Interview: IV - Antonio Vergara
Updated: Jun 13, 2021
Ecuadorian rock singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, award-winning sound engineer, former lawyer, and academic Antonio Vergara spoke to Around the World in 200 Albums about his background, the power of music, the Ecuadorian music scene, and revealed an exclusive about his latest album IV.
“I look to connect my personal reality with the reality of my surroundings and also with the reality of the region.”
Rock musician Antonio Vergara trained as an intellectual property lawyer, but his heart remained set on making music, and as he told us, he was lucky enough to have a family that supported his ambition. Vergara’s mother is a well-known soprano in Ecuador, who has recorded several folk albums, which was his first influence. “I already had the opportunity to get to know and enter a recording studio and see everything and understand all that world. As a child I was already surrounded by music and at a professional level everything begun here.” His father, on the other hand, although not musically inclined, was certainly a big influence in Vergara’s life, having cryptically named his first album after him. The album title looks like three triangles, and albeit not great for the SEO, it has deeper resonance that makes it worthwhile and meaningful, as Vergara explained to us. “The three triangles like this… they are the initials of my father. My papá, Antonio Vergara Acosta. A-V-A. It is a homage to him, he died in 2009, and this album came out in 2012.”
Then, as Vergara grew up, he began to discover new music from around the world, in particular the UK, where he lists The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd as early formative influences in his rock development. Yet, coming from a part of the world where rock music was almost exclusively imported from the UK and the US, what became fundamental to Vergara’s desire to follow this path of rock music was the burgeoning, nascent rock scene, embodied for him by the socially conscious folk rock of Pedro y Pablo, alongside the guitar music of Charly García and Luis Alberto Spinetta. One of his other heroes is icon of Argentinian rock, Ciro Fogliatta, who, as the keyboardist of Los Gatos Salvajes, brought the first ever Hammond organ to Latin America. Fortunately for Vergara, he was able to convince Fogliatta to play on three songs on his latest record. “I can't believe he's with us on this album. He is truly a legend, he is part of the history of music in Spanish.”
Whilst Vergara was relying on foreign influences to develop his musical palette, young Ecuadorians do not have to look so far afield. The lawyer-turned-musician told us that the rock scene in Ecuador is small but growing, and he is happy to play a fundamental role in producing and guiding young artists in the studio. In doing so, he is filling in a gap in the market that did not exist when he was in his adolescence. “I would have liked that when I was that age there were studios that where I could express myself with ease,” he stated. In terms of the style of music he produces, he says he follows what the artist wants. “If they say they want [to do] reggaeton, we make a reggaeton record. Music today is global, and I have fun working for others in these genres.” Accordingly, Vergara told us he is currently producing three albums at once, ranging from auteur pop to minimalist folk.
Yet, Vergara is most comfortable in his wheelhouse of rock, where he has noticed some recurrent trends in the music making. “Now the wave of the 80's is returning a lot to rock, right? So, they want that sound that, in the 80s, was called futuristic. But now, being in this 21st century, it would be retro-futuristic.” Vergara here clarifies that many rock musicians want that somewhat over-the-top drum sound that Phil Collins pioneered in the 80s, alongside the guitar style that accompanies the work of Mexican singer Luis Miguel, or funk legend Nile Rodgers. Vergara continued to say that trend this has pushed him in the opposite direction in terms of his production. “It has moved me to produce many guys who fuse rock as such, [where] there are strong guitars, strong drums, but with an Andean fusion. The interesting thing is that the part of the Andes here is very similar in musical construction with oriental music, Chinese music... So, Andean music is a strange fusion with rock, but it also has an oriental air where it is mixed to create a universal sound.”
When asked to nail down the genre of his music, he floundered coyly, before finally declaring that although “music is a manifestation of life” and thus doesn’t like to categorise his music, he says it is broadly definable as either rock or hard blues. His latest album, IV, certainly lives up to that label. It is a full-throated selection of 16 songs that, while varied, are mostly in a hard rock, bluesy vein. Vergara’s aforementioned influences are apparent particularly in his lyricism. He places great importance of creating meaningful tracks, yet also wants to make his music accessible to the world of non-Spanish speakers. In an exclusive revelation (at time of interview) gifted to us and our readers, he divulged that his next project will be to release an English version of IV.
Though it may seem that Antonio has ambitions beyond his sphere of Spanish-language rock, he stated that his main interest remains in the power of music. After releasing his first album, he was made aware of an astonishing story. Many years ago, a boy who worked in a shop… they attacked the shop and he received a bullet wound in his arm and they told him he could never play music again. That’s what they said. Many years passed and he listened to my music, he listened to [Fuego en el Cielo], it motivated him and thanks to that song, he managed to play guitar again, and after I met him, and we have become friends. Now we are great friends.” He continued: “Without meaning to, without wanting to, I changed someone’s life. That is what I look for, nothing else and I don’t care about anything else, I simply want to know that someone who is doing their own thing, for example [hears] a song that says get up, they are not masters of your destiny. These people get up and try to change and be better. That is what I look for, nothing more.”
Another crucial aspect of rock music for Vergara is to have pertinent themes within the work, which is apparent in IV, made evident in the opening track, Insecto Suicida, where he included a recording from a demonstration about the cancellation of fuel subsidies that took place in October 2019. As Vergara himself recounts, “it was chaos, total chaos, there were many deaths… this song is about precisely that, and the audio you hear, those ambient sounds are real sounds from the protest… it is the local reality, it is a way to say what is going on, and many songs were about that.” When we asked him about his personal politics, he was reticent to go into it too deeply, but offered the following explanation, mentioning that it is of course important to him. “I try say that in the end, I did not mess with my neighbours and their lives, and I try to go forward.” However, he went on to say that the actual process of politics repels him. “There are two very strong sides here that argue well, and in the end, no-one decides on anything… I don’t see the point, really. To avoid this is the music. Get up, shake it, have a good time.”
Aside from the lyrical content, we were curious to know what, for Vergara, makes a good rock song, and how he goes about creating a track. As a singer and guitarist, Vergara opined that “rock is characterised by strong guitar, clean but strong, it sounds contradictory but it isn’t, if you have a strong riff, it’s better still, a good solo you always need.” He told us he started recording in January 2019, and with the exception of the drums and collaborations such as with Fogliatta, Vergara played all the instruments recorded on the album, a personal first for him. He has developed his style over the years, experimenting with different styles and genres, even reciting a mantra for five minutes on the album. In his previous album, he experimented in what he calls an almost “world music” style, using Hawaiian ukuleles, Senegalese djembes, and Indian sitars throughout the album. “The sitar is very complicated because there are no chords. But it can be rock.”
In terms of his previous albums, Vergara has gone on a musical journey, as explained by his choice of meaningful and unusual album titles and artwork. We have already stated that his debut album was his homage to his father, and his follow up, Los Bufones También Lloran, was produced at a time when Vergara admits he fire in his belly, and these angry and annoyed sentiments were reflected in the music, as well as in his choice of album cover. Legendary Ecuadorian painter Luigi Stornaiolo allowed Vergara to use a painting of his that depicts a hellish landscape. “Then I calmed down a bit and Eclosión came out, which is why is it is celestial. I left the nest, as it were, and it is like a rebirth.” His latest album, IV, the name of which Vergara claims is a homage to Led Zeppelin’s iconic fourth album, has other significances, as Vergara was 44 at the time of release, it is his fourth album. “It is 16 songs, and we did a version on cassette. Four sides, four songs on each side. Artwork has four eyes too.”
Vergara has clearly put a lot of thought into the presentation of the album, and that level of thought extends to the content of the album itself. It is a real ‘album’ experience, and is worth listening to as a whole. 16 songs are a lot for any album, yet Vergara manages to make each song interesting and varied enough from the previous one to make this a well-rounded musical experience. Insecto Suicida kicks off with some brash, angry guitars reminiscent of early Pearl Jam, which is countered by the slower, power ballad that is Nadie Me Ve, and we return to hard rock with No Hay Temor. Camino Turbulento takes us into ZZ Top-esque territory with its hard-hitting riffs and bluesy inflections, before mellowing out into the simply sublime Siempre Estarás, which starts with acoustic guitar accompanied by lap steel guitar, evocative of the work of Ry Cooder, though less obviously Deep South in style. It adds to an almost dream-like atmosphere to the song, providing a rest from the wonderfully frenetic rock that came before. And yet, it is still rock, just soft rock. That is what is lovely about the album. It showcases many styles of rock, from the lighter, softer end of the spectrum to metal at the other end, and it all works harmoniously, with Vergara’s voice fitting each song as it needs. You can pick and choose plenty of standout tracks depending on your personal preferences, but Zonas De Confort is a gloriously upbeat rock ‘n’ roll blues number that we just love.
Vergara has his fingers in many pies, both in and outside the music industry. Not only is he an award-winning sound engineer with a post-doctorate in political culture and education, which sets him apart from many other rockers, Vergara is also a fully qualified lawyer in the field of intellectual property. Having posed the question as to whether there is a link between the law and life as a musician, Vergara had this to say: “Yes, of course there is! When I studied to become a lawyer, they train each one of us, in a strict manner, to know what to say. One word can condemn you, or one word can save you.” He wryly commented, before continuing. “So, this also helps when writing a song because you know what to say and how to say it. Or if you want to hide something and say it in a hidden manner, or if you want to be sarcastic or contradictory on purpose, it all helps.”
This also circles back to one of his formative influences – the Argentinian folk rock duo, Pedro y Pablo, who were persecuted by the Argentinian military regime for their strong anti-establishment views. “When I still believed I could change the world studying the law, I went to university listening to [Pedro y Pablo]... And now I produce [Pedro y Pablo member] Jorge [Durietz], and he collaborated on the guitar on my album. I couldn’t believe it, sharing one of my songs with him, and it was one of mine! In truth, it was impossible to believe, but I enjoyed it.”
Vergara’s experience working with the likes of Ciro Fogliatta and Jorge Durietz simply motivates him going forward. Aside from his plans to release an English version of IV, as well as the soundtrack for a film in India, the Ecuadorian rocker is adamant that he will make more opportunities to work with other greats in the future. “I want to work with everyone! I believe that collaboration is the path. It is the way.”