Amy Mendoza: New lineup, new album
You may have seen Amy Mendoza playing guitar and bass for several local pop/rock groups or sitting in with a large number of others. The consistent thread throughout her detours and travails is a sense of unfettered style and restless honesty, which was palpable as she told me about her latest project in a recent interview.
"What happened was that Sugar Stains went on hiatus, Blind Divine kind of broke up — so all my projects ended around the same time and I just decided to record all the shit I had," she said. "I felt a little uncomfortable having it be 'Amy Mendoza.' … There were so many people I wanted for the group; I like to go out and watch players. So when I'm looking at a live band I'm looking for the hidden gems. Damon was one of them and I loved his guitar playing. Basically when we formed we said, 'what should we call this band?' And they said, 'why don't we just call it your name so if we suck we can blame you.' And we started recording."
So said Mendoza about the process that led up to the completion of the 35-year old's proper debut record, "Suicide on the AM Dial," which will be released Saturday at The Flycatcher. Sugar Stains was her glam-punk outfit for the last five years; she concurrently played bass in Blind Divine, Daniel Martin Diaz and Paula Valencia's dream-pop band that recently downsized into Crystal Radio. The Damon in question is Barnaby, the renowned local guitarist who along with drummer Ernie Mendoza (also Amy's husband), was one of Mendoza's core collaborators on the album.
"Suicide" has a scope unrepresented by any other recordings that Mendoza's been involved in. In other words, it's her classic-rock grand statement; a summary of what has come before and where she's going now. She says the only theme she was conscious of during writing and recording was to not be too conscious of what she was doing.
"I'm kind of obsessed with spontaneous writing — like Bukowski or the Beatniks — because it has a purity to it;" she told me in a recent interview. "I tried to be really true to a song and not edit it too much. I'd write a harmony or rhythm and figure out lyrics that fit within the construct of it."
Mendoza's palette landed in winding folk-rock — much of it somewhat discordant for the genre — that permeates the record's first half, along with Blondie-esque pop gems like "All Your Secrets."
Tucked away towards the end of the album is "Lost in Bakersfield," a country song that may have started as a genre exercise, but turns out to be the centerpiece and most important track on the record.
"I grew up listening to '70s punk," she said. "I grew up in Bakersfield hating country music. My mom was a sheriff and that's worse than being a preacher's kid. Now, I've been out of the country scene for a long time and I feel really nostalgic about it. But growing up, I was a bastard punk kid; I had my head shaved and just listening to awful, awful metal."
The song "felt like going home," she added.
"This album has a softer underbelly. Sugar Stains was a venue to get out all that stuff that I secretly love — like cliched, really shitty rock and roll. I kind of dug the fact that we weren't in tune. I like all that stuff. I'm the type of person that when I hear someone hitting wrong notes, I like it. It makes it more human."