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Name: Adam Bernard
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About Me: Entertainment journalist with 20 years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, and B-movies. Part time ninja. Kicked cancer’s ass. My memoir, ChemBro, is out now!
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Say Hey to Hey, Chels
Friday, May 08, 2020

Whether you like your rock music on the indie side of things, or prefer it with a bit of a retro sound, San Diego-based band Hey, Chels is a perfect fit for your playlist.

Born in Southern California’s DIY punk scene, Hey, Chels consists of Jax Mendez (vocals and keys), Kevin White (guitar), Ricky Schmidt (bass), and Stephanie Presz (drums), and they just released their full-length debut, Everything Goes, earlier this month.

The follow up to their 2019 self-titled EP, the band gave Everything Goes quite the unusual price tag, opting to let fans download the album for free.

I caught up with Hey, Chels frontwoman Jax Mendez to find out more about the band, their decision to release Everything Goes at an “everything must go” price, and the photo shoot where they fully embraced playing with their food. Mendez also discussed the ‘80s icon she’s been compared to more than once, and her childhood sci-fi crush.

Not to get this interview off on a strange note, but did you know that when you Google “Jacqueline Mendez” it turns out you share a name with a sex therapist in the L.A. area.

REALLY? That is pretty funny.

I’ve had friends send me flyers in the past of another Jackie Mendez, and they’re like, “Hey, is this you?” It’s like “Jackie Mendez is doing an acoustic solo performance,” and I’m like that is 100% not me. {laughs}

But that’s pretty funny, a sex therapist based in L.A.. That’s pretty good. Now I have to look it up!

Moving to actual questions about the band – who is Chels, and does she often respond when you say “hey”?

Chels is short for Chelsea. She is actually a very good friend of ours in San Diego. She’s also a very well known, and very much loved, bartender here.

We were just talking one night, and the song “Hey Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms came on. When I was younger I always thought the lyrics were “Hey Chelsea.”

Ricky and I had just started working on this project together. We didn’t even have a full band yet, so we were just really brainstorming. It’s like one of the hardest things, coming up with a band name. I just think there’s so much pressure on it. You want to make sure it’s good.

That night I was just like “Hey, Chelsea.” I just liked the ring of that, so I asked him about it, and of course he thought about our Chelsea, but we call her Chels, so it became Hey, Chels. He was like, “Let’s sleep on it, and we’ll see if we’ll like it tomorrow.” We did, and it stuck.

All four of you were originally members of different bands. How did you come together to form Hey, Chels?

I used to play in a band called New Way On, and Ricky is still in – they’re kind of taking a little hiatus – but he’s still in the band Western Settings. We met playing a bunch of DIY punk shows in the Inland Empire area. I’m from Riverside, so that’s where we started playing, in like the Pomona area.

There was this DIY venue called VLHS that is no longer there, but it was a really special spot, a really cool spot for the punk music community. That’s where I met Ricky and his band, so we started playing more shows together.

Ricky and Kevin go even further back. I want to say maybe when Ricky was just out of high school he met Kevin, so if I’m doing the math right, maybe about 15 years. They started playing together way back then.

Our drummer, Steph, we met her closer to the time we started playing in Hey, Chels. She started filling in for our drummer in New Way On, but then she moved up to Oakland, so that didn’t really work out, but she was able to make it work for Hey, Chels, and now she’s back in L.A., so that’s even better.

We met all through music, our separate bands playing the same shows.

Last week you released your full-length debut, Everything Goes, and you did so with a price tag of $0, the reasoning being you didn’t feel right asking for money during a global pandemic. How difficult was it to weigh the decision to not push back the album, and instead release it for free?

It really wasn’t (difficult). It was really an easy decision.

We all have our own jobs, this band doesn’t pay the bills at all. Even if we tour, the money that we make from merch, and playing the shows, just really keeps us going on the road, it covers gas, and other needs. So it’s not like we were really relying on this money. It would’ve just gone to more merchandise, or the next record, or something, so it was really easy, and our friend who runs Brainworm Records, he was going to be the one releasing us on vinyl, we didn’t want him to have to worry about that right now.

You can correct me if you think I’m crazy, but I feel like there’s a bit of a Go-Go’s influence in your work, and you give off a Belinda Carlisle type of vibe that’s equal parts strength and attitude.

{laughs} Our buddy who ran VLHS, that venue I was talking about, he told me the same thing. That’s really funny.

I love The Go-Go’s. I’ve never really been a diehard listener, so I don’t know that there’s any direct influence there, but you’re not the first person to mention that.

I’ve read a bunch of your interviews, so I know Selena was a huge influence for you, but who’s had the biggest affect on your personality, and presence, as a performer?

If I had to pick one I’d probably go with Nina Diaz. She used to play in a band called Girl in a Coma. I discovered them when I was around 21, so about 10 years ago, and they were immediately one of the greatest bands I had ever heard.

I think what really connected me to them was not only her insane, amazing, vocals – when I saw them live, oh my God, her stage presence was everything – they’re also three Mexican girls, (who) grew up listening to Selena, so there was also that connection.

It’s cool to see someone who represents some of the same things you do doing what you love, and doing it so well.

How would you say your culture works its way into your music?

It hasn’t yet, and I kind of want to explore that.

I’ve had an idea of covering a Selena song and making it sound more like a Hey, Chels song, or maybe even write a song in Spanish. I would need a little help, because I can get by, but I’m definitely not fluent.

Spanish was my first language, but I grew up in Riverside, CA, so I had to learn English the minute I started school, and my dad was trying to work on his English, (so) my parents started only speaking English at home.

So Spanish, I’m definitely not the strongest in that language anymore, but I have plenty of family that can help me with that.

I’m gonna say you’re stronger than most, because after taking it for years in school, I got nothin’.

{laughs} Yeah, in school it was a breeze. It was probably my easiest class.

You were allowed to take Spanish in school?

Yeah. I think there was also French and German available when I was in high school, but I’m also just a bare minimum kind of girl, so I was like I’ll just take Spanish.

I did at least start at a higher level of Spanish, but it was still ridiculously easy for me.

The photo shoot for Everything Goes involved a pretty big helping of dessert. Were you originally planning on being covered in toppings, or was that the result of band-related exuberance?

The initial idea that our bassist had was the pink backdrop, all white clothing, and just chocolate syrup. I just wasn’t sold on that. What’s the point? What’s the whole concept there?

We were talking about it with a friend of ours who’s also a musician and done his share of photo shoots, and he was like. “If you guys are wearing all white, and there’s pink, why not do the whole ice cream thing? Do ice cream toppings, and you guys are the ice cream, because you’re wearing white. Bring in whipped cream, bring in the cherries, bring in the sprinkles.” I was like OK, that works for me.

You all look like you were having fun.

Some of us were, some of us weren’t. I’ll say that. {laughs}

Not everybody was thrilled?

Yeah, not everyone was sold on the idea of getting a little dirty. If you can tell, our drummer has nothing on her hair, or face, and she was adamant about that, but it’s all over her body.

She has a Varsity Blues situation going on up top in at least one photo.

Yeah. I gave her that idea and she really really liked it. I don’t think she’s ever seen the movie.

It was really tempting to attack her with chocolate syrup, mid photo shoot, but I held back.

With the album out now, and with the world the way it is, what kind of affect would you like Everything Goes to have on listeners who are stuck at home?

I know that most people are home, bored, and with that might come some anxiety, maybe some depression. Really, everyone’s just over (the lockdown). Everyone’s just ready to see their friends, and ready to go back to some kind of normal, so we were hoping this would be some kind of pick me up during this time, and also summer is around the corner, and hopefully it will be some summer tunes for a lot of people.

We really were hoping to just brighten the days for people.

You’re also stuck at home, because the coronavirus affected your tour plans. Since you, unfortunately, don’t have a current tour to talk about, let’s talk about some of your previous ones. Give me a tour memory you think back on with fondness.

We did our first tour in January of 2019. It was a quick one, maybe like a week-long, just a West Coast tour. I forever remember Sacramento. That was my first time ever playing in any band in Sacramento. They really have something special there with their music community.

We played there on a Wednesday night in the first week of January, at The Press Club. One of the bands we played with was Sad Girlz Club. A couple of them we already knew, and they’re now really good friends of ours. We (also) met this band called Slumped. They were amazing.

It was just a three band bill. I think they started it at like 8pm. They made sure to start it early because at our age now, that’s what we want. We’re over the Tuesday night shows that don’t start until 10pm when we all gotta get up stupid early for work.

There were a lot of people there, and there was so much support, and everyone was just so happy, and because the show ended early we got to actually hang out with people after.

I would say that was probably my most fun tour experience.

In addition to being a musician, you have a degree in Art History, and a master’s in Education. Were you, at one point, an incredibly cool teacher?

I have yet to land a teaching job, and that has got to be the most frustrating thing. It’s actually part of the reason I started going by Jax, just because I don’t know how many (potential employers) are Googling you, and if they find Jacqueline Mendez I’d rather them find a sex therapist in L.A. {laughs} It’s like, “OK, that’s for sure not her.”

Since you have multiple degrees, tell me about some of your other nerd tendencies!

The biggest nerdiest thing I love would have to be Star Wars.

May the 4th be with you. I can’t believe you’re even doing an interview today.

Thank you! {laughs}

May the 4th be with you, too.

I grew up watching quite a bit of sci-fi stuff. One of my favorite movies for some strange, bizarre reason, when I was 3 years old, my parents will never forget, was Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

That’s a heavy movie for a 3 year old.

I loved it. As I got a little older I know that I was crushing hard on John Connor, and I think the Terminator maybe oddly reminded me of my dad, and he was like my hero.

(My parents) said that I would just want to watch it over and over and over. They would be flipping through channels and if they would come across it they would try to change it really fast like, “Did she see it? Did she see it?” and of course I was like, “Turn it back!”

But Star Wars is probably the nerdiest thing I still follow today. Anything that comes out of that universe I’ll watch it, I’ll even read it. I read Kenobi, and that’s one of my favorite books.

I was big on Game of Thrones. I watched that series from beginning to end. Defended it hard in the end because everybody was trashing it.

And I’m a lit nerd. I read, which is obviously why I’m trying to be an English teacher.

For more Hey, Chels, check out their music on Bandcamp, and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:00 AM  
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