In the face of a crippling, life-threatening rare disease, Saint Mesa came into contact with music for the first time in his life. Sure, he’d played in a band with his friends many years prior, but the lyrical and melodic poetry of music struck a chord in his soul. Confined to his bed, he was able to muster up the strength to write, record and produce his own work–it could have been an exasperating task for anyone else, but the watershed moment became his life line. When he was fully recovered, his future was all but set in stone. Now, he has a viral streaming hit on his hands. His single “Jungle” has collected north of one million streams and gets a feverish new remix by ZU/ZU, premiering exclusively today.
Reflecting on the streaming success of his lead single, the singer-songwriter is blown away by the numbers. “It’s definitely more response than I’ve ever seen. It’s really cool to see. It’s a nice stepping stone to more things,” he tells Popdust.
Of Chilean descent, Saint Mesa grew up in Mission Viejo, Calif. and while he wasn’t surrounded by music, as many aspiring musicians are at a young age, his cultural heritage became a way for him connect to something far greater. “I had a great childhood and an amazing family. My parents have always been really supportive of all of us. I have three brothers,” he says. “I was homeschooled growing up, and we’d do our school and then play outside and break things. We were very active kids. In Mission Viejo, you can go on hiking trails or you’re 10 minutes away from the beach. We spent a lot of time outside. My dad would take us biking, too.”
“I was always a creative kid. Initially, my creative outlet was through drawing and art. I didn’t discover music until high school. Music didn’t ever hit me as much as it did until my later years,” he notes. “[When I played in a band at 10,] it was more like me hanging out with my friends and occasionally playing music. That was my first introduction to anything musical. My parents tried to give me piano lessons when I was seven, and I was like ‘I hate this.’ So, I stopped.” It wasn’t until he entered high school that things began to shift dramatically for him, personally and professionally. “That’s probably when music started meaning more to me. I started listening to music seriously.”
On how his Chilean heritage plays such an essential role to his life and work, he says, “I was born here. My mom is from Chile. We’ve been there quite a few times. I was actually there when I was really sick to have surgery. I’ve just fallen in love with that whole side of my culture and heritage. It’s such a rich and vibrant world. In Chile, the people just walk to the park, hang out and play music. You don’t see that much here. It’s a really beautiful country, and everyone is friendly and welcoming. When you go to someone’s house, they offer you food and want to make you a whole meal. It’s such a family environment.”
How did your Jungle EP begin? How did you know it was time to put together a proper project?
Honestly, it sort of fell into place. It wasn’t really anything I was trying to plan. I got really sick. I didn’t end up going to the colleges I was schedule to. I was in this limbo state of not knowing what to do with my life. I started making music. When you’re bed ridden, you are just sitting there with a laptop. That’s when I discovered I could sing and that I liked writing songs. I basically did that and by the time I had gotten better, I was decent enough at recording. One of my managers had discovered me, at that point. They were really pushing me to do it and were really supportive. Finally, I compiled a few songs together and created this EP.
What is the importance of the jungle being the thread in the music?
I’ve really had a connection with nature and the primal feeling we all have. There’s something really interesting about the ability to get away from everything and go out into nature and feel so refreshed and reinvigorated by it. It’s almost like an escape. That’s what music is to me: a refreshing escape from difficulties.
In your “Jungle” video, one of the standout scenes is the moment you emerge from the prism and you are wandering around. There are paintings strewn about, and everyone you meet has red eyes. What’s the symbolism behind that?
The video, as a whole, is reflecting the ordeal with the sickness I had. I have come out of this whole thing with a story and it has given me the ability to share with people and allow them to see that they are not alone. Someone’s experienced something similar. That’s an eye-opening thing. I was a red-eyed person, too. It’s that depression you feel when you are in something so deep.
Was taking these songs from recording to the stage a pretty easy transition?
It was easy for some things and more difficult for others. When we make these songs, we are not really thinking about what the live aspect will be like. We are doing the best we can and making them sound good. The songs will probably consist of 150 tracks. Trying to narrow that many things going on into four people playing them is kind of difficult. [laughs] I have an amazing music director who has changed my life and saved me from going insane. He’s helped me sit down and dissect the important parts of the songs. It’s definitely a challenge, but having the right people in your team is so important.
I hear you flew to Nicaragua to write some of your upcoming album. What was that trip like?
It was incredible. I was there for two weeks. I still can’t believe I was able to do that. It was probably the most life-changing trip that I’ve ever been on. It was really cool. All the songs on the album are taking place in a jungle aesthetic. To be able to write these songs in an actual jungle was so cool. There were howler monkeys in the trees 20 feet away screaming at me. There were geckos on the walls inside the studio. It was perfect.
How did the sounds of the jungle itself inform your musical choices (rhythms, melodies, etc)?
The way we decided to do things was: I was going to write a song a day there. Everyday is a fresh start. There was no time to second guess myself. The first thing I came up with is the thing I was going to do. Often times, the first thing you think of is the best thing because it’s your instinct. A lot of theses songs came out of that. It’s not something I had ever done before. I’ve always spent time on a certain song for a while and then moved on. But it was a fun exercise to go one day at a time and do something new everyday. Also, just being in such an amazing environment was so positive and happy.
Do you have any other music videos planned before dropping the album?
I haven’t really thought about that. I’ve really been focusing on the songs themselves. I’m not sure. That’s something I’d love to sit down and discuss and do a master plan of what that would look like.
What is the meaning being your stage name, Saint Mesa?
The name carries a very personal meaning to me. Mesa has a couple meanings. It’s the big flat-top mountains we have in Oregon, Arizona and elsewhere. They are beautiful. When you get to the top, it’s a cool experience. The other side of that, mesa means table in Spanish. I have this memory growing up of having dinner around the table with my family and friends. Every night, there’d be a new person at our table. That sense of community is something I really want to keep in the forefront of my mind at all times. Especially in this whole music industry, people can be cold and play off they are too cool. That’s just not me. I want everyone to always feel welcome and wanted.
You have several big festival appearances this summer, including Sasquatch and BottleRock. How did you land those gigs? How are you preparing for those?
We’re playing BottleRock on May 27 and Sasquatch the day after [May 28]. These are my first festivals I’ve ever played or ever been to–because I’m a poor person and never had money for festivals. I’m so excited. It’s going to be really fun. We are going to be introducing a couple of new songs and getting the live crew together. It’s going to be really crazy. We are leaving Napa Valley after our set at BottleRock, and we have to drive 12 hours into Washington to play Sasquatch the next day. It’s going to be insane. I don’t know how we are going to do that.
Saint Mesa’s debut full-length is tentatively expected later this year. Meanwhile, he is setting his sights on more touring in the coming months. Details are forthcoming.