The story of Sarah White and Rico Simon Mendez is a journey through the creative process. This creation manifested itself in various forms including giving birth to new ideas and the two children they share.
The two are parents, partners, band mates and visual artists all wrapped into one. Mendez and White's band, Shiro Dame, aims to create an alternative space with a new sound dubbed "neon soul." I recently spoke with the two about their experiences and the direction of the band.
Recently returning to the Twin Cities after years of living in Brooklyn, White and Mendez have been at the forefront of a new movement of eclectic tastemakers in town. The pair effortlessly blends their unique sound with a striking visual presence. Sarah White (also known by her DJ name Sarah White Black) splits time between singing, emceeing, photography, parenting and her creative events production company, Scenery Events. Mendez is also a father, DJ, music producer, and musician. It seems the interest in having their hands in all things creative has heavily influenced their mixed-bag sound.
"As a collective we are at a place where we continually change our sound and were really hungry for a sound we are not hearing," said Mendez. "I do a lot right now. I'm really busy."
Being curious about their introduction to music I asked the duo about their path.
"I first started singing at two or three (years old)," said White. "I would pray for stuffed animals and push my brother over with the Holy Ghost. I studied voice in elementary and middle school and I found hip-hop in high school and wiped the slate clean."
A south Minneapolis native, White moved to Brooklyn after falling in love with the city on tour. Mendez, originally from St. Paul, gravitated to learning more about his indigenous culture and incorporating those histories into his music.
"My Chicano roots go back to indigenous people from Aztec and Mayan, to Huichol Indian," said Mendez (also known as DJ Don Cuco), who blends guitar, synth sounds, and percussion with indigenous instruments. "I think spiritually even if you aren't accustomed to them I think they can grasp you. That rain stick might alter your mood because it's more of a natural element."
Being different was an early influence on White. She studied Japanese for two years and that influenced in the naming of the group. "Shiro means white, which is my last name. When I grew up everyone called me 'White Girl.' People always said that I didn't act the way I was supposed to act because of the school I went to – the way I talked, and the way I dressed was like a white girl," said White.
The second half of the group name is more straightforward.
"Dame is like a woman, or a broad ... or a queen," said White.
I asked the two about their stint in New York. Though it was definitely a positive experience it wasn't without struggle. The two threw a party before leaving the Twin Cities and that was all of the money they had in the world. White said, "we had a truck and filled it with all of our clothes and went to Bed-Stuy, (short for Bedford- Stuyvesant, a neighborhood in Brooklyn). It was hard but we always felt we were equally filled up by the energy of the people in that place. It kept us equally full when the city would drain us."
"It's a head-trip," said Mendez. "In New York it made me think a lot about what we are doing in life; just being a musician out there as far as work and hustle – whether you are in the subways or playing in a club. I put it in my head that I could be hustling all day whether in the club or on the street. Fortunately, I got to work at a music school."
When asked how that hustle affected his choices parenting he said, "It makes you think about your future – what you want to teach them; how you were raised (and) certain ways (you) don't want them to be. I feel like the newer generations are closer to the truth spiritually."
To hear more of Shiro Dame's unique grooves check them out with their band mates Blayr Alexander on drums, Damien Strange on synth/keytar, and Ike on bass, playing at Triple Rock Social Club (629 Cedar Ave S. in Minneapolis) Saturday, April 18. Tickets are available at www.ticketfly.com.
You can also hear more music at www.facebook.com/ShiroDame, www.shirodame.bandcamp.com, or on Twitter @shirodame.