It’s been a long past year of milestones for Kate Vargas since the June 2018 PopMatters premiere of a previous single, “7 Inches”. Following a trail of packed houses from Ireland, to London, to Washington D.C., and beyond, Vargas’ ruminative folk-rock has cast a spell over audiences across the world. Now, the New York-based singer-songwriter is turning a new key with her latest music, and in more figurative ways than one. Possessing a soulfulness, playfulness, and sensuality midway between the classic blues and jazz of artists like Lucille Bogan and Eartha Kitt, Vargas’ folksier roots take a backseat for an effortlessly charming romp between vintage and contemporary leanings alike.
Vargas tells PopMatters about her latest single, “Nothing Turns My Lock”: “This song started at the Holiday Music Motel in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, one of the most magical places on earth. Owned and operated by Pat Macdonald (Timbuk3, Purgatory Hill) and Melaniejane (Purgatory Hill), the place functions as a fun retro hotel year-round but, three times out of the year, 30-40 songwriters and a handful of engineers from all over are invited there for a week of songwriting. On the first night, we spin the bottle for our songwriting partners, write and record a song in about 24 hours, and then do it again the next night and the next night.”
“‘Nothing Turns My Lock’ came out of one of those weeks. I spun Jerod Kaszynski, saxophonist extraordinaire, and Andrea Wittgens, an incredibly talented songwriter who also happens to be a dear friend and my neighbor in New York City. During this particular week, we also spun for a piece of visual art, and we got ‘Relations’ by Chelsea Littman, a colorful installation of different configurations of keys and locks in frames.”
“I used to play jazz flute, Jerod is a jazz guy, Andrea’s great at all of it, so we started playing with this very classic sound we’re all familiar with. We talked about how the keys and locks look very much like characters. Initially, we talked about really contrasting the lyrics with the sound, even going full Lucille Bogan with it. We had countless laughing fits. But what ended up sticking was the real stuff – even though there’s a playfulness to the tune – I do strongly believe in the message. Traditionally, these jazz standards are very monogamous, very heterosexual and rigid in gender roles. There is a desperate need for a refresh – I hope our song is refreshing!”