r.vega talks songwriting, being a music educator & her soaring single “Game of the Heart”

Post Author: Myles Hunt

The Bay Area musician’s latest track is a lush heart-on-your-sleeve sonic journey

Musicians tread unusual paths that are often thick and varied. Every new discovery or inspiration propels them onward, backwards, sideways and even nowhere for a time. That is the gift of the craft. Key success lies in being open and letting change happen. One such musician, r.vega, has embraced that journey well and with an optimism that is immediately compelling. Her spirit soars in her vocals, arrangements and overall dedication to all things music. To collect a better sense of her ambition, the musician used her latest single “Game of the Heart” to offer fans a look into what it takes to keep on moving. 

The track is bubbly with a grunge scratch that launches the sound. Soft vocals sneak in with pop-infused glitter. It is a clear collaboration of genres and influences that aid in its appeal. While it offers some somber tones, the energy still uplifts with much needed introspection. Listeners will find some familiarity embedded in each verse. “Game of the Heart” is a fond tribute to r.vega’s willingness to explore alongside her contemporaries in the space. The song is welcomed and heard. 

Give us all a taste of your musical journey and your evolution with this new track. How did everything pan out these last couple of years?

I think to give a better picture of my songwriting journey, I have to go back and give some context to my background! Part of me feels like I have had two musical journeys that I’ve followed – my formal, classical journey and my songwriting journey. I studied instrumental music education at Florida State, and have both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in that area. My professional focus has primarily been in wind instrument instruction (band), so that has been the most prominent musical area of my life. However, throughout high school, college, and my teaching career, I’ve really enjoyed learning tunes on guitar, performing at open mic nights, and experimenting with songwriting on the side. 

Fast-forward to a few years ago, I decided to put more time into songwriting and connected with other artists around the world to collaborate with on tunes. This new track is a result of collaboration with Kirill Shikerun, whom I’ve worked with for a different song project. It had been about a year since the first project we worked on, but we stayed in contact and talked about working on another track together. He sent over a short instrumental track that he and another producer, Eugene Young, worked on, and asked if I could help with lyrics and vocals. I was so happy to have another opportunity to create! We worked on this project over the course of a few months to a year. I would send over lyrics, and ideas for melody and harmonies, and they would send back updates to the track. Once we found a sound we all liked, I sat and recorded the vocals to everything. They did the mixing and mastering and that was it – “Game of the Heart” in its final form was done! The catch: it finished up right before the pandemic hit. Like everyone, a lot of things changed quickly in my personal and professional life, including moving countries, switching to online teaching, rescheduling a wedding…Essentially, the song was put on the back burner while I juggled life. Time passed as I moved back to the U.S., started a new job, and finally planned a wedding, but I always had that tune ready to go when I knew I had the time to get back into songwriting again. So far I’ve been really happy with the reception, especially since I have been very dormant as a performing musician for years at this point. I am really excited to continue promoting this new track and getting back into my creative endeavors! 

When writing, where does your mind often flow? Is there an element that keeps you growing?

It is really dependent on the song. On past projects, I used inspiration from the lyrics from a fellow collaborator to inform the overall sound. On “Game of the Heart” in particular, the track was sent to me, and so the sound of the track informed the lyrics and melody for me. For fully independent songs, I sometimes already have a melody or lyric in mind that I then build off of. I do credit a lot of my creative thinking to my experience performing in a jazz ensemble. I find a lot of similarity between improvisation and songwriting, as I am not necessarily following theoretical rules. When creating a melody, I’m not thinking “I should really make sure I lean into that flat 7th scale degree here.” I am producing sounds that I feel fits with what’s going on in the track at that time, or what might make it interesting. Sometimes my music theory knowledge helps, but I find overthinking it can sometimes hinder authenticity. What keeps me growing as a songwriter and musician are the infinite possibilities that creating a song presents. I feel like I still have so much to learn in all aspects of songwriting, including musical sound and lyrics. Experimenting more with the skills I have is such an exciting motivator for me, so I look forward to future projects where I get to do that!

Who are some musicians today that you feel capture the scene and its next heading?

That’s tough because I think there are so many great musicians out there that bring unique aspects to the industry. I will say – I was pleasantly surprised by Harry Styles‘ new album. I remember hearing Sign of the Times (after One Direction ended), and I was quite impressed with the musical and lyrical expression in it. So, hearing Harry’s latest album was a surprise, but I guess the quality was not unexpected. I really enjoy how he blends electronic sounds with live instruments, and doesn’t always strictly follow a songwriting formula. While a very different person and sound, Jacob Collier does the same thing by going outside of the box and experimenting with sound, but at a whole-nother level. Jacob is an impressive musician and human being, and uses his immense knowledge to create such unique tunes. I’ve listened to his Djesse albums, and there is so much to extrapolate from each tune. It’s never boring to listen to them on repeat! Last but not least, I have been listening a lot to Taylor Swift‘s new album. Her lyric writing is just sooo, so good. I’ve been appreciating the risk-taking she’s been doing with the sound of her music over-time as well. So, I guess to summarize, I think we will see more of that – experimentation from musicians that fuse live instrument and electronic sounds, as well as expanding outside of the traditional song-form. I would love to see continued risk-taking and varied sounds within a single album from artists.

Are there mediums beyond music that you partake in and why?

Admittedly, since my professional life centers around music, I don’t have other mediums I actively partake in outside of that. If I am not creating, I am practicing an instrument I need to get better on, or planning through lessons, or working on the administrative tasks required of running a music program. I have previously dabbled in visual art as another relaxing, creative outlet, which is why I decided to draw the cover for “Game of the Heart.” I wanted it to fit the vibe that I imagined with the tune, and I figured it would be fun to create the artwork myself. However, I primarily label myself as a visual art appreciator more than a partaker. I really enjoy going to art shows and supporting local Bay Area artist friends in their successes!

As an educator, how does music fit into your life? Are there surprising moments where the two worlds collide?

As mentioned above, music is part of my day-to-day, even if it is not songwriting or gigging. These days, if I am not practicing guitar, I am teaching saxophone or trumpet to university students. It is such a fun musical dichotomy, and both areas I find fulfillment in. That’s why I purposefully started bringing these two worlds together when I started teaching. I primarily teach band, but when I had the opportunity to teach general music early in my education career, I fully embraced it as a way to bring this other passion into my daily instruction. I started teaching guitar and songwriting, and I honestly had so much fun doing it! I continued having this element of songwriting and guitar/ukulele teaching as I moved to an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, and found that there are wonderful connections to be made between the band world and creative songwriting world. My students who were in both my general music class and band program were able to make impressive connections of improvisation, musical phrasing, theory, and melody and harmony. Now THAT was the best and biggest surprise to me! It’s why I still am happy to provide guitar, ukulele, or basic drum set lessons to my university students – who primarily are learning wind instruments through our music program. I want to give them as many options to find passion in music making, just as I have. I find that the only limits to music making and learning are the nonsensical limitations we put upon ourselves.