VMP Rising is our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl and highlight artists we think are going to be the Next Big Thing. Today we’re featuring Peace, the debut EP album from Junior Mesa.
Photo by Javin Morgan
This year, depending on what part of the world in which you reside, there was hardly any of the type of weather that has given winter its bad reputation. It was never quite so cold that you completely forgot what the feeling of warmth was, or what it was like to see the sun shine over your neighborhood park. One January Sunday, I walked around my neighborhood jacketless, surrounded by neighbors doing the same. It was beautiful, but the warmth and its accompanying joie de vivre didn’t quite feel earned. The weather was welcomed, but its arrival felt premature, compared to the usual cycle of months of bone-chilling cold, followed by the desperately needed warmth of spring, when stepping outside and not immediately feeling drained feels like a holy miracle.
Listening to Bakersfield-based multi-instrumentalist Junior Mesa’s music feels something like this nostalgic memory of spring’s awakening: fresh, necessary, but most of all natural. A true representation of the musical influences of a Gen-Z musician who grew up with access to an unending range of music via the internet, it’s hard to pin down exactly what box Mesa’s work fits into. It slides from folk to straight indie rock to something more psychedelic at times. His first EP, Peace, was released in November 2019 under Nice Life Recording Company, the label that Lizzo also calls home, which is run by Ricky Reed, the producer known for working with acts like Maggie Rogers, Kesha, and Leon Bridges, among others.
After an adolescence spent embracing music as an entertaining solitary pursuit, working on Peace required Mesa to get used to working with others, along with having to take his production a little more seriously. A few months after the release of Peace, I called the 20-year-old on the phone to talk about his origins in music, his family’s connection to creativity, and collaboration.
I read that you only first learned the guitar five years ago. Prior to that did you make music of any kind? Honestly, no not really. It was kind of like I saw the guitar one day and I decided to learn it. Prior to that, I was creative in other ways but music wasn’t really a focus until then. [Before then,] I was really into graphic design and editing videos, stuff like that.
How long were you playing the guitar before you started playing around with other instruments? I probably played the guitar for about a year before I started trying to learn the piano, then piano for about a year before I went to drums, and then bass is my most recent one. I’m having a lot of fun playing that one. I started writing my own music about half a year to a year after playing the guitar.
Is your family really into music? No, it’s funny they’re not. I think they’re all creative in their own ways, like my sisters draw and they like to write and do poems, same with my mom, she’s really good at writing. There’s not a whole lot of music going on in our family.
How did you get involved with Nice Life and Ricky Reed? I was uploading music to Soundcloud and one of the A&R people from Nice Life found my songs at like 2AM, just going through a bunch of songs, and he decided to hit me up. He ended up messaging me on like three different social medias because I wouldn’t respond. [laughs] I eventually did and we met up. It was good, I really like those guys and it’s been a good time ever since then. That was probably about two years ago. I was kind of creeped out [at first] because I had no idea who they were. It was just like thirty year old men messaging me, so I really was kinda creeped out, but after I met them, it was cool.
After a while of music mostly being a solitary pursuit, what was your experience like working with Ricky and a handful of different musicians on this EP? At first it was a very hard adjustment. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was something that I was very uncomfortable with doing and I just didn’t really know how to do. I wasn’t a social person in general, so to do the one thing that I specifically do alone on purpose [with other people] was very odd. I’ve grown to love it and sometimes I even prefer working with other musicians now, especially Ricky. He’s so good to work with and he understands the vision.
How did you meet the different musicians who worked on the EP? All of them were basically through Ricky. One of the guitar players on a song is on my band, too. He plays guitar on “Ordinary” and “Long Title.”
Even when different musicians perform the parts on the EP, you still write them, right? Yeah, I usually write everything and everyone is better at playing than me, I’m not the best player at everything, but I write all the parts and then have my friends come and make them sound how I imagine them sounding.