Jackie Mendoza: An Auditory Baja-Fever-Dream

The Opal Club X SXSW

26-year-old vibrant Capricorn musician talks to TOC about feeling powerful and alone, traditional femininity, Old Chihuahuas, the impact her Tijuanese-American heritage and upbringing has had both on her music as well as her career, and much, much more.

The sad truth is that we live in a country that tends to marginalize anyone outside a particular norm. As a result, it seems as though the various compartments that make up American Culture - in this case, it’s music - follows the same dismissive pattern towards its artists of color and ethnic background. Mainstream American Music is essentially a colonized entity, frequently lacking exhibition of other languages, traditions, and cultures. In order to gain acceptance in such a competitive industry, artists usually “sell-out”, trading in their roots for instant fame, rather than remaining true to themselves, and developing a loyal fan base while cultivating their craft and sound.

However, due to the current state of our nation, the music industry has seen an emergence of independent artists - specifically those of marginalized groups - that refuse to sell themselves short.

Latin-American artist Jackie Mendoza, is one of the few individuals in the industry that has begun to make her mark by marching to the beat of her own drum, rather than that of others.

The San Diego native has created a brilliantly unique musical style for herself, one that pays homage to her life of marginalization, with lyrics about her sexuality and relationships sung in bilingual tracks, such as “La Luz” and “De Lejos”. Words cannot do any sort of justice when it comes to describing Mendoza’s sound. The beats and rhythms she produces along with her smooth vocals offer a colorful experience for her listeners. The product is what can best be described as an auditory baja-fever dream. Imagine what a drive down the PCH of Southern California would sound like if it had a soundtrack. Envision a day that the sun is shining with not a cloud in the sky, and the person you treasure the most is in the passenger seat beside you. The magic ambience of this drive you take is enhanced with vibrant notes and crisp colors that only Hispanic culture could provide. Comforting warm tones flood the rear-view mirror, as reality becomes blended with latin undertones that create an illustrative vision on the open road ahead of you as you sit and take in this one-of-a-kind auditory experience. Mendoza’s music makes you want to run away out west with your best friend, your girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever you want. Because in her world, anything goes, and being unapologetically yourself is the natural way of being.

After being born in San Diego in 1993, Mendoza and her family moved to her parents home-town of Tijuana. However, By the time she turned 7, she was already back in the San Diego, where she spent the rest of her childhood and her teenage years, before moving to New York City for college. Mendoza’s passion for music began in high school on stage, participating in high school musical productions. She even played her dream role as Tracy Turnblad in her school's rendition of Hairspray. “I wore a fat suit” she added, “it was so bad.”

Although she recorded a ukulele song - Closer - in her early teens in her cousins makeshift studio located in their garage, Mendoza began to hone in on her craft and introduce her own music to the world while in college. She enrolled in a course on Ableton her sophomore year, and learned how to produce her own music. “I started posting originals on Youtube [in 2011]” she states, “I started playing shows and joined a band in 2013.” Mendoza describes the bundle of nerves she had right before she took the stage for her band's first show. “I was so nervous I had to take shots of whiskey.” It wasn’t long after this that Mendoza became comfortable on the stage, and released her first single, entitled Islands, on Spotify in 2015.

Mendoza has come a long way from recording sweet-sounding acoustic tracks in her relatives’ garage and curing stage jitters with a sad man’s drink of choice. Her first official EP will be released through Luminelle Records next month on April 26th. This project, along with the partnership with Luminelle Records is what she considers as her greatest accomplishment. “I had done everything by myself before so now it feels like I’ve reached another step that I’ve been working toward for a long time,” states Mendoza “Now I have a team which makes me feel more confident and secure. If other people believe in the project then I must be doing something right.”

Mendoza also touches upon the errors she made during her musical development. “I think the biggest mistake is along the way I would say yes even when I wanted to say no,” she states, “I wouldn’t speak up for myself or say no as much as I should have, now I try to be true to myself and not just please people.” She emphasizes that as an artist, the most crucial element in the creative process is consistency. “Even when you feel like things aren't going anywhere, or if you have writer’s block,” Mendoza adds, “keep chipping away at what you’re doing and eventually you’ll get something out of it.”

I had a very traditional Mexican family. As I grew older though, my parents also evolved with the times...It’s funny how parents also grow up with you.

Q: How would you describe traditional femininity? What is the perfect woman according to you?

Perfect wife that takes care of her kids and husband. Catering to her husband. I guess that’s what “traditionally” is supposed to be. For me the perfect woman is not afraid to be themselves. Expresses themselves however they want and doesn’t care about gender conformity or gender identity. What people expect.

Q: Have you ever been pressured by yourself or outside factors to be more traditionally feminine?

Yes. Growing up I was going to church and had to dress nice and wear dresses, I would always have to dress up to formal events. Now I like to do that but back then I absolutely hated it. I felt like I had to learn to cook so I could cook for my husband, or do all these things so I could do them for my husband. I had a very traditional Mexican family. As I grew older though my parents also evolved with the times. After a while, even my parents were like “do what you want to do.” But all through high school I did feel like they were preparing me to be this perfect wife. It’s funny how parents also grow up with you. I have an older sister and a younger brother. I feel like this also affected what was expected of me growing up. My sister was the first born so there was a lot of pressure on her, and my brother had pressure being the boy. I always felt like they didn’t have certain expectations for me so I felt that out of my siblings I had the most freedom to be myself. I existed in an interesting middle ground. My brother was the king of the house and also the baby, so he did get treated differently than my sister and I.

Be confident in what you can do and know that that is important too. Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t.

Q: Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your gender?

I’ve not felt exactly discriminated against, but being in a band with all guys was draining. I had to speak louder or have a stern look on my face to be taken seriously. I had to assert myself more than they did to get my point across as the only girl. Focus on what you can do and your own skills and strengths and learn to do as much as you can on your own so you don’t have to rely on men. Be confident in what you can do and know that that is important too. Focus on what you can do and not what you can’t.

With releasing new music there’s always a fear people will hate it, and I’m my own worst critic.

Q: What audience do you have in mind when you’re writing?

I always picture pre-teen me. On tumblr, taking videos on Photobooth alone in my room. Feeling so alone but so powerful at the same time. I want to speak to that audience and give them a confidence booth, let them know they’re not alone.

Q: How would you want people to describe your style?

Unique, very myself, I guess effortless. Not trying to be anything it’s not and very authentic. Also very comfy.

Q: Favorite and least favorite part of being an artist?

I love expressing myself and meeting cool people, connecting with other musicians. My least favorite part? With releasing new music there’s always a fear people will hate it, and I’m my own worst critic. When I’m writing something I’ll think it’s so bad, but then next day think ‘wow this is genius!” with no in between. More money would be nice also.

Q: Which is your favorite of all your songs and why?

Right now, De Lejos which I just put out. It’s about my girlfriend and our relationship. I wrote it for her when we were long distance. We’ve been together for two years now. It’s the most stripped down song I have, the most experimental too. It’s also the most expressive one, instrumentally too its ukulele but pitched down with weird little beats. That song was very “this is what I’m going through right now” but sometimes I’ll go back to my first relationship and think of emotions I felt then and write a song about it.

Big Capricorn energy.

Q: What dog do you most strongly identify with?

I read this question to my girlfriend and her first response was “an old chihuahua” and I thought “wow that makes sense, a fat old dog, with its tongue just hanging out.”

Q: If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?

It would be to fly, because I want to be everywhere at the same time. Flying would make touring way easier.

Q: What advice would you give to yourself at 16?

Don’t worry about what other people think so much. I didn’t do a lot of things because of that fear. Be more confident. It’s going to be okay.

Q: What is your dream venue?

It would be outdoors for sure. You know like old Greek theaters like amphitheaters made of stone, that would be it. Big Capricorn energy.

Article by Margherita Vricella

Interview by Alessandra Licul

Thumbnail photo by Evania Zhang