One of Hermann Hesse's lesser known collections, Wandering, reflects on anxiety, death and the arts while aimlessly meandering through the countryside. Alt-folk singer Bryant Eugene Vazquez left Flagstaff, Arizona barely two months ago to ramble on to Philadelphia, but he's still releasing records here in the desert.
On his latest, Dear Brother Death, (released yesterday digitally and on cassette through Northern Arizona label Our Records), Vazquez drew inspiration from the aforementioned Hesse vignettes, as well as the nearly fatal rollover from his time as Sedona-based folk band decker.'s bassist.
En route to Los Angeles last year, decker.'s tour van flipped on the freeway, ejecting vocalist/percussionist Kelly Cole, who miraculously survived, and destroying much of the band's gear. Vazquez had bought a new acoustic guitar just hours before, and it was his only instrument left intact. The guitar was practically all Vazquez took with him when he moved; he's sold everything from his piano to his electric guitar to his car. Right now, he doesn't even have a laptop, and he's sleeping in his friend's living room. But according to Vazquez, this traveling "lone wolf" lifestyle is all he wants.
"It felt like I had to leave and do something ... it's been busy, a lot of playing, a lot of walking, a lot of not sleeping," Vazquez tells me over the phone. "I found a job, hopefully. I've just been playing a lot and meeting people. The crowds have been really receptive ... I've played a few kind of shows, I guess. Low profile kind of stuff. I figure I kind of have to start somewhere ... Been a lot of nothing planned which is great, I kinda like it that way. I don't really know what the fuck I'm doing. I'm just kind of doing it."
Vazquez's older brother Chris, also the drummer in the duo's band Vagabond Gods, was supposed to join Bryant, but at the last minute decided to stay in Yuma. And while Vazquez doesn't plan on visiting anytime soon ("I don't really foresee myself going back to Arizona or the West Coast till I have something to show for it.") he's releasing Dear Brother Death as a kind of morose love letter.
The song "Gold & Mud" was loosely based on The Scream painting by Edvard Munch and the closing track, "Volunteer's Dilemma," features vocals by Melody Michelle of the defunct band Love, Palms. Recorded last April in less than 24 hours while waiting to finish mixing his last solo effort, Non-Sequitur, DBD has a much darker, low-key mood than much of his previous work, as evident by the album's cover of a decapitated saint drawn by Ariana Essian.
"It was kind of like a blitzkrieg-style record," Vazquez explains. "Threw it together real quick. Non-Sequitur was super experimental and totally lo-fi and a little extravagant at times ... DBD is recorded in a higher fidelity than anything I've done in the past. You can hear stuff clearly, you can actually hear me singing, hear the guitar playing ... These songs are two minutes. The last song is the longest one. It's a little catchier. A little different approach, something different."
There's a good reason YabYum named Vazquez Arizona's most prolific songwriter earlier this year. Dear Brother Death is actually Vazquez's fourth release this year alone. Under his own name, he put out Non-Sequitur and Disquietude; Vagabond Gods, his work with his brother, saw a new single last month and there was Slider, the latest album by decker. Vazquez also has plans to release a solo album next year, funded by an Indie Go-Go campaign, plus another album from Murdoch, his collaboration with Flagstaff punkgrass band Them Savages.
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Interestingly, DBD will be Vazquez's first solo record that gets a physical release, even if it's on cassette, because "you know, whatever. They're kinda getting popular again," Vazquez says. You can grab Dear Brother Death on Vazquez's Bandcamp.