues', an original tune of yours, has such a thoughtful opening, mulling lonely late night vibe, sax piano and vocal weave a compelling story. It's is a mix of Sinatra croon but some times I'm suspecting the influence of Ted Lewis or Al Jolson, do you reference these musicians as an influence."
JV: "Al Bowlly and Beny More are more my vocal influences. But I buy into the psychological delivery. Good call on the Lewis angle.Ted Lewis was a cabaret showman, and I loved his zip in song, and used elements of his style when I was doing burlesque shows. Lewis knew how to sell the lyric as performance, with an manic depressives hyperbole of "Is Everybody happy?' The expression of communal joy, interlaced with a private singular melancholy. The tune Zoetika Blues is a paean to a showgirl 'type' who would have been high kicking it in the chorus line behind a Ted Lewis type at the Latin Quarter. It's a hymn to people in show business. The fracture that's inheent in this showbiz life, as you're trying to get the break. One could imagine Ted Lewis mulling over a piano after hours, when not 'happy' in his melancholic cups, about that ghostess showgirl of floorshows past."
GP: "Your music harks to the black and white movies of the 40's and 50's, but your style is devoid of the usual Sinatra cliches. Would it be fair to say that while your music is rooted in the cinematic genre, that as far as musical style is concerned, both true to the era and but totally original in it's delivery."
JV: I'm living in a parallel life of a lost forties life. So to me its replaying the movie I've lived of a past life and am still living within now. I'm not referencing it. I am the resurrection of it. Sinatra I love of course, one of the popes of my creed, but in everything I do, whether it be writing original songs with the Black Dahlias or my novels, I interpret from a cinematic perspective."