With a story worthy of a Cormac McCarthy novel and the voice of a thousand lifetimes, punk/folk poet Rafael Vigilantics captures Southwestern gothic in sound on the exceptional fourth album Blue River, Grey Sky, set to release November 13.
Born to a New Mexico folk singer and a father lost to the prison system, Vigilantics left home at 14. “I was a loner and an only child,” he recalled. “When I realized you could make music by yourself, I was sold on it. It was my escape and a place I could tell stories.”
Vigilantics mingled with motorcycle gangs, scuffled with the LAPD, worked (and still works) wildfires, and crossed into Mexico to prizefight in derelict pool halls.
“I remember my uncle sneaking me into CBGB’s in the mid ‘90s when I was, like, 16 years old, and seeing Jesus lizard play,” he enthused. “That raw, dangerous energy was so electric to me, more exciting than anything I’d ever really known.”
With his eponymous punk rock clothing brand, Vigilantics toured with Agnostic Front, Ministry, and Koffin Kats. He watched friends lose their freedom and their lives, broke hearts and had his broken. He poured it all into the ground-breaking, gypsy-punk romanticism and contemporary Americana imagery of Blue River, Grey Sky. Rootsy and wild yet rap-informed, it’s an unorthodox, liberating record that cross-pollinates genres and eras without apology or regret.
“I’d describe it as headphone music, full of landscapes and storytelling,” mulled the heavily-inked Vigilantics, who divides his time between Silver City, NM and Los Angeles. “Very Southwestern and very influenced by the elements of nature, heartbreak, storms, ships lost at sea.”
Blue River, Grey Sky is preceded by the guitar-heavy, indie-punk melodicism of “My Anchor,” a song that seeks meaning in life’s apparent disasters. “In The Way,” revisits a nervous breakdown that left Vigilantics hospitalized and the anthemic song, and “Still Fighting” follows Rafael’s journey after leaving home.
Largely co-written with producers Noah Harmon (ex-Airborne Toxic Event) and Rian Lewis (Doja Cat, Chromeo), recorded in Harmon’s L.A. home and out in remote New Mexico, the 15-track Blue River, Grey Sky sings and raps its way through characters and cadences with a grainy, organic authenticity.
It’s the restless testament of a man in love with the deep wilderness and living off the land, with treasure hunting, abandoned copper mines, arrowheads and artifacts, and with the land of Geronimo and Billy The Kidd—an innate outsider who dips in and out of society at will.
Stream the entirety of Blue River, Grey Sky and read Rafael’s track-by-track breakdown of the album below:
Track 1: “Ramblin Bones” – I wrote this song with Noah Harmon at Capitol
Records for a song pitch, but realized right away it was much too dark. We
recorded it there and had it mixed by Sanford Parker, who did
Neurosis/Wovenhand. I actually met him that night while out celebrating, and he ended up mixing the track the next day.
Blue Microphone picked it up for one of their commercials. Sarah Remetch, who shoots all the Suicide Girls stuff, shot the video. Its has a dark, Southern/Southwestern, gothic feel. I am really happy with how the lyrics turned out. Lines like, “You’ve been gone a long long time, you were so busy getting yours and I was so set on losing mine.”
Track 2: “All The Wrong Men” – I also originally wrote this at Capitol Records in a writing session with Noah Harmon. I was trying to write a song for a female artist and from the perception of what it was like to date a male musician in the industry. I ended up deciding to keep this song for the record and to keep the lyrics from the same perspective. It starts off, “I gave my loving to all the wrong men, and by the time you came around my heart was thin.”
Track 3: “Baby Bitch” – I wanted to do a cover, something from a well-liked band but that was maybe obscure at the same time. Ween seemed like a funny pick, but the song seemed like a seriously deep and painful song. I asked Rian Lewis to produce it and Lindsey Starr to sing on the chorus. I wanted it to have the voice of a female during the “Baby Bitch” parts and in that way maybe turn the song around from something that felt spiteful to something that felt sad and universal. Its got a country ballad vibe with a bit of pop thrown in
Track 4: “King Of The Blvd” – I wrote and recorded this at Noah Harmon’s house in Echo Park. Like much of the rest of the record, it’s got a gruff, Tom Petty vibe, and it’s is a song about self-delusion, drunken benders where the ego has to compensate for the mistakes. Lines like. “I look down and see my crown, I’m the King of the Blvd,” seek directly to the mentality of the who’s who of Los Angeles. I had Swan Palermo of Pair of Arrows sing back-up on the choruses.
Track 5: “Still Fighting” – A song about my journey after leaving home at 14. All the tours, scraps with the LAPD, companions that died, friends who went to prison, getting mixed up with motorcycle gangs, stolen cars, etc.
The track features Alisa Fedele of Heaps n Heaps/Stereo Match. It’s got an ‘80s, gothic-punk vibe with a hooky anthemic chorus.
Track 6: “In The Way” – A kind of pop-punk track with an indie blues intro and bridge. A song about having a nervous breakdown when I was leaving Portland at the age of 25 that left me hospitalized for a little while. Written in L.A. at Noah’s house.
Track 7: “My Anchor” – Recorded in the NM wilderness, a song about the disappointment of empty promises and how we must find our own meaning to the disasters we face in life. An indie punk song, guitar-heavy.
Track 8: “Ain’t It Fun” – Just always wanted to cover this Dead Boys song. Such a great quintessential good time. Added my own style to it of course.
Track 9: “Anne Marie” – A Southwestern, gothic, folk song about where to leave our bones when we die. Featuring Kirk Mathews in his debut collaboration.
Track 10: “Gospel Of The Bad News” – A Tom Waits-style gospel/blues song
about the time I rode through South America next to a dead man on a boat for three days, and other assorted misadventures.
Track 11: “Forgiven” – An indie folk song with high energy. Lyrics about being damned either way, but still trying to make amends. When love is unrequited, it often sounds like the blues.
Track 12: “Seasons” – Starting with this track, the album starts becoming more lyrically heavy, and elements of hip-hop show up. ‘Seasons’ has a big, strong chorus, drone-synth guitars and original samples throughout. A song about wanting someone to say something, anything at all, so the weather will start to change.
Track 13: “Blue River, Grey Sky” – Leaning more into pop and hip-hop, Blue River has big bass and minimalistic drums with a sweet and catchy hook by Swan Palermo. A song about staying the course regardless of what others might think. Swan sings, “If we ever make it, we’ll never make it out alive.”
Track 14: “Exit Here” – An eerie, haunting mix of poetry and legendary hip-hop production by SmokeM2D6 of Rhymesayers/Fake Four. The track has a hauntingly wild energy to it. A song about knowing when to leave.
Track 15: “Who You Lived Without” – Recorded in the NM wilderness, this is a guitar-heavy, rock ‘n’ roll song, unorthodox from start to finish. Make sure to listen till the end.