Pinning down the disparate parts of Junior Mesa’s creative universe feels like a feat. The multi-disciplinary artist dabbles as much in the sonic as the visual, moving to Los Angeles from his hometown of Bakersfield at 19 to pursue his artistic passions to the fullest extent.
From his 2019 debut EP, Peace, to today’s Cirque Du Freak, Junior borrows from funk and lounge jazz to dazzling effect. He boasts the effortless cool of a seasoned player, with a series of colorful and eclectic touches making his sound untouchable. The ever-moving target of Junior Mesa’s soundscapes give Cirque Du Freak—a concept album centered around a freak show, meant to be an allegory for Junior’s dealing with epilepsy—a dreamy sense of unrest.
“It taught me I didn’t know what the fuck I wanted, and who I wanted to be, and it taught me just how much depth there can be in music and the world you create around music,” Junior says of his first project. “As a teenager, growing up, I just consumed music unconsciously. Now, I’m a lot more… I think about it a lot more. I put a lot more meaning and soul and messages [into my music].”
Inspired by classic rock and bands like Panda Bear, Junior Mesa marches to the beat of a drum of his own making. While he attests the artistic process is one of finding and losing yourself in perpetuity, when trying to make sense of Junior, you arrive at a young man with effervescent energy and lust for art in all forms. During our interview, we exchange photo book recommendations and talk about the need to inject depth into art whenever possible. Junior’s spirit is electric and becoming—he is as bright as the visual language of his glamorous clothing. The music, of course, follows suit.
At what point did you find a voice you were happy with as an artist?
I don’t think I found it until after this project. It’s something that’s probably the craziest journey an artist can do. Sometimes you’ll find yourself, and then you’ll lose yourself. Halfway through the project, I lost myself a little bit, and that’s why it sounds the way it sounds. At the same time… It comes and goes: knowing who you are and what you want to create.
Does that stress you out?
So much! When you feel like you’re just floating and don’t really know who you are, it’s so weird because as an artist, sometimes you’re pressured to make a statement or do something you’re passionate about. But sometimes, you don’t know what you’re passionate about. That’s very stressful.
Staring at a blank page always feels awful to me.
Exactly. It makes it 10 times harder, too, if you don’t know what you want to say. But then it’s just taking in as much as you possibly can. When I feel like that, I wake up and listen to music for a couple of hours. I take in so much; I can’t help but be inspired.
Today, you’re releasing Cirque Du Freak, which is a concept EP. Can you walk me through the moving parts of the project?
I was battling three different mindsets, in a way. One was a mindset of extreme anxiety: paranoia and “Paranoid Dreams.” Wanting to stay inside and be alone.
The second one was a rebellion against that, where I was a diva, and I pretended everything was okay. I wore flamboyant clothes and decided to be larger-than-life because I wanted to appear that things weren’t falling apart in a way.
Then, there was a more neutral, normal Junior. Wearing my thrift store clothes and not freaking out. That’s the moving part of it: it just jumps between these mindsets and takes on reality.
How does the notion of control—or, rather, the lack of control—shape the EP and your process?
It definitely leaks anxiety and fear into what I do—I put that a lot into lyrics. I feel most comfortable when I have the most control. When I don’t, I get a lot of anxiety. I’m working on making it so that I’m not that way because it’s good to give other people the wheel sometimes and let them do what they’re good at. You can’t be good at everything.
Does releasing this EP give you the sense that you’re back in control of your creative reality?
Definitely. I’ve been listening to these songs for a while now, and finally, when I got them out, I can take a deep breath and be calm for a little bit. I can go find who I wanna be again. My favorite aspect of the music industry is creating—now that I’m here again, I can create again.
Backing up, how did anxiety and epilepsy’s effect on your creative ability bleed into your ability to enjoy your life?
At first, when I started having seizures, my ability to enjoy life wasn’t there. I assumed I was dying because of how bad it got at one point. I didn’t see a future for myself. I thought I would die in a couple of months. I’m sure that was anxiety seeping in.
I guess, going back to mindsets: anxiety is one, epilepsy is another, and I couldn’t sleep. It was three beasts battling it out, trying to fight for power inside of me. It affected me a lot for a while, but I finally found a medication that works for me, and I was able to start enjoying life sometime last year.
What future do you see for yourself now?
I would like to have my own record label, my own production company, and just create without limits and boundaries. Immediate future? Just keep creating.