Typically a side musician, Amy Mendoza has played in a stunning variety of bands over the years.
As a songwriter, Mendoza has harnessed influences from across the spectrum—hard-driving rock, blues, punk and acoustic rock—into her impressive new album, "Suicide On The AM Dial."
"My major focus in music has always been as a side person, but I'd continually written all this music and I wanted to do something with it," Mendoza says. "From when I first started playing music I was a songwriter, but it would happen that I'd be needed as a back-up for somebody else. After a while I just wanted to play my own stuff."
Mendoza fell right in with the Tucson music scene after arriving from Bakersfield to attend graduate school in 2005. Her first gig locally was playing bass for the Pedestrians' reunion performance at the Club Congress 20th anniversary festival.
Though she started playing guitar, Mendoza made the bass her main focus after moving to Tucson, playing with Blind Divine, The Jits, Sugar Stains, Ursa '72 and Lords of Sounds (which opens Saturday's release show). Ready to move out front playing her own songs, Mendoza carefully sought out the right players.
"The big thing for me was to be with a band I felt really comfortable doing whatever in. The most important thing was just to find people who love playing," she says.
First came guitarist Damon Barnaby, who Mendoza saw playing in The Wyatts when she first arrived in town. They began playing acoustic lounge-type shows as a duo.
"Our whole motto was to do stuff that we wanted to do, not stuff that the venue wanted us to do," Mendoza says. "We ran the gamut from Slayer to Nina Simone and we played it acoustic."
On drums the band added E.E. Mendoza, her husband and rhythm section partner in Blind Divine. "Before that, we'd vowed to never do a Fleetwood Mac thing. But we realized it works and it's not a bad thing playing together," she says.
Mendoza plays bass and guitar throughout the album, but sticks to bass live as the band adds Doug Floyd on guitar.
"It's really hard to sing and play bass, so I had to retrain myself a little," she says. "But I recognize Doug and Damon are the better players to play guitar. We exploit what we're best at."
Mendoza began the project with 20 songs and whittled it down to 11 for the album, which features a host of guest musicians, including Rich Hopkins, Lisa Novak, Heather Hardy, Duncan Stitt and Carlos Arzate. The album ranges from full-ahead rockers ("On The Walls," "All Your Secrets"), to acoustic ("Killing Me Alive") and even country ("Lost in Bakersfield")
"I feel like now I've learned how to not care about trends in music, so I play what I want to play," she says. "There's not one set style on the album. It represents the full palette of music that I like."
In part, songwriting is Mendoza's method of coping with a demanding job. The songs on "Suicide On The AM Dial" reflect on life, with a wide range of themes.
"I've always been influenced by beatnik writers and stream of consciousness stuff. The more genuine the song is, the more it flows by itself, without me forcing it. The more I play with the words, it's taking away from that genuine feeling," she says. "It's all about being very genuine and very matter of fact. It's like I was a seismograph and this is the product of that."