For the professional musician, going out and playing a night of other people’s songs can feel like just another job. You clock in, put in the work, have a few laughs, and call it a night. But when it’s your own words that you’re singing, ones that cut to the very core of who you are? That’s another gig entirely, something you want to hit just right.
It’s precisely that situation in which VaMos finds themselves. They’ve spent the last five years honing their sound and creating something they felt represented who they really are. The group consists of four veterans of the Fredericksburg music scene: Dave Guzman on bass, Carlos Fuentes on guitar and vocals, Brett Minard on guitar and keyboard, and Bryan “Piper” Barbre on drums. Their long awaited self-titled first album will be released this month featuring six carefully crafted tracks.
Everybody gets their hands on it and we turn it into what we are: VaMos. It’s a blend, and that’s the beauty of it.
They describe themselves as “age ambiguous” and are sensitive on the subject. Barbre put it this way: “I’m surprised I got this far.” The band first started with Fuentes and Guzman, as they met playing in a local salsa band called Un Mundo. It was more of a “salsa cover band,” as Guzman described. Latin rhythms and culture has been a big part of their musical careers. Fuentes came to Fredericksburg from Puerto Rico as a 14 year old. Similarly, though Guzman is originally from New York, his family is a mix of Ecuadorian, Puerto Rican, and Italian.
“After [Un Mundo] dissolved, [Fuentes] and I started writing music and realized we had a lot more in common than we thought,” Guzman said. They worked on their sound for a few years, but VaMos didn’t really come into its own until the additions of Barbre and Minard. Fuentes and Guzman originally met Barbre when he was in college studying Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington.
“When I was at Mary Wash,” Barbre said, “I had grown up as a metal, punk rock drummer and knew nothing of Latin music.” It was in the UMW Jazz Ensemble that he got to learn Latin rhythms. “I thought it was hot,” Barbre remembered, “because no one else would play these authentic rhythms.”
The three had an immediate musical chemistry, but Barbre was getting ready to leave for a two-year Peace Corps mission in Ethiopia. So, Guzman and Fuentes continued to hone their sound and kept writing new music. When Barbre returned in 2013, VaMos started performing again, and a year later, the three decided to drop the covers entirely. “It was scary,” Barbre remembered, “because we’ve always done covers.” As Fuentes put it, “You got to have the cojones.”
They soon realized, however, that the band was still missing something. “We did a couple shows with original stuff and just us three, but we felt we needed something more,” Guzman said. “Carlos had this vision of a huge band with a keyboard player and a trumpet, but we didn't have the people.” Their search was a short one, as they struck gold on the first time out with the addition of Minard. His specialty is finding just the right texture to compliment a composition, adding the exact complexity they felt they were missing. “He always says, ‘How can I make this guitar sound like something else?’” Fuentes said. “When he came, he opened up windows and doors of possibility—and now we are complete.”
With such a long road to get where they are now, VaMos has a finely polished sound that is as smooth as it is eclectic. The album shares the sonic landscape of The Cure, the dramatic flair of Muse, and the lyrical sensibilities of Elvis Costello. The added punch of the keyboard synth really brings the band to a very modern, emotional place. Their Latin roots are more subconscious than overt, save for the rhythmic movement on the track “New Cologne.” Other than that, things are more straight forward indie rock, full of contemplative lyrics, driving drums, and alternations between chorus and distortion rhythm guitars. “Enough Time” exemplifies the layered textural effect that the band was searching for, with its far-off choral vocals, relentless tempo, and a dash of experimental electronic noises sprinkled on top. Similarly, “Place in Time” encapsulates the delicate balance that VaMos strives for in their music. The lyrics speak of a reflection on the past, “What I know is what I know, I take it all in stride,” which is indicative of their journey as a band, an evolution come to fruition.
VaMos is very much a collaborative effort as all the members are a part of the writing process. “I’ve played in dozens of bands and very few were original,” Barbre said, “being a part of the writing gives a lot more ownership and pride.” Fuentes continued the thought, “Everybody gets their hands on it and we turn it into what we are: VaMos. It’s a blend, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Photography by Aaron Spicer