By Nicholas Jason Lopez
A combination of emphatic riffs and emotional stories told over gritty vocals a la Frank Turner, Austin, Texas-based folk-punk musician Ricky Mendoza dropped his latest album ‘The New Hurt’ this past August, notable for the singles’ “MOVE,” “I Just Died” and “Lauve”; a rollercoaster of love, heartache and life.
Backed by his band, The Screaming Hearts, Mendoza takes it back to basics, with the acoustic guitar as the base to his sound skyscraper, using ‘The New Hurt’ to experiment with new instruments and textures. Overall, he sought to expand the traditional realms of the typical “politically-written, distortion-driven” classic punk he grew up on, with bands like Against Me! and Bad Religion at the helm.
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk with Mendoza about ‘The New Hurt’ and more.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Ricky Mendoza – Music is the extension of the human spirit and it excites me so damn much. To be able to make and to share and extend my own spirit through music brings a lot of joy and fulfillment to my life.
Music Bugle – What was your goal for your single “I Just Died”?
Ricky Mendoza – My overall goal with any of my works is to place my feelings – at that moment in time – onto a song or poem. On this specific one, I saw the phrase “I just died” somewhere random and it unravelled a tirade of thoughts of what would happen if I actually died. When these thoughts appear, my job is to catch them and put them in writing. Death and everything that encompasses our life here is such a mystery. No one really has an answer and it’s fun to explore.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Austin, Texas to someone who has never been there before?
Ricky Mendoza – If you enjoy music, then you will fall in love with Austin. It’s hard to think of a place where you could go out on a weekday and have the privilege to enjoy live jazz, rock, punk, hip-hop or some weird genre you’ve never heard of. There are a ton of venues that cater to original bands playing all sorts of genres and all these venues and bars have their own personality. What is also super cool, is that most people are not from here, so there’s no cliques to join. There’s a lot of individuals yearning to make friends and most of them have a strong passion for the arts.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Ricky Mendoza – It helps a lot! Where else could I be able to listen to and connect with other like-minded people? Social media is like a hammer – or any other tool – available to humanity. To build or to destroy is up to you.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Ricky Mendoza – I’m listening to David Byrne’s “American Utopia On Broadway,” Laura Jane Grace’s “Stay Alive” and I’ve been listening to a lot of Future Of The Left.
Music Bugle – What was it like putting together your album ‘The New Hurt’?
Ricky Mendoza – Although 32 minutes for an album doesn’t sound like much, it was a harrowing feat. My main goal was to make one continuous experience instead of a collection of individual songs. The theme of love and loss is intertwined throughout the whole album and I wanted to make it a unified experience. In terms of recording each song, I always have acoustic first drafts and that serves as a guide to where I want to go, but since I needed to go further in terms of instrumentation, each song was a long process of “discovery.” Sometimes, I would start with the guitar, but it wasn’t the right fit in terms of unifying the album as a whole, so I had to go in a different direction. The painstaking part was that I don’t do this for a living. I have bills to pay, I have a video production business to run and I have people to love and be present for, so the challenging part was to find extended periods of time. I wish it was a couple of hours here and there, but that’s impossible for me. I need at least four to eight-hour chunks to be able to really get into the groove of things, so I set schedules and stay focused until the work was done. As an independent artist, it’s really hard to find that balance. It’s easy to say, “I’ll make music after work” and then the time comes and you’re really tired. I need to be rested to be able to work, so balancing time gets a bit challenging.
Music Bugle – What was the moment that made you want to become a musician?
Ricky Mendoza – Everything slowly evolved, but there was this one moment where I decided to dedicate my life to music. I was 39 and I was in the crossroads of my life. At this point, I had just finished my second record ‘No One Has Their Shit Together’ and I was playing a lot of live shows all over Texas and Mexico and I realized one day that music brings a lot of joy and fulfillment to my life. Even though circumstances have tried to veer me off the path, I never lost sight of what brings me joy and have slowly constructed this music career.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ricky Mendoza – During the pandemic, the biggest challenge was to juggle the time for my music, my work and my life in general. It was and still is a time for tremendous growth and for psychological warfare. It’s a tough time for everyone. There’s a lot of uncertainty and it’s a perfect time to share ‘The New Hurt’ for anyone that’s looking for a place to escape and enjoy music.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
Ricky Mendoza – To really disconnect from everything, I like to go camping out at parks. Nature is so damn relaxing and forces you to un-attach yourself from the world.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Ricky Mendoza – Most recently, I’ve been haunted by this quote by Seneca, “If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” Yikes!