Simon Mendoza: Spotlight On An Emerging Hybrid Artist
I met Simon Mendoza in rehearsals for an off-Broadway show in NYC. A disciplined BBoy, he was my the first person I met who did handstand pushups and backflip burpees like it's no big deal. We're both Filipino-Canadians with a deep arsenal of Jim Carrey references to match any situation.
Simon was born in Toronto and moved to Tampa Bay at a young age, where he grew up playing guitar and singing in his Christian youth church band. At age 11, he produced his first six original songs on a cassette tape--recorded on church band instruments and distributed among the "six or seven" girls from church conferences he had crushes on.
Until he discovered hip hop and the breaking scene in sophomore year, his major influences were guitar-heavy rockers like Aerosmith, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Rage Against The Machine. Tom Morello will always be a hero of his.
His guitar practice took a backseat to hip hop devotion for his remaining high school years. Hip hop increased his performance confidence and exposed him to R&B and Soul for the first time. He began to explore freestyle, sing in different genres, and create beats in less traditional ways. Applying the BBoy philosophy of 'making it work with what you have' helped him feel less insecure to try new things, and led him to establish his own path, in both dance and music.
"Hip hop brought me into a world where I didn't feel judged," he told me. "I'm actually able to freestyle rap now," he admitted, after over a decade of exposure to a dance community entwined with beats and rhyme. "I never thought my mind could think that quick, but I now have an understanding of how to pull back to fit in words and phrases in the spaces--I give that up to hip hop."
When Simon isn't performing on Lip Sync Battle or pulling gainers in front of The Rock at the MTV Movie Awards (via long time management and production company: Flipz Entertainment), he's writing, recording, researching, and performing songs. He tells me his new 'song writing mentality' kicked in around 2018, and over the past few years he has "eaten, slept, and breathed" music production. Fascinated with rhyming his daily feelings and situations, and endlessly observing the feelings his audience can relate to, Simon envisions a career writing songs for all-star artists, TV shows, and film scores. "A lot of my life has been a film score in my mind...[and] that dream/vision of seeing people sing your lyrics back to you, in a crowd of millions...that's the dream. I want people to sing along with me. I want to make music with people."
His biggest influence of late? "Jon Bellion," in song style, live performance, and work ethic. Despite Simon's roots in rock and hip hop, he describes the sound he's worked nonstop to enhance as "acoustic neo-soul". He has found his focus on stage in live, organic performances and in his home recording studio where he lays out relatable, atmospheric tracks: "I'm working on a library of music to be able to attach any feeling or emotion to a visual". His newest obsession is timelessness: "I'm impressed with timeless songs...I see myself creating music that applies now and in the future."
I first heard Simon play and sing at an apartment hang in Brooklyn after a long show week. I was a studio-trained dancer who had struggled for years to learn to sing for musical theatre auditions. Watching my new BBoy friend pick up a stray guitar and sing 'Fast Car' by Tracy Chapman, effortlessly in his upper register, shook me. "You should do this," I said without a shred of doubt in my voice, and after following his singer/songwriter journey through four years of friendship in NY, LA, and on tour, I am still floored every time he sends me a new demo or jams out in my living room.
Last month, we casually wrote a song together.
Songwriting is not my forte or first thought to pursue, but I was happy to be Simon's champion and sounding board for something new. We tinkered organically for a couple of hours and recorded the tune at the same time as the video in one evening.
It's called: 'No Other Way'.
Being any kind of successful artist in the Hollywood industry is backbreaking work, not for those without stamina. But Simon successfully nurtures a hybrid career in two of the world's most competitive arts: breaking and music production, and doesn't seem to be running out of steam any time soon. You can follow his journey with me on Instagram and SoundCloud, and watch No Other Way here: