This City Called Earth is the brainchild of San Diego based musician Ant Vargas. Their latest album “α β, Homeless θ” is a beautiful collection of songs that blends experimental sound textures with a unique and inspiring approach to songwriting.
I sat down with Ant to talk about their early musical experiences, how they started playing instruments early on and the making of “α β, Homeless θ” which you can get here.
CMM-What was the first music that really made an impact on you growing up and what artists and bands did you all enjoy the most?
Ant-Hm. Hideki Naganuma, The Pillows, Three Six Mafia, and The Dismemberment Plan were along the first. Of course there’s those tracks like Return of the Mack and hits like that, which my parents really liked. My mom really liked Miles Davis, so I’m sure that ‘Bitches Brew’ was playing while in the womb. There are way too many influential projects that have contributed to the overall mentality and sonic landscape.
Will Ashby, Cameron Davidson, each individual member of U SCO (Pacific Northwest), Dan Keefer and Torie Marcune were big independent influences for me. They’re all incredible players and their dedication to the pursuit of knowledge has definitely kept me on the right track. I could listen to anyone of those people play, for any duration of time and feel at ease. They’ve all emanated this certain euphoria that gets harder to experience as I get older. Of the variety that when I enter the room with any of them we can just effortlessly make something, it doesn’t even matter what it is – even doing nothing at all.
CMM-When did you first start playing instruments and making your own music?
Ant-I started playing music on tenor saxophone back in 2004, although, there was always something to play around – a little baja guitar, keys, singing, every school desk on the Western Hemisphere when that song “Grindin'” came out; I think you know the one. Certified Hood Classic.
I started recording in 2010, wasn’t very good at it but I spent enough time with various recording savy engineers, interned at a studio for a long time; by that point it had been about two years which is around the time the self-titled album came out. It doesn’t take long to get something going, you just have to start. A billion people have said it before me, a billion after.
CMM-You recently released a really beautiful record called “α β, Homeless θ”. What was the writing and recording process like?
Ant-Thank you kindly for saying that. I think so too, it was very fun to make and to put together. These songs range from 2013-2022. I like to think of this record as a collection of B-sides that have a unique flavour. Some tracks were ranging from solo to 4-piece format, and from any of the several studios I’ve made or maintained throughout that time frame. This is actually the 10-year anniversary of TCCE and the self-titled album. I wanted to do something that really showcased the broader purview of all of it, y’know – compilation snapshot thing.
When first putting this together, I had a conversation with my buddy Chris, in his car; we talked about how he liked the discography but he wanted a louder experience. MUCH, MUCH louder – proceeding to crank the car speakers up literally all the way up. I, in turn, brought it down a little, to which he turned it back all the way up while staring at me, making a very interesting point. It reminded me of the experience of live shows but more controlled chaos, in a sense. It got me thinking, yeah – I should make another album that’s meant to be really cranked in this way. The natural speaker breakup, that sense of “I’m going to blast this and no one can do anything about it”, the bass response rumbling the seats. Previously I was always hesitant because as an audio engineer the ‘loudness wars’ was always a major consideration. Ironically, the same people that concluded we need to be quieter would make albums that far surpassed the volume/loudness threshold they were suggesting. People liked those songs more. Luckily, projects like Delta Sleep exist and their albums are very, very loud but I love it when they do it, so it wasn’t difficult to get started with such a simple premise and the wealth of audio manipulation skills developed over the past decade.
CMM- If you could collaborate on an album with any band or musician who would it be and what direction do you think the music would go in?
Ant-I think the aforementioned people that influenced me. I would work with all of them again. Unless everyone was in the room at the same time, that might get pretty overwhelming – unless it was like a brainstorming session, similar to how George Lucas/ Lucasfilms does it. I think a collab with Delta Sleep could be potentially pretty interesting or Town Portal, or their side project ‘Inventory’. I’m just not sure they would be interested though. I wouldn’t know. I like them a lot though and I’ve been itching to play live again.
Working with Sylvia Massey has been a long time dream of mine. I think she has the exact mentality for how I like to create music. Balancing the Professional with the 4am-Crackhead-Sleepysilly’s approach, where every nonsense idea is plausible and there’s just a good flow of energy.
As far as direction. Probably glitchy stuff meets what they do. I never really know exactly how something is going to sound until I just get to it. These days though it’s more on physical paper. I’d like to get some opportunities to apply this book I’ve been working on
CMM-What do you have coming up next?
Ant-For the past 3 1/2 years or so, I’ve been working on this strange take on music theory. It focuses on geometrical analysis with respect to musical scales ranging from smaller scales to large ones. The functional analysis of waves, electrostatic and electromagnetic properties of the electron, quantum mechanical and topological analysis and techniques, as well as quantum computation. In fact, I recently got certified in Quantum Computation through a subsidiary program through IBM. It was a lot of work, and took a long time to learn and also put it together to inter-relate it back into music, keeping it all tidy and together.
I’ve been compiling my work and notation here.
I’m still mainly focused on that, as well as my work in the Innovation Lab at the San Diego Central Library where I focus on all things 3d printing, from building printers and devices to teaching programs and sustainability lectures to classes of various age ranges.
The self-titled is going to get a fun makeover as well. Updates on that later. After this year, I’m planning to focus a lot more on merch and artwork, presses and represses as well as more substantially integrating the printing process. Getting the book finalized and passing that out. I’ve been in the interesting position of being in a homeless shelter for the past year, despite doing all of this – obviously that’s always at the forefront of my mind, in terms of getting out of here into my own place which has been… well, insurmountably difficult, to say the least. If nothing else, I just want to have fun with it and go my own route and pace – as that works better than being so stressed out all of the time. I narrowly made it out of my “Saturn Return” and just turned 30 a few days ago so I’m settling into that experience mainly, now, though.
We’ll see. Just know there will be more quantum-leaning approaches to creating music after this one.