Ukulele in one hand and laptop in the other, Jackie Mendoza invites you to explore realms you never knew existed.
Growing up in the picturesque border city of Chula Vista near San Diego, Calif., Mendoza had ample inspiration from her beachside hometown as well as her Mexican-American upbringing to create her debut EP, LuvHz (due April 26 on Luminelle Records).
She recalls taking to YouTube to find her sound while covering hip-hop songs on the ukulele, including tracks from Bronx rapper French Montana. “I would post videos on YouTube of me singing and playing the ukulele and doing covers of hip-hop songs,” she tells Billboard. “But then I started producing and I just put the two together: electronic music with ukulele pop songs.”
The six songs on her EP explore love and relationships by utilizing heartfelt lyrics that shift from English to Spanish with electrifying sounds that even hint to reggaeton beats — an ingenious aspect she says comes from working with producer Rusty Santos, known for collaborating with indie artists like Animal Collective and Panda Bear.
Before she went full-on solo artist, Mendoza lent her skills as a keyboardist for the Mexico City-based band Mint Field and vocals for the NYC indie-poppers Gingerlys. Even so, her solo work is what she always wanted to do. “That’s normal for me, just like being alone in my room, playing the ukulele and singing.”
As Mendoza begins to take her music outside of her bedroom — to upcoming SXSW stages and beyond — let her guide you through what makes it stand out.
Background: “My family’s from Tijuana, Mexico. I lived there until I was 6 years old and then we moved to San Diego.”
What brings you to NYC? “I moved out here for college. I went to Marymount Manhattan College and studied communications and business.”
What inspired you to pursue music as a career? “It started with musical theater, and that’s what made me want to be onstage and sing. That was the first spark. And then also Disney songs and all that stuff that kids grow up listening to is so inspiring and so important in the development of us. When I’m writing music, all those things come back to me at once. But I’m also influenced by what I’m listening to now and techno and stuff like that.”
Recommended song: “Seahorse,” the lead single from her LuvHz with a distorted vintage-feel music video that follows Mendoza as she strolls by the shoreline. She dropped the aquatic-themed song on Feb. 24, following her equally captivating Spanish single “De Lejos.”
How do you know when to use Spanish, English or a mix of both in a song? “I guess it comes randomly. Like if I come up with a phrase in Spanish that I like and it’s stuck in my head and it’s catchy to me, then I’ll build on that and make the song in Spanish. But, for example ‘La Luz,’ that one is English and Spanish. That was my main language growing up, like at home I would speak English and Spanish with my siblings and my parents.”
What is the meaning behind your EP’s name? “‘Hz’ is short for hertz, how you measure sound. So I combined them. Years ago I thought that was gonna be my stage name. And then I thought, OK no, I guess it’ll be something different, like maybe it’ll be a song title. But then it became the title of the EP. It’s important to me.”
Dream collaborator? “I think right now it would be Lido Pimienta. She’s a musician from Canada but she’s Colombian. Helado Negro, that would be cool. Also Nicolas Jaar, that would be like… the best. OK, I guess if I have to choose one, it’s gonna be Nicolas Jaar.”
Major accomplishment: “Probably performing live. I performed my solo stuff live for the first time in 2015, and before that I was terrified. And I was in a band and I was doing that, but for some reason playing solo and playing my own music was scary for me. It’s taken practice. What sticks with me the most is whenever my parents see me play, [because] they know how shy I was growing up and how I struggled with social anxiety for a long time. Seeing how excited and proud they look while seeing me perform makes me feel like I’ve grown and have pushed through all those barriers that stopped me for many years.”
What’s next: “I’m excited for the EP to come out, but I’m already working on an album and will probably join forces with Rusty again.” Mendoza is also gearing up to tour a few spots in the U.S. See the tour dates below.
March 12 — 17: Austin, TX @ SXSW
March 27 — Brooklyn, NY @ Baby’s All Right
April 26 — Brooklyn, NY @ Park Church Co-op (record release show)