Joshua Mendrala is a storyteller.
His method of storytelling is through writing, something he’s wanted to do since he was a kid. After banging out poems, short stories and books, he wanted to add another component to the writing craft, and that’s where music crept in. He had kept music as a subtle hobby, one that simmered on the back burner until he came to Fort Lewis College to study English, and in particular writing. Through his studies, another lane on the writing highway became wide open.
Writing, producing and recording music now under the band name Ragged Oak, Mendrala is about to drop the record “Letters to God, Man and Myself.” He’ll celebrate the release with a show Sept. 15 at the Indigo Room at iAM Music. Opening the show is local singer/songwriter Ely Cartwright.
Learning the art of writing seems to be the better choice as a career move, nudging itself just past wanting to be an engineer.
“Why would I want to do math, when I can do this?” Mendrala asked himself. “I love doing it, and for the last couple years I was at Fort Lewis a lot of the teaching staff from the English curriculum program helped me translate some of those things to music, and have helped bring me to a point where I’m a much better lyricist and storyteller because of it.”
Recorded at Willowtail Springs in Mancos, “Letters to God, Man and Myself” is a concept album that walks a line between indie rock and electro-folk. Mendrala is inspired by the likes of Radiohead or Manchester Orchestra, and those influences can be heard in the two singles that have dropped from the record thus far. “Live Like You’re Alive” kicks off with a steady pulse, an upbeat number that brims with a positive vibe. “Jericho” starts with an ambient feel before a wall of sound builds and pushes the cut into psych-rock territory; that wall of sound continues through the cut, a big package of modern-rock music that is worthy of both a close and intense headphone listen and a turn the volume knob up to 11 blast. The full album will drop toward the end of October.
Next week’s show will be more of a stripped-down affair, with Mendrala joined by drummer Caique Morais, a Denver-based drummer who also played on the album. While the recording process was for the most part a project where Mendrala handled just about every production task, when it came to the mixing, he realized he should perhaps recruit some outside ears, someone not so close to the project.
“My original plan was to do the mix myself, and I reached this place where I realized that I really wanted someone who didn’t have my vision,” he said. “I wanted that outside touch.”
That outside touch turned out to be a welcome and well-received invitation, opening Mendrala up to the idea of collaboration. Albums can be personal affairs, guarded territory for the writer. Handing that personal affair over to someone not yourself isn’t always the easiest venture, but it’s a great way to receive critical feedback and support.
For that outside touch, he reached out to Addison Sauvan, a mix engineer Mendrala discovered via an internet show dedicated to guitar pedals. It was a simple ask, Sauvan took on the mixing project, and the result has been nothing but positive.
“I’d say that to any artists – collaborate with as many people as you can, because you’ll get better, they’ll get better and they’ll support you, especially as an early musician. You’ll need that,” he said. “Especially someone posting about your record and is excited about it. You can’t buy that with money.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.