Bassist Fabián Vargas Brenes – Why Is Music Important (The Panel Experiment) by Brent-Anthony Johnson…
Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Fabián Vargas Brenes, I am a bass player, composer and Luthierie apprentice from Costa Rica.
Who are your primary musical influences?
My main musical influence is the band Dream Theater. I have been listening, studying and playing their music for a long time so it has become a big part of how I compose and play music. Obviously, John Myung (Dream Theater’s bassist) is a big influence. But other players such as Alain Caron, Adam Nitti, Janek Gwizdala, Dominique Di Piazza, Hadrien Feraud, John Patitucci, Victor Wooten, Anthony Wellington, Richard Bona, and Tom Kennedy have been a big part of how I think about the bass… and music in general. Also, given that I play Extended Range Basses most of the time, other players I tend to listen to are ERB pioneers such as Igor Saavedra, Garry Goodman, Jean Baudin, Stew Mckinsey, Yves Carbonne, and Bill Dickens. That list continues to grow, as I meet more players of the instrument!
What are you listening to musically, in the past 12 months that has enhanced the way you think about music and your craft?
In addition to Dream Theater, I listen to a lot of progressive metal bands. I also listen to fusion and jazz projects and, lately, I have been exposed to Djent music, which is very refreshing! Djent is, by its nature, centered on low register Extended Range Guitars and solid rythmic patterns over odd time signatures.
Finally, solo bass albums make up a lot of my listening time.
How does your personal musical voice directly relate to the function of the basses? Also, what are your main instruments?
My main instruments are a 10-string bass guitar (F#-Eb), and an 8-string bass guitar (B-Bb) that has been converted to fretless.
Other instruments include my Signature Model 8 string bass (which is currently in the making); a 10-string Chapman Stick, and 4-string and 6-string basses.
My personal music voice relates to the instrument through supporting the other musicians I play with. I consider that often, and it is a primary function embedded in my playing. Even with this extended range instruments, the roll of the bass is still the same: to give a solid foundation to the music and provide good sense of rythm, groove and harmony. If the songs allow it, I am able to play in a more melodic way, and I try to incorporate techniques such as tapping, sweeping, using harmonics, string-skipping passages. I don’t slap on the bass often. My musical voice is more centered on the melodic approach, which, I feel, gives me an identity. That’s one of the reasons why some of the artists I work with specifically hire me for their projects.
Describe your musical composition process.
Music composition always starts as a moment of personal inspiration. It may sound weird, but most of the music I write starts without even thinking about it! A mood or an idea strikes me, and I pick up an instrument and begin to develop ideas. Sometimes, a melody appears in my head (like if someone was playing it right next to me) and I learn that melody and begin to play with it… so it evolves into something bigger and that may be the core of a song. At other times, it may begin as a rhythm on an odd time signature (which I tend to use a lot on my music) so a rhythmic idea may lead to a riff, and that brings out harmony. Sometimes, I will make a loop of an idea and start trying stuff on top of that idea. I begin with a game plan… but still I let inspiration to be the guide.
How does music affect your culture and immediate environment?
Music is very important for me! Because of that, most of the people and activities I am involved in are music centered. My evolution as a player affects not only me… but it also influences people near me – as appreciation for new music that one might “discover” while studying also gets to your friends when they visit you… Or, while they are driving on a car with you… Or, when they come to your gigs. That’s something I have noticed within the people close to me. I hope that influence will expand into more people! I hope the culture in my city and country will improve in the way people see artists in general.
What would you be, if not a professional musician?
I would like to say a Luthier… But, if music was completely out of picture, I would say a programmer. I studied computer programming and left the carrer near the end to dedicate myself to music. So, I would probably be working on that field. Thank God I got to be a musician instead!
What is the greatest sacrifice you’ve ever made while in the practice of being a musician, and how did that sacrifice affect you?
I think the hard part of being a musician is not having a “normal life”, like most of our friends and family. They often don’t understand that you don’t have office schedules and that your working hours are different. Still, the joy music gives to me, makes any sacrifice something easy when I look at the bigger picture!
Describe your standing practice regimen. Also, what technical (and musical) aspects of your playing are you currently working on?
I am working on my debut album with my main musical project Awaken Sky, and most of my time goes into practicing the extremely difficult technical parts we are writing. That helps me keep my chops together! I also spend about an hour daily just practicing technique related exercises. I try to transcribe as much as possible, and I dedicate at least 1-hour each day to practice ear training. Practicing intonation on the fretless is another important aspect I am working on, and the same goes with the Stick where independence between hands is a great challenge.
What does music, and being a musician, mean to you – at the deepest level of your being?
Music is so important to me, that I dedicate almost all of my time to it! I am a bass player, luthier and bass teacher, and every day I am thinking about music related themes. It also brings peace to me… and it is the best way I have to express myself. Music is a friend of mine, I love being so close to music!
How important is it to understand the Language of music?
Very important! As I’ve said before… it’s my best channel of expression. If we want to comunicate through music, how can we achieve that if we do not understand each other musically? It is not about theory… But, how can we help others understand our ideas and vice versa?
Trying to have a conversation with someone from another country, without having ever being exposed to their Language, is almost impossible! Sometimes we can use signs and body Language to get that person to understand, at least, something. Music is similar, and if we gain a better understanding of music (as a Language) it is easier to have real conversations with people we are trying to communicate with!
How do you collect the series of seemingly random influences and articulate them through music?
I think that everything going on in life is an influence for music! Life gets into us, and it gives us a personal identity that is unique to each of us. Once we let that grow, it will flow out naturally. At least that’s the way I see it.
Can music ever truly become commercial? Why, or why not?
Music can surely become commercial. We have been living in a world where things change very quickly into a less personal and/or direct society. We are seeing artists making music that repeats the same patterns over and over just for the sake of having good sales – Or, using a recipe for making a hit! But, in the end, does that really satisfy anyone?
We all have to be true and honest with ourselves and make the music that fullfills us as people. I think there is indeed comercial music, and I deliberately stepped away from that type of music (even if it has been harder to succeed as a musician), because I believe that if you make music that you love, then music will give back when the correct time comes.