December 29th, 2005 | Interviews

Miguel Mendez puts songs with equal pieces John Lennon (”Oh Yoko”) and Jonathan Richman (”That Summer Feeling”) into better-than-a-studio home recordings like the ones Emitt Rhodes used to make in his South Bay garage. After years of coveted self-released demos, he releases his first album on I and Ear Records and will be touring with his band, which draws members from White Magic and is probably going to be called Black People. He lent his song ”You Got Me All Wrong” to dios (malos) and it got on The OC, and although he lives in New York, he speaks now while browsing through the Salvation Army in Hawthorne.

What’s a record you wish you could have made?
The Chronic is a really big one for me. I really really like On The Beach–that Neil Young record–but almost more because it seems like the people who made that record were having a really good time. I don’t know why but I just have a feeling that Neil and his buddies were having a blast–when I listen to that, I wish I could have been there. But a lot of the first music I was super into was hip-hop.
You’re from Long Beach, right?
Yeah, yeah, I went to Long Beach Poly. I grew up in a neighborhood where people listened to hip-hop a lot. It was kind of the first music I noticed when I was really young, like seven or eight. That grabbed my attention. At the time, Run DMC and LL Cool J–that was basically the craziest shit that was on the radio. It totally blew my mind. But I gotta say The Chronic is just about my favorite record.
How come?
Just because it kicks so much ass. It kicks booty, you know?
How does it show up in your own music?
The thing I learned from The Chronic is just like–telling stories about your friends, you know? Like they were just sitting around, just hanging out, and they’re rad stories–about being out and partying and raising hell and being young–like driving around and you see some dumbass on the street and you clown him! Or you see some ladies and you say what’s up! The thing that really got me-as opposed to a lot of hip-hop that was coming out-was that these stories just seemed really really true. True in sort of a nostalgic way–like ‘Remember the way we used to hang out on the block?’ That’s always been the vibe I wanted to recreate in my songs a lot-like a story that he’s telling so casually that it must be real. That’s what’s really important to me about The Chronic–it’s basically like a novel. About these guys growing up in the neighborhood, and that’s a rad thing to write about.
The Beach Boys in the sixties and then Dr. Dre in the nineties.
Totally. That’s what’s cool about the Beach Boys, too. That’s California style shit–in The Chronic, they talk about their cars, too. It feels nice to me–feels comfortable.
How many songs do you have on demos?
I have tons of records already done. I don’t really wanna have to use them.
Just save them up?
I don’t know what the fuck I’ll do with them. Maybe eventually I won’t have anything to say anymore, so then I can just put that crap out, right?
Are you cautious about how long your talent will last?
I definitely don’t think that it lasts forever. It might and it could and for some people it does, but I just don’t know. I’ve written hundreds of fucking songs, but when I’m done with a song, I don’t know if I’m ever going to write another one. There’s never a guarantee. When the good ones come, it’s not really something I have figured out. I don’t really know the formula.
Keeps you from being formulaic.
I don’t know what it is that makes the good ones come out. And if I don’t know that, there could very well come a day when it just stops. I’m definitely not cocky about it.
What kind of music were you making in high school?
Really weird music. Me and Farmer Dave were actually in a band together–our name was Tone Def. I was doing weird experimental music, hip-hop, anything I could think to make–just to figure out how to make music.
What did you learn back then that still holds true?
That you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you want. You can pretty much try any fucking thing, and if you sit around and concentrate on it long enough, you’ll figure it out. The lesson I learned is basically the only limitation you have is just time. You can do whatever you want, but it’s going to take time. And in life, you don’t know if you’re gonna have enough. But you know–whatever.
How do you feel about working by yourself for so long before putting out an album and getting a band together?
In some ways, I’m glad it took so long because now I’m ready for it. A few years ago, I don’t know if I was–I know I would have jumped at the chance. I think I’ve always been capable of making records, but I don’t always know that I was ready to do tours and have a band again–you have to make sure you have people around you who are on your team. And I worked on it for so long, I know exactly what I want. And that’s good–that’s something priceless. I made music for a really long time and finally got my shit together in a way I wanted and somebody noticed. It just kind of worked out. And if it had happened eight years ago, who knows what kind of crap I would have put out?
There’s a lot of dudes from 1997 who can’t show their faces now for just that reason.