Channeling Anger into Art: Talking with Y La BambaJuly 31, 2018
Luz Elena Mendoza is Y La Bamba, an eclectic indie folk act based out of Portland, Oregon. Her bilingual songs explore themes of searching and metamorphosis, in addition to her identity as a Mexican-American woman. She plays Nectar Lounge on Thursday, August 9 alongside Novalima, Chancha Via Circuito and fellow Portland-based artist Edna Vazquez (who you can read our interview with right here). We called Luz while she was on the road from Sacramento to San Luis Obispo to talk about a newer, more angry record, and the decision to write her songs in English and Spanish.
Nectar Lounge: How did Y La Bamba come to be? I’ve seen various band members weave in and out, did it start as a group or solo project?
Y La Bamba: Solo project. And then of course I surrounded myself with people I felt were wanting to play with me. To make a long story short, I took a break about four years ago, rearranged everything I thought I needed to change and then started playing with other people, with the intention to just make a record. I didn’t know what was going to happen after that. That project was “Ojos Del Sol“ (Y La Bamba’s most recent LP, released in 2016), and then slowly, awkwardly, but super inspired, I gathered people who had been playing with me in the last year.
NL: When and how did you first start making music?
YLB: I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life. I grew up listening to Mexican music until I was maybe 14 or 15 (I mean I still listen to Mexican music). Then I started picking up on stuff that my brothers listened to, which was rap and hip-hop. But because I come from such an emotive culture, music is a huge part of how we communicate. I feel like from the day I was born I knew that expression so well. It just translates in different ways, not just through music, but how I feel.
NL: Your songs are written in both English and Spanish, and I read that you “write in Spanish because it wants to be sung, you write in English because it wants to be said.” Can you describe that to me, and the choice to make your songs bilingual?
YLB: Because I live here in America I feel I have the privilege to speak English. And I feel it has given me the opportunity to articulate certain things for my white community. I feel like it “wants to be said” in that way. There are a lot of things that when I write in Spanish, if you’re intuitive, you’ll pick up on it. You’ll be able to feel it, it’s not really like language. It’s just another way of breathing and it’s hard to articulate that. So in English I can say that it’s like the mask, the privilege. However I feel like when I’ve written in Spanish in the past, and in Portland, it hasn’t been as visible as I intended it to be.
NL: What does your songwriting process look like? Is it easier for you to write in one language versus the other?
YLB: It’s all very organic, it just kind of happens. The last couple of years I’ve written so many songs, I don’t even know. I just started having more and more. I’ve always written throughout my life, but I’ve just been letting it come out of me.
Obviously, I’m being triggered with everything that’s going on in the world. Things that as a woman, a Mexican-American woman, keep coming up for me every second of my day. So writing’s just a natural response to everything that’s happening. But I’ve always been that way. I haven’t really seen myself writing a lot in English recently, because I feel more validated writing in Spanish now.
NL: You mentioned new people that you’ve been working with. How are you taking what you’ve been writing to a group and then collaborating with them?
YLB: Well from the last record to the one we’re going to release this year or early next, I’ve been learning to take charge and really exercise my confidence as a producer, as a writer, and as a creator. I bring that to the band and explore my abilities. And I’ve been learning to really take charge. It’s something that’s been uncomfortable for me throughout the years as a woman, and feeling not validated and not valued. That’s a strong feeling in such a man-driven business, and the world. But it’s changing because I’m changing, so now I feel closer to feeling more comfortable sharing that creative direction in this way, of taking charge fully. And of course playing with people, they bring their elements and the way that they see music, their perceptions, so it’s obviously a shared experience.
NL: Can you tell me more about the new record? Is it going to be similar to “Ojos Del Sol,” or is it taking a different direction?
YLB: Oh my gosh it’s more angry. It’s the most angry album. I haven’t really listened back to it fully. Right now we’ve been wrapping it up and I’ve been skipping through and listening to it fast, but I know once I listen to the whole album again it’s going to give me so much more perspective.
I’m also still writing, I mean I write all the time. I’m even writing right now, after all the songs have been documented for the record, it’s still changing.
I feel like there are some similarities, but I think this album is going to be super different from “Ojos Del Sol.” We’re releasing a single in October and it’s going to be called “Mujeres.” It’s going to be on a 7-inch, so we’re doing a digital and a physical release, and on the B-side is a song called “Paloma Negra.” “Mujeres” is also going to be the name of the the LP. So the album is for women, for all the parts of myself that were forsaken and that I had to put to rest in order to make other people feel comfortable. It’s about how I felt, and how I am mastering all of that. It’s exploring the uncomfortable anger that I see and that I feel, and that I see other people feel. That’s what this whole collection of songs is going to be.
NL: Have you been playing any of the new tracks live?
YLB: Yeah all of them. All of the songs that we’re playing are new. The only one that I seem to play in my set from “Ojos Del Sol” is the title track and “Libre.” Right now our set is just new songs. Songs from the new album, and some even newer ones. I can’t play the same set over and over again. I start feeling like there’s new perceptions and new things to say. There’s so much more evolution.
NL: You play Nectar Lounge on August 9 alongside Novalima, Chancha via Circuito and fellow Portland-based artist Edna Vazquez, who you’ve collaborated with a bit before. What was that experience like?
YLB: Oh she is awesome. She is one of my good friends, I love her. I love our camaraderie, I love our sisterhood, I love the fact that we met in Oregon and that she’s from Mexico. She has been a straight up inspiration from the beginning.
I found her like a weirdo on Facebook and saw she had moved to Portland so I met up with her. I was helping organize a Dia de los Muertos event with a couple of my friends and I felt she needed to be part of that. And that’s how we met, by making this Dia de los Muertos happen in Portland. She was playing with a mariachi band. And then we started to get to know each other, started talking about the same things, and found we were raised similar, were raised listening to the same music. She would play some mariachi songs, I would sing harmonies and it was a collaboration.
We’ve done a lot of things together and it’s just been so healing. As friends we play music while we hang out, I’ve backed her up on her songs, and she will continue to be a huge part of my life as a friend, and a woman of color, and as a collaborator.
NL: To anyone who’s on the fence about coming out to the show on August 9, what would you say to them? Why should they come?
YLB: Oh my gosh…because we need to be supported and we need to be heard. And if you’re free that night, shame on you for not coming out!
Don’t miss Y La Bamba live at Nectar Lounge Thursday, August 9 along with Novalima, Chancha Via Circuito and Edna Vazquez.