I first met Brian Mendoza of Band Aparte at Que Sera in Long Beach in July of 2014. His attack on a live audience was fierce and vicious to the point where he absolutely demanded your attention, feeling like there’s no way out of it and truly on another level. The music, a high energy “synth-punk” backed by a drum machine and electric guitar, coincides with his performance and constantly attempts to break through the dynamics between performer and audience, hardly ever staying on the stage and constantly bumping into you and building the static. The spectacle of hard working showmanship is not an easy thing to forget when going to a Band Aparte show – once I saw him pick up a candle and pour wax all over himself.
I met him in San Pedro at The Whale and Ale close to where he lives. I liked the place and the last time I was there I was on acid and enjoying a shepard’s pie and constantly going to the bathroom to splash water on my face.
Brian showed up with hair slicked back and a blue button down shirt, nice dark slacks and leather shoes. His style has always been de luxe since I’ve known him and he carries it well and like his performances, demands attention.
Band Aparte is currently recording their first full-length record with Manifesto with Brian doing the vocals and Josh Hensley on guitar. This is our conversation.
Where were you born?
San Pedro, California. Born and raised. All my family is pretty much still here too. I went to high school here and it’s nice because I went to school in Long Beach (CSULB) and it’s 15 minutes away and 30 minutes to get to Downtown LA and it’s kinda accessible and close to everywhere from here.
And it’s still kinda quiet here too.
Yeah, and you can still maintain your own privacy in a weird way. You don’t have to be in a scene or something. You can still access it but then I can still come back home and go to the coast and have a beer. (haha)
What were into in High School?
Ah man, everything. All I did, aside from playing music, was skateboard. Just music and skateboarding that’s all I wanted to do. I was into all the hardcore bands, X, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Black Flag. Dead Kennedys were huge, still huge. Then I slowly, sometimes from skate videos, I was getting into the artsy side of punk rock in a way like Sonic Youth. Then I discovered The Smiths and early Cure but then I started to listen to the obscure shit like some interesting avante-garde punk bands like This Heat which is super interesting. Some no wave bands like James Chance and stuff like that. I still listened to some hip-hop too. Like a lot of early 90’s, east coast hip-hop like Boot Camp Clik, Nas, Mobb Deep and I saw a lot of similiarity in that too with punk rock. The grime, gritty and dark thing kinda overlapped for me.
What did you parents do? What were they like?
My dad’s actually a plummer and my mom works at a machine shop so they’re very working class. They didn’t go to college or anything but there was always that hard work ethic that is still instilled in me from an early age. It was weird because my dad, he didn’t know anything about school and when I turned 18 he said, “It’s time for you to get a job”. And I said, well I want to go to school. But luckily I was able to do both.
What did you study in school?
I studied philosophy and sociology. And then after that I took 2 years off because I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I originally wanted to teach philosophy and then went to school for public policy and went into the graduate program in Cal State Long Beach and then dropped out last year. I was almost done with that but I quit. For music.
So you’re fully dedicated.
Yeah, right now I could be done with graduate school and probably have a regular 9 to 5 working for the city but I’d probably be miserable. Next year we’re planning a tour and stuff like that and I might have to quit my job so…I can always go to school later, I suppose.
When did you start the band?
Well, there’s 2 forms of the band (sips beer). That’s the interesting thing because I quit music in college, completely. I just focused on school and in fact most of the people around didn’t want to make the same kind of music as me or I couldn’t find someone that was willing to work with me. So I just quit music until I met my ex-girlfriend and we started playing together and that was the first version of Band Aparte. I was still in grad school and when we played our first show I thought: this is what I have to do. I got that spark again and everything else was put on the back burner. I didn’t care about work. I didn’t care about school, anymore. It was just music only and it ended with me and her because the music was getting too serious. I wanted to go on tour. I didn’t care about getting a house or any of that. So that ended and Josh came back in the picture, the current guitar player, and he was one of the few people that I was always able to make music with and we were in a ton of bands in High School together. Even though we listen to a lot of different stuff we just clicked and within a month we got all our songs. We’ve been together for almost a year exactly and probably have played every week since. We’ve probably played over a hundred shows.
Yeah, you guys play a lot. But people are starting to know your stuff.
Yeah, that’s the thing. He has a hard work ethic too and one of our mutual bands that we like is Black Flag and they’re known for show after show (snaps fingers). That’s how you do it, you know? There’s no break. It doesn’t matter who’s going to be there. It doesn’t matter what show it is.
Does it help you grow when you’re playing this many show’s?
It was at a show in LA recently and there was a guy there that’s seen us for the past 6 months and he said, “I see you guys are growing”. And I thought, what does he mean by that? We do have a few new songs but for the most part a similar set. Then I started thinking, well Josh is doing some interesting improvisations. He’ll do some weird fills which is strange because we play with a drum machine and the drum machine is not going to change which is weird. When you see bands change things on the stage they are usually jamming or extending a song or something. He’s been doing a lot of that and I also sometimes just change lyrics and go on rants at the end of songs.
You’re not holding back at all has that always been the case?
When I was playing in Band Aparte the first time around I was playing bass. It was weird when we were playing shows because I had something in my hand preventing me from doing all the normal stuff as a singer, I didn’t like that. I was still always known as a rowdy bass player (haha) but I really wanted to sing and it didn’t really work for me. I wasn’t satisfied.
I couldn’t imagine Iggy Pop holding a bass.
Right, that’s the thing! There’s people giving me nice compliments. Saying I’m like Iggy Pop, Lux from The Cramps…punk rock Morissey.
How do you feel when people tell you that?
It’s interesting because I like Iggy Pop but he’s not my favorite. I know those people let it all out on the table, too. In a weird way it is very similar and even to be mentioned is great.
How did you come up with the name Band Aparte?
When I stopped playing music and was in college I was more into film. I grew up watching a lot of, you know, big blockbuster films with my parents because that’s what you do when you don’t have a lot of money. So I always watched a lot of films but as you start to become more academic, I suppose, you come across other film like ones that are foreign. I started to watch a lot of the French new wave stuff. Jean Luc-Goddard was an interesting filmmaker. This guy was a breath of fresh air and I like his style
He really did change the way movies were made.
Yeah! And I was just obsessed with him and I would just check out everything at the school library.
That’s one of the reasons I came up to you and wanted to talk to you other than giving a good performance.
Yeah, we were playing music and I was just jamming and I thought, what would be a good band name? And I was in my room one day and I had the Criterion Collection of the Bande Aparte film and it translates to Band of Outsiders and I thought, that could be an interesting band name. But we’ll fuck with the spelling and then I totally forgot that Quentin Tarantino’s production company is also the name, which I don’t really care for Tarantino. It’s is funny because people will ask, “Oh, are you named after Tarantino’s company?” I’m like, no not really. I mean, I like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction like everyone else but it’s not my favorite thing. The reason why I stuck with it is I saw more of a human and cultural experience. The notion of banding apart is what everyone must do at one point, you know, you band apart from your family to become an individual and it’s usually setting yourself away from something. And the phrase is really nice you can plug it into anything. You can band apart from all these situations.
I was reading a lot of your lyrics and there is a sense of alienation and it does correlate with being an outsider.
Always. I don’t want to be cliche or anything but there are a lot of existential references. Being tied down or alienated from your work or certain relationships and sometimes you have to get away and I always think of certain Band Aparte songs as kind of road music. Get in the car and go, like you have to get away. I don’t know why, but those questions have always been interesting. A lot of it is saying goodbye to certain memories. They’re gone.
Were you going through an existential crisis when you wrote Get the Gun? (haha)
No, I was not…or it’s possible I’m always going through that but for the most part I think I can deal with any life situation. There’s no doubt that I tend to think about that stuff more than the average human being. But for me, that comes with the territory of studying philosophy. A lot of my favorite philosophers are trying to deal with the same things.
Waitress: These two plates are so hot you don’t want to touch them. Would you like another Stella?
I don’t know if everyone has this thought but there’s a thought sometimes that modern life is terrifying. We were actually gonna make a video of this song. I’m not sure what’s gonna happen but we had this idea of just following this woman around and it kinda seems like she wants to die but will never do so. We all have those thoughts sometimes and some of the motivating factors of those thoughts are: we get up and you see war on the television and you see people getting murdered, people are homeless. It’s all written with anxiety in a weird way. I think all those modern things or post-modern, if you will, factors so much. And you try to navigate yourself and try to do what you think is right and wrong and you just keep going and it’s being anxious in a modern time. So it’s that in a nutshell.
Welcome In seemed to be a very optimistic song and kinda the other side of that.
It was an interesting moment last night, actually, we did not get to play that song because it has weird tuning on the guitar and that song is dedicated to Josh’s dad who passed away a year ago yesterday. He was too drunk to play the song last night. It’s almost as if, why couldn’t you play it? Was there something else there? This morning is when I thought this…. I forgot what I was going to say…
Did you write that song with his dad in mind?
Yes. My great grandma passed away as well, right before that and that’s another universal question. I’m personally an atheist but I always hope that people are being welcomed somewhere even if you don’t believe in anything. So that’s where it comes from. I hope they’re being welcomed somewhere. That’s the cool thing about art is you can play around with that. There can be a “God” in the art world, but when it comes to day to day activities I don’t believe in that, but writing and creating you can still have that universe of ‘yeah, maybe they do go somewhere.’ I do think it’s optimistic even though it’s about loss and the question,”how have you been? I hope you’re doing well”. It’s very optimistic and I hope to write more stuff like that because it can’t all be…you know, there’s got to be more optimism.
I think a lot of people can relate to your songs.
That’s the point, actually. I don’t write for myself and some people say they need art as a form of expression. They need the music. I don’t need it. I don’t need any of it. I write with other people in mind. I don’t write for me. I just hope someone can see that and if there’s a question being raised, any song lyric or performance, if they ask the question to themselves that’s related to their life, I did my job. That’s how I see it. At the end of the day, it’s fun and I enjoy doing it but I think of it as more, you know, human beings have certain universal qualities of questions they ask and I try to tap into that.
Well, people certainly ask those questions and they respond to, I think, the energy you bring to it.
Yeah! There’s been one person who came up to me after a performance and said, I feel your pain. I was like, It’s not my pain. It’s yours as well. You see it because you have it. But I have those feelings too and that’s what’s nice is you can share them. The songs are still very personal. The song “Into the Window” is the most personal, actually. It’s a good story (haha)
Do you want to go into it?
Sure. I’ll tell you the story. It’s quite funny. That’s actually the first song that Band Aparte wrote with Josh. I was going through a breakup and I had to give her back some stuff and I moved out of the condo and I still owed her a bass amp. This was 2 weeks after. The break up was the classic I need space as well and the…I don’t want to date anyone (haha). So I’m dropping off this mini bass amp and I was supposed to arrive at 6 p.m. but I didn’t because I was doing other things and I found myself in the area around 9:30. So, I go in and I’m about to knock on the door and I hear people’s voices and I think, “Oh fuck, I shouldn’t bother her now. I should just come back another time.” I go to leave and as I exit, there’s a big window, and I look in and there’s just one guy there and I’m like, “Who is this guy?” They just started making out and I thought, “This is interesting.” so I just watched for 35 minutes.
Yeah. You have the option of the guy that would beat the guy up or the guy that would’ve left. Or you have the third option which is stay and watch and kinda take it.
Anyway, that’s the story and that’s the basis for “Into the Window” and at the end of the song it’s, “I’m outside your window and I’m not there anymore. I’m gone.” The chorus goes, “I was looking for a reason, all I found was doubt. Lord, I need entertainment and I can turn this around.”
But, at that moment I was just trying to figure out, what and why? What is going on? I don’t have any answers to this. And that translates into something greater on a piece of paper. Sure, you’re trying to find reasons for everything that’s gone wrong and all you have is doubts about what the truth is.
What made you want to stay?
Just curious, you know? When you study philosophy all you do is ask, why? (haha) But, probably on a more sadistic level, I wanted to know if he…pleasures her as much as I did. That’s a real thing. It kinda sounds ridiculous but, you know, it’s different when you have to see it.
Has your writing style changed at all, since?
Well, it’s going to be what it is. I can’t say what it will be. We’re working on an album. It’ll hopefully be out next March. Full length. First album. Some of it is going to be comprised of the demos we have that we’re going to re-record and some other songs. We got signed to Manifesto Records which is a label that’s been around in one form or another since the 60’s. They saw us at a show in Hollywood. There weren’t that many people and they came to us and said, “We want you on our label”, just based off our intense live performance. We sent them our demos and we just signed with them last month. The label reissues Dead Kennedy albums, Tom Waits albums, Concrete Blonde, so a lot of, kinda, big names. They’ve revamped the label and are starting to put out current stuff. Also, on there is Cellars which is cool. Allie’s our label mate. She’s rad.
Yeah, she’s got something going for her too. I saw her at Perhspace and her songs are really solid.
Yeah, she has a totally new album for Manifesto. She’s pretty much done with it and now they’re mixing and hopefully by November we’ll have a single out as well–with a video also to hype the album. We’ve been recording at Seahorse sound studio which is rad. The Strokes are listed to have recorded there. It’s a cool old building that used to be a handbag factory that’s now a studio.
Where is it?
It’s off of Pico and Grand near downtown LA. So aside from recording we’re pretty much just playing every week till December (haha). We’re completely booked.
Any tours planned?
We were supposed to tour the Northwest, then we got signed. We ran out of our demo tapes so we couldn’t tour if we didn’t have any merch so now we’re going to wait till the album comes out. So early next year hopefully we’ll go all the way up to Vancouver.
Have you ever been up there?
No, that’s the other thing, my parents didn’t have enough money for us to go on vacations so I’ve never been anywhere. So, I want to travel and I can’t wait (haha) actually.
Your future’s bright, my friend.
I hope so. But even if it’s not, we’ll make do.