The Underwater Sounds of Jackie Mendoza
The New York–based, Chula Vista–born artist discusses her music, geography, and chasing a sound
Photo by Tayo Oyekan
There’s a fascinating duality in singer-songwriter Jackie Mendoza’s music. She creates mostly electronic pieces that showcase a playful experimentation and tendency toward rich textures and strange effects, but at heart she makes pop music. Her recent single “Mucho Más” begins with an immediate rush of odd sounds, but eventually the hooks take shape. It’s a song that ends up being catchy in spite of breaking most of the rules of pop music.
Mendoza herself hails from two places. She’s based in New York City, epicenter of art and culture, but she’s a San Diego County native, having originally grown up in Chula Vista. Her California roots and Mexican heritage have informed the music on her debut EP, LuvHz, which features songs in both English and Spanish, as well as recurring aquatic motifs.
I spoke to Mendoza recently about her new EP, chasing specific effects, and knowing when to step away from a song.
How long ago did you relocate from Chula Vista to New York?
About eight years now. I came out here with my family a couple of times before I moved here and I always liked it. I didn’t know anyone when I moved here, but I felt like it was the right move for me. But yeah, I love it. I don’t see myself moving anytime soon.
Did you have a specific objective or sound in mind for LuvHz when you were writing it?
Not really. I was just having fun experimenting with different sounds and that’s kind of what it was. Like, when I write music, I try different things and whatever sounds good I’ll leave it in there. It was never a very serious, or very thought out idea in my head. It was just something that took a couple of years to develop. It was also me learning how to produce electronic music, so a lot of it was me experimenting.
I heard that you wanted the song “Mucho Más” to sound like it’s underwater.
I naturally like how that sounds. That bubbly, underwater lo-fi sound. I also like reverb and adding effects to everything, which also makes it sound like it’s drowning or floating in the water. But yeah, I think growing up in San Diego was a big influence on my sound, being close to the ocean. Whenever I produce, I’ll play screen-saver aquarium videos, and that kind of sparks some inspiration for the sounds.
As someone who sings in both Spanish and English, is there anything in particular that determines which language you’ll use to write lyrics?
Mostly I start with the beat, and if the beat sounds more Latin inspired, sometimes I’ll choose to sing in Spanish because of that. Or sometimes I’ll come up with a phrase in Spanish and come up with a song from that. But there’s never a defining moment. I never consciously say, “This is going to be in English and this is going to be in Spanish.” It’s whatever sounds better to me, the phrases I come up with. Whether they’re in Spanish or English, I just go from there.
How do you know when a song is done?
When I don’t know what else to add or take from it. It depends on the structure of the song, I guess. If it’s a pop structure, you know when it’s done. But when it’s more abstract, then it’s harder to know when the song is over. I guess when I just like how it sounds and I’m happy with it, that’s when I know it’s good the way it is.
Is there anything you’d like listeners to take away from hearing your music?
I hope it makes them feel good and that they like how it sounds, and that it’s something they could relax to or connect with. Not so much the lyrics, but the sentiment behind the songs and how everything sounds together. I hope that it can give people a moment of peace, where they can not think about something else. Just sit still and listen, and go somewhere else in their minds.