A few minutes into our phone interview, Luz Elena Mendoza Ramos and their band, Y La Bamba, are nearly splattered by a merging semi-truck. Y La Bamba just released its seventh album, Lucha, a few days ago; tour just kicked off and they don’t need this shit, but I can overhear everyone in the van’s joy at having survived. “We just experienced a terrifying thing, holy fuck!” Mendoza Ramos says, laughing. “We almost got hit. We’re OK, though.” Y La Bamba isn’t just surviving, it’s thriving. Mendoza Ramos has become a bit of a darling in the indie rock scene, too. By culling from Mexican sounds like ranchera and mariachi, plus psych and garage rock, folk, indie and whatever else sounds good, the band has assembled a notably varied style that can’t easily be likened to any one thing in particular, but still sounds familiar in its pieces. Y La Bamba comes to Santa Fe’s El Rey Court this week as part of High Road (11 am-10 pm Saturday, May 6. Free. El Rey Court, 1862 Cerrillos Road, (505) 982-1931), a day-long event featuring music, wellness workshops, artisan booths and more. Truck or no, Mendoza totally answered some Qs. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Alex De Vore)
People in interviews seem to keep wanting to pin this word ‘vulnerable’ to you lately. What’s up with that?
I talk about it all the time, and the way I think it reflects back to me, it’s the way you’re talking about right now—people highlight it. And I might say it once or twice, or it’s in my bio, and because it’s honest and it’s true, I feel like people keep highlighting that. I feel maybe it’s because people lack going there themselves. I think it’s difficult to understand and to get there. I think the idea of vulnerability gets glorified, and it’s this identity where...you’re attached to it. Then you start talking about it with conviction. It’s true, but why aren’t we all vulnerable? Why do I have to be applauded in this way? I am that person, so I think that when people talk to me, it’s because that’s who I am and then some, but when we’re talking about music and documenting, all of that...I feel like it’s just part of a little window into my process as a person. I’m playing music, so people have access to what I’m up to and how I’m processing information and my life. I talk a lot about identity, and I think it’s because I have this urgency of being seen. I’m...recognizing that urgency and kind of refocusing on transforming that urgency into something else. It’s so layered.
Let’s talk about production, because that’s something you’ve been doing with your own records more. Does it feel more like having your hand on the rudder? Is it more pressure but ultimately more satisfying? Do you feel like you have more control?
Both. Absolutely both. I felt it a lot with this album, because I wrote it. I feel it with every album, but with this one…I wrote a lot—I wrote a lot even before the shutdown, but I was a little nervous about releasing anything. All my awareness has been in check, before the [pandemic] shutdown, then obviously when I was writing songs, I didn’t know I felt different, and a lot of us collectively in our own ways have...there’s been an impact on our psyches. I didn’t want to release shit, I was just figuring out what was happening in the world, my relationship with it all. There was a lot of deconstructing, and I wasn’t thinking about releasing music; I was just thinking about being present in a different way. [I was] learning so much about my production skills, what I’m able to deliver and also how to do it my way; working with the right people who are going to help manifest it; taking that step, doing that? There’s a lot I’m continuing to learn.
What do you think child-aged Luz would think about what you’re doing now?
I think I would think I’m awesome. I’m being serious because I was so innocent. I don’t go around saying that, but in the context of the question, authentically I really feel and think I would think it’s awesome. I was awkward…maybe I still am. I’m glad to be with the people I tour with. It feels like a family for sure, and we all look forward to it, and it always feels mutual and powerful. They’re in the van with me right now. I wouldn’t be able to do this without them. That is what I look forward to. We’re not this huge fucking band, and we’re touring and processing life together in different ways. We’re at the cusp of many things. We’re getting older, I feel like being present in the moment sounds cheesy, but it’s important. Getting in the van and going on tour, I think it’s about being present.