Interview with Indie Pop band “Hey, Chels”
by Emily May
California indie pop band Hey, Chels are creating a buzz with their recently released debut self-titled EP. The EP, which was engineered by Patrick Ryan Heaney (Cage The Elephant/Cold War Kids/The War On Drugs), includes songs that cover a range of topics such as personal struggles and what’s going on around us in society. The band, which is comprised of Jacque Mendez (New Way On) on vocals and electric piano, Stephanie Presz (The Newports) on drums, Kevin White (Squarecrow) on guitar and Ricky Schmidt (Western Settings) on bass, blends punk rock, indie rock and dream pop to create a unique sound of their own. With a west coast tour coming up in January and a full-length album on the way, the band seems destined for a bright future! Staff writer Emily May spoke by email recently with Jacque Mendez about the new EP, their inspirations, developing their sound and what’s next for them. You can stay up-to-date with the band and upcoming music and tour dates, as well as where to stream and purchase their music via the links below. Check out “Sludge Town, U.S.A.” from the new EP below!
Your self-titled EP was just released! What can you tell me about the writing and recording process for the album? What was it like to work with producer Patrick Ryan Heany?
The writing and recording process for this EP was much faster than I’m sure any other project any of us have worked on before. Kevin, Ricky, and I began writing over the course of a few months. Most of the songs were demoed on our laptops and then we would just share them digitally with each other. Steph, our drummer, lives up in Oakland. So, the four of us only got together twice to practice the songs before heading in for recording. It all felt a little crazy, but we went for it anyway. Patrick actually just did the engineering for us. We spent a whole weekend in the studio with him to record these six songs. Steph banged out the drums on Friday and Ricky was able to track all the bass parts afterwards. Saturday Kevin tracked his guitar parts and I recorded vocals for three of the songs. Sunday we finished vocals and even had time to add some additional backup vocals. We didn’t work with a producer for this EP but we’re definitely hoping to in the future.
What inspires/influences your lyrics? Is there a main songwriter in the band or is it a collaborative effort?
I (Jacque) write the lyrics for these songs. With this EP, I wanted the lyrics to be something that listeners could relate to. Some of our songs are about personal struggles, like self-identity (“Dear Me, 2003”) and re-grounding yourself when you feel like you’re on the verge of losing it (“I Know You Are, But What Am I?”). Other songs, like “Cross My Arms” and “Take Me Anywhere” focus more on everything going on around us and all the pain, confusion, and frustration that’s caused by it. I wrote “Cross My Arms” after the Florida school shooting that happened last year. At the time, I was working at a high school and saw how it affected our students. While I was scared for them, they also made me very proud with how they spoke up and supported each other. That courage is what inspired those lyrics.
You all play in other bands aside from Hey, Chels. How did you all meet and what led you to want to form a band together?
Ricky and Kevin go pretty far back. I believe they met when Kevin was playing in London’s Falling and they’ve been friends since. I met them both when New Way On began playing shows with them. I think this was back in 2014. Ricky and I started talking about starting a project together back in 2016. We went into the studio one day just to see what we could come up with. The song we wrote that day is now “I Know You Are, But What Am I.” The lyrics were ridiculous. Something about the rain because it was raining that day. So those eventually changed but the music and melody stayed the same. This wasn’t until much later, when we decided to revisit the idea and asked Kevin to join us. The three of us spent some time writing before we asked Steph to join us on drums. We had met her more recently and we were aware that she was moving up north, but the four of us got together and we loved what she did with the songs. The distance makes it tough, but it’s working so far!
Your other bands all have more of a punk rock sound, whereas this band has more melodic and dream pop sounds to it. Were you all aiming to explore different sounds with Hey, Chels?
We definitely were. Ricky, Kevin, and I are still active in our other projects. So the last thing we wanted to do was create something that sounded just like them. We were definitely wanting to stray from the pop punk sound, but still wanted to keep a catchy groove to our songs. We wanted that pop sound, but we wanted that pop sound to be heavy and dirty. I especially wanted to capture that with my keys.
Who would you count as musical influences? Who are you listening to currently?
I’ve been listening to a lot more female fronted bands, for one. And lately I’ve sort of branched out from the punk/pop punk genre and have gotten into more of the indie genre. Bands like Camp Cope, Slingshot Dakota, Shit Present, and Katie Ellen have been on repeat for me. These groups have influenced me both vocally and musically.
In New Way On you focus more on the keyboard and back up vocals and Ricky, in Western Settings you are the frontman but your roles are somewhat reversed in Hey, Chels. How did the four of you decide the dynamics of the band?
Ricky really liked the idea of stepping back for this project. Again, very different from our other projects. He encouraged me to take that step forward, which I’ll admit was very scary at first. But I figured, if I was the one with something to say and the one who would be writing these lyrics, I might as well be the one to get up there and sing them. He and Kevin wanted to focus more on backup vocals. Ricky did more additional vocals on “Take Me Anywhere” and “I Know You are, But What Am I,” which I feel really break up the songs vocally and in a great way. Kevin took the back up vocals to a whole other level with his insane harmonies on “Cross My Arms” and “Dear Me, 2003.” And I can’t get enough of their Ooo’s on “Sludgetown, USA” and “Bring Me Back a Souvenir.”
You played your first show as a band on October 6th. How was the show? I also read where you said you would pay $10 to anyone who could guess what song you would cover. What song did you cover and did anyone correctly guess the song?
It was a safe bet. We knew no one would guess “Heart of Glass” by Blondie. The show was a blast. So many friends came out to support. It was also a bittersweet evening, as it was the last show for our wonderful friends in Gentlemen Prefer Blood. It was a bummer knowing that this was it for them, but it was also really cool to be a part of it.
What kinds of musical backgrounds do you all come from? What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not playing music?
Ricky, Kevin, and Steph have all been playing music since they were teenagers. I, on the other hand, didn’t get involved in music until much later. I grew up around it. My dad has always played in bands and my brothers and several of my cousins have done the same. I remember thinking in high school like, “Man, it would be so cool to sing in a band.” But I also thought there was no way in hell that would ever actually happen. It wasn’t until my early 20s, when my brother shoved a microphone in my hand and told me that I would be singing harmonies for New Way On. Eventually, we brought the keyboard in as well. Aside from music, I’ve focused on school and getting my teaching credentials.
What’s next for the band? What are your goals going forward?
We have a west coast tour coming up in January. We’re kicking that off with La Escalera Record’s New Year’s Eve show at Tower Bar in San Diego. We also plan to begin working on a full length album very soon.