Facts is facts: Joanie Mendenhall is a female singer-songwriter. But Mendenhall wants you to know that there's more to her than that.
"I hate that label, but I don't hate people that call me that, because I know it's convenient to brand me as a female singer-songwriter," she says, wiping her long hair out of her eyes. "But, how can I put this?"
Mendenhall thinks for a minute before continuing:
"I'm a female, that's for sure. I am a songwriter, that's true. But I've never been comfortable calling my self a singer, even though I suppose I am one. There is something about the term singer that has bimbo connotations and something about singer-songwriter that has bimbo-granola connotations."
The 26-year-old Encinitas native does owe a lot to Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, but she's also indebted to the DIY post-punk aesthetic and neo-folk of Elliot Smith and Aimee Mann. On Nov. 15, she'll show off her multi-pronged approach with the release of her first solo album, Secretary Waltz-16 tracks all written, arranged, produced and recorded by Mendenhall herself.
Waltz is a wonderful amalgamation of Mendenhall's many labels and diverse ancestry. In the '60s, at age 20, Mendenhall's dad moved out to California with a surfboard, two guitars and tree stump he used as a table. But growing up, the influence of her free-spirited father was offset by her mother.
"I grew up at home with a traditional Asian mother, so I was completely cut off from pop culture," says Mendenhall. "I had no TV and I had to sneak the radio on my alarm clock."
After a decade of classical piano lessons, Mendenhall began banging around on her father's guitars. This led her to bass guitar and punk rock. Then came the deluge of '90s female singer-songwriters, and she was back to piano, which she plays in her boyfriend's band, Matt Curerri and the Ex-Friends. It's these musical wanderings that give Secretary Waltz such a rich flavor.
"Trees By Your House" is haunted by a Tom Waitsian accordion (played by Mendenhall). "Give You" has a hip, '40s jazz shuffle driven by upright bass and complemented by violin. The debut is also filled with cool Rhodes keyboard, tinkling acoustic piano, brushed drums and even a tiny bit of fuzz guitar (all played by Mendenhall). The results indeed do belie categorization-a damn good start for this female who sings and writes songs.B
Joanie Mendenhall will play a CD-release party at Martini Ranch in Encinitas, 10 p.m. on Nov. 18. 619-943-9101.