Black Humor, Blue Sentiment
Photo by Grace LeeThe guy who's putting out a record for Miguel Mendez worries this tour is going to fuck up his voice. And because Miguel left all his samplers and effects bullshit at home in New York, a fucked-up voice means all he'd have left is an acoustic guitar and a few seconds to learn some instrumental requests. But Miguel clip-clops into his live set on KXLU with Jonathan Richman's deadpan baritone: "Well, I guess I'll say it loud/If I have to feel sad/I think I'll make it last/I think I'll crap around and have a soda/And when your girlfriend comes from New York City/All you wanna do is go to bed." And if it's fucked-up, it's in the way you like—Lou Reed fucked-up, personality fucked-up. No harm done. So far.
A stiff wire brush and careful suppression of his gag reflex could give him a world-weary Leonard Cohen rumble, but Miguel's probably been smoking for days, if not years, and Leonard Cohen didn't go to the same Long Beach high school as Snoop Dogg, anyway, so he wouldn't have the same sense of humor. And Miguel has gone on to mess around with guys from All Night Radio, Dios, Rose for Bohdan, even maybe did a thing with J. Mascis, but Miguel's first band was Tone Def: "Def" because of the LBC, he says. "Gotta be true to your school."
He's 28 now, with longish hair, and he rides a bike around Brooklyn, offers a "toast to getting toasted" over dinner. He likes all the pretty girls in New York City, likes the kid who just wobbled past his rented Impala in Huntington Beach while wearing a Slayer shirt and riding a BMX. The interview stops for a second so he can laugh.
He's probably pingponging his songs back and forth from John Lennon (Miguel admires Lennon's fearless songwriting: "'Yo, here's my balls,'" is how he puts it) to One Foot Beck (an album tour mate Sam Jayne played on); but you can see old Loudon Wainwright III messing around behind the curtains. Same blue sentiment, same black humor, same raw clear personality. But where Loudon hacked at those high notes with a coat hanger, Miguel's got a voice as casual, unassuming and easy as a tap on the shoulder. "I'm in love, but I'm not psycho!" grins one song, a cute little laugh line. "Between me and the world," says another as the guitar strings shake themselves still, "the world wins."
A sad song, at the end. So tell us a sad story, we ask. One of the ones that turned into a sad song. We'll trade for the true stories behind lines like, "I've been good, and I've been bad/All through the same set of eyes/All through the same set of eyes/All through the same set of eyes." It's one of his best: warm inside layers of found sound-effect fuzz, chilly at the core. A nice phrase: you could put anything you wanted into that one. Miguel wants to leave it that way.
"I keep rewriting that one," he says. "There's something stable there that I want to keep saying over and over, but every year or so, I learn something else about it. A heartbreak song. There's no sort of bottom for those kinds of feelings."
Miguel mendez performs with Foot Village, Celesteville and Jesus Makes a Shotgun Sound at 51 Buckingham, 296 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 629-0051. Thurs., May 6. 8 p.m. $5. All ages.
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