Alex Vargas. His first home is music. Born of English and Uruguayan heritage, he lived in Denmark until he was 17, ending up in West London–which he now calls his second home. It’s not surprising that Alex Vargas turns out to be a dark horse. He has sung, modeled, sung some more as a solo artist, worked with a fashion label, and sung his heart out even further.

There is definitely something different about him—meeting him as I did just before he played at Hanneke’s Boom, a bar across from the Amsterdam Ij. We end up sitting outside in the sub-zero early ‘spring’. I like that the suggestion ‘we’ll have to sit outside so I can hear you,’ doesn’t faze him like it would some performers. Relaxed in both manner and in speech, at first I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that will be revealed about him. The air around him is warm and calm:

“I always sang, and by 12 a lot. My Dad was a performer, a musician who now works in film music, guess you could say it’s in my blood.”

Back then, minutes of singing and strumming on the guitar, practicing, could turn into hours that’d end with tears and bloody fingers. There was a frustration that he wasn’t quite good enough (yet). But the skill came, and coupled with a voice like you wouldn’t believe, the whole soulful package now sits here before me.

“Musically, I didn’t learn formally. I picked it up naturally, I was surrounded by it.” 

It was an organic process; listening to songs like those from Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, jamming until he could play them perfectly. He learned from the great, and he now composes his own songs and lyrics like a tribute:

“I do it the old school way, I take melodies and then put lyrics to them. The rest of the track grows from there.”

I think there can be none of this manufactured boy band stuff for him, he’s the real deal. But then another topic rears its head: surprisingly Alex was in a boy band once, Vagabond. Yet instead of trailing along in the big record company’s wake, he quit when he realized it wasn’t musically what he wanted, a year or so in. A brave move, and one not many people in his position would take as they became successful.

 

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Now, as he talks about this experience, I see a few glimpses into what he would’ve been like as a teenager: determined and musically aware. He says that Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and Pink Floyd were what he listened to. He first heard ‘Dark side of the moon,’ when he was 5 years old and it made a lasting impression. Someone like that isn’t going to stay very long in a mainstream record label’s clutches.

Fast forward to later on in Alex’s life, and he’s still surrounded by music: he was one of the lucky ones to watch Mumford and Sons before they were big at the Notting Hill Arts Club (his second lounge by the way, if you’d ever like to meet him). He’s also now doing some work with the dance act, Above and Beyond, as well as gigging. He comes across as very versatile and someone who simply wants to play whenever he can.

Alex is someone who is able to adapt–the different cultures he’s been exposed to and the different places he’s lived makes him able to adopt much as his own. And music, in its various forms, exists like this for him in the same way. One of these newer releases, ‘Howl’ is a new direction for him, one that though different, he definitely owns. His newer music is a mixture of sweet soul embedded with a rawness. There is the big booming voice, a sweet, thoughtful side, touching lyrics, and melodies that simply sweep you along.

And he has swept a following along. Watching him play later I can see why: this guy can perform. He sings his heart out, and not only because he’s there on stage, also because this is the only thing he knows, or wants, to do:

‘”I live to perform, singing out is the best marketing for a singer. Performances. I love to do them.”

He’s happiest on stage. If you watch during a live performance, you’ll see he closes his eyes tight shut. Then his hands cradle the guitar like it’s the only true thing in life…probably because it is. He plays gigs whenever he gets them—this one was in Amsterdam because he’s never played here before and, as he says, ‘why not?’. He also plays regularly in Denmark, going back to his roots and fans, and he’s played before 20,000 people in an arena tour.

“I want to bring people to music through hard work, and no set recipes. I live in music. Music educates me. I play as many different musicians.”

Alex is someone who sings because he can’t not, and people watch him because they can’t not, and I’ll now follow him because…I’m curious and I can’t not.

So what’s next for Alex Vargas? The beauty is, he’s not really sure. But much as he’s already made it, playing as he does for whom he does, he’s still gonna travel far.

www.alexvargas.com

Words: Sarah-Jane Threipland

Photography & Concept: Myscha Orèo

 

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