Our newest “Ya Herd” features Greg Mendez, a multi-instrumentalist who just released “Cherry Hell” on Forged Artifacts and Devil Town Tapes. We got the chance to speak with Greg about their new release, recording process, and Tiger King.
First, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Your new record, “Cherry Hell”, is a real earworm and we are happy to be able to learn more about your work.
Thanks for having me!
Before releasing “Cherry Hell”, you had put out “Home Videos”, a compilation covering 12 years of recording, so it seems like you’ve been writing and recording for some time. What sort of music did you grow up listening to?
I really only listened to loud, angry music for a long time. I started getting into stuff like Pinback and Elliott Smith (duh) in my late teens and that definitely opened a door for me. It sounds dumb and cliche now but it was the early 2000’s and I hadn’t realized that you didn’t have to be loud or angry sounding to get those kinds of feelings across. I always played quietly at home so it was kind of a revelation to me that I didn’t have to turn it into something else.
I’ve had “Bet” on repeat for a while now. The sound and lyrics really resonate with me. What songs in your catalog have that staying power with you?
I’m so glad you like that one! I still really like playing “Try” live, although I’m not a huge fan of the recording. I don’t think it’s my best performance of that song.
“Home Videos” reminds me of the great H. Jon Benjamin show, “Home Movies”. What are some shows you are watching now?
Hah, yeah I definitely ripped off the name. Honestly I mostly just watch X-Files and King Of The Hill over and over again (with the sound on or off). Just started watching the Tiger King documentary series though, after all this talk I’ve been hearing about it. It’s pretty wild to say the least.
It is cool to hear the changes in your work throughout your catalog. The sounds in your split with Rachel Lightner seem like signs of what is to come on “Cherry Hell.” How do you feel like you’ve changed as a musician and your approach to recording over this time?
This feels like a dumb answer but I think I’ve just gotten better. The same way I’m better at like chopping onions, you just get better at anything the more you do it. I used to really rush things and record songs immediately, like just trying to get everything down as quick as possible. I take my time more now. My life used to be really unstable and I feel like a lot of my earlier stuff was poorly thought through, probably because I wasn’t really taking the time to think anything through.
Can you tell us more about “Cherry Hell?” How long you were writing for it, your recording process, gear used, etc.
It’s hard to say how long the writing took. A few of the songs came out of ideas from years ago, but some were more recent. So they weren’t all started at the same time, they were just finished around the same time.
I did a lot of the recording in the summer of 2018 and then slowly finished it over the next year because I was working 3 jobs and just didn’t have much very time. Also, I can be kinda lazy. I cut songs liberally. The record was originally 13 or 14 songs.
As far as gear, I used my friend Pete’s tape machine (Tascam 388) and two SM57 mics to record most of the album. I always do vocals and acoustic guitar first, at the same time. The drums were recorded with my friend Evan at Big Mama’s Recording, I couldn’t tell you what gear we used but Evan is a pro so I’m sure it was good stuff. The rest was done on my little digital 8-track. So basically all this is to say I am not smart enough to use computers!
“Bike” is one of those songs that I can just play over and over. Can you tell us more about how you wrote this song?
Aw, stop! “Bike” started as a voice memo fragment from 2017 I think. The melody kept getting randomly stuck in my head for some reason so I finished it. Sometimes it’s easier to tell what’s good with some distance. Some of the fake words that I had sung on the spot as placeholders ended up in the real song. That happened a lot on this record actually. I don’t usually have a plan for the arrangements, I just added stuff until it felt nice. Anything with keyboards is particularly hard for me.
How did you get hooked up with Forged Artifacts and Devil Town Tapes? What was it like working with them?
I just sent them emails! Anyone looking for someone to release their music should expect to send out a shit ton of emails.
They have both been a dream to work with, they really let me take the reigns in terms of what I wanted to do and have just been incredibly supportive. I’m very lucky. They’ve been really accommodating during this pandemic.
In addition to your solo work, you play drums in Snowhore. What have your experiences been like working in a band vs. independently?
Playing in Snowhore is more freeing and fun in a way because I’m mostly focused on this one thing, but also more stressful because someone else is trusting me not to ruin their songs. If I ruin my own songs with some dumb shit at least I’m not letting someone down. I’ve definitely gotten way better at drums by trying to be good enough to play in the band. I love V’s songs so it’s really rewarding to get to play on them.
My songs are pretty personal so working alone just feels natural. Also I can be as picky as I want without feeling like I’m being annoying. I’m very picky.
I didn’t catch that “Cherry Hell” was a reference to Cherry Hill, NJ until I think I saw a tweet from you in which it made it clear. As another NJ native, I know we are surrounded by some great music but I’m not too informed about the NJ music community itself. Does most of it just get relegated to cities like Philadelphia/NYC, or is/was there a community in Jersey itself?
I really can’t claim to know much about Cherry Hill other than the mall, but I was driving through there when the album name hit me! Philly and NYC are pretty saturated for sure, but there is definitely a lot of music coming out of NJ! Off the top of my head Sick Shit, Teenage Halloween, and Stillhungry are some good bands from out there. Also, so many Philly bands have members who grew up in NJ and suburban PA. I’ve played a couple shows in and around Asbury Park and their scene seems really vibrant.
It is a strange time for musicians right now. What changes do you anticipate/are you hopeful to see in the music world?
It is a weird time for sure, especially for smaller bands and venues. If anything I would hope this could level the playing field a little bit and give bands who haven’t had the ability to do that much touring more of a chance to be heard. Being able to tour is really a privilege and it’s a shame that so much of being a “successful” musician is dependent on it.
What’s next for Greg Mendez?
I’m helping Veronica (of Snowhore) record some solo stuff on my 4-track right now that will end up on a split EP with some of my songs. I haven’t been working on any of my own shit since the record came out, but I do have a couple tours in the works that I hope don’t have to get canceled/postponed!
Any bands you would like to give a shout out to?
Definitely check out No Thank You, Good Looking Friends, Bartees Strange, Sleepy Freak, Teamonade, Phony, and Shannen Moser.