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Rock Singer Javier Mendoza Brings His Bilingual Art Back To St. Louis As ‘Hobo Cane’

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Sara G Miller
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Javier Mendoza has spent the past couple of decades writing rock music in English and Spanish. He'll perform with his band Saturday at the Kranzberg Open Air series concert.

Rock artist Javier Mendoza, who performs as Hobo Cane, has long had two loves. He’s written songs for some of the biggest Spanish-speaking stars, including Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias. But he has poured his heart into rock. He spent more than 20 years in St. Louis before moving in 2013 to Nashville, where he started performing as “Hobo Cane,” a name derived from his frequent travels and his mother’s last name Cañas, or Canes in Spanish.

The 51-year-old artist returns to St. Louis on Saturday for the Kranzberg Open Air concert series, where he’ll perform songs from his latest album “El Jardin,” along with his earlier music.

Mendoza’s interest in music goes way back. He credits his family with inspiring him to dream about a music career. He learned guitar from his brother, who played songs by James Taylor, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. He was also inspired by Prince, Depeche Mode and the language and rhythms he heard from flamenco recordings and the mariachi music of his father, who also played guitar.

In an interview, Mendoza reflects on the nearly 20 years since he and his band released the album and song “Beautiful” — a turning point in his career — and what’s next.

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Chad Davis: You were in St. Louis for a long time. What prompted you to leave and go into this new stage of your career as “Hobo Cane”?

Javier Mendoza: My wife was offered a job that would move us to Nashville. She thought this could be a good opportunity. But she also thought it may be a good change of pace for you or for me in this case, and that it was such a music-influenced city. Two of my players that have played with me already had moved. I started becoming less influential, musically, in the city because I think I was playing so much that I was just becoming another guy in the corner playing, and I wanted my music to be more of a statement. So I thought it was a good shot.

I thought going to Nashville would be an opportunity, try something new. And that's where I decided, ‘Hey, why not change even name to create a different persona?’ Same music, but it's still me.

Davis: Did the songwriting change? Did the process of how you’d look at music change as well or was it just kind of like an identity change when it came to the name?

Mendoza: It was absolutely just an identity change. Some of it was logistical. I was having problems where they were blending my music with another Javier Mendoza, and that was a nightmare. So Hobo Cane was really cool. It was great to be able to, when I was sending emails, I could be anybody because hey, I represent Hobo Cane, you know, and it was me, but I can really take myself outside of that. And then the possibilities internationally really opened up for me when I was singing in Spain, because now I could be an international singer-songwriter from the United States.

Davis: Your last album, “El Jardin,” came out in 2019. I know it was one of your favorites. Why is it your favorite album and also how has your songwriting changed over the past couple decades?

Mendoza: I think I’ve just matured, I think I've become more minimalistic. In English, I think you have to simplify things. I think I remember somebody gave me the big compilation of Johnny Cash. I'm not a Johnny Cash fan, but I love the simplicity of everything he was writing. And, and I'm like, man, I just, I need to simplify. Even listening to Marvin Gaye was like, this is really simple, like, not musically, actually, but lyrically, but it's so incredible and it's saying everything you have to say in English. Spanish is a little bit more romantic and more complex. And so that that's where my writing definitely helped, or improved, especially in English.

I’m fluent in Spanish and I write fine in Spanish. I work with two poets out of Spain that are phenomenal. One of them is my cousin, and the other one, she’s a playwright. He’s an actor, and I love working with them. Lately, I will write a song. And then, you know, give it to them. And they go, what do you think we do this? So I love that kind of cool writing.

Davis: I want to know what your favorite song was on the album?

Mendoza: I think my favorite song is “If it Already Works,” but another song that I just love is “Hold on to Nothing.” I deal with anxiety, and it's never physically affected me, and then my dad died and my 4-year-old was born. That happens at the same time and I’m kind of an older dad, so it kind of freaked me out. Because when you're younger and people close to you die, you still are looking at life kind of like forward, but when you're my, you know, you get to your 40s and somebody dies, you kind of look at death a little closer, it just happens. And then the birth of a child, which kind of screwed me up.

Holding on to nothing was a big statement for me, it's like, you know, just really focusing on the present. And then the way that song kind of came about, just it was this riff that just kept, I kept playing it over and over and over.

Davis: You have a lot of accolades and a lot of credits. What stands out the most? What's your greatest accolade?

Mendoza: I think it's perseverance. The fact that I've been able to have I don't know, 15-plus albums, and I'm still doing it. I think that's why “El Jardin” is such an important album, because you get to a point where you go, man, can I write another? And I wrote that one. That really meant a lot to me because I felt like, man, I could still do this, you know, and I did it.

If anything, I'm most proud of is this year, I did a fundraiser where I recorded a song called “Respira” which means breathe. And that's an instrumental piece about COVID. We were all in confinement. And so I recorded it, and I sent it to, just started sending it to different musicians that I knew around the country and the world. I mean, the drummers from Chile, and I got two people that are performing from Spain. So it ended up being 23 artists. And, and we raised $9,000 for musicians that were in need. And so I was really proud of that just because I felt fortunate because my wife still has a job. But I know a lot of musicians were like, there was zero. So if that's an accolade I can add, that would be one.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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