Strange Lot's Dominic Mena Is All About That DIY Life

Mena messing with his pedals.
Mena messing with his pedals. Jake Villareal
Strange Lot guitarist and songwriter Dominic Mena is all about that DIY life. He has been since his band's inception over four years ago. He learned to play guitar this way, and now he plays with his own psychedelic sound, as evidence by his band's music. From custom visuals to building bridges and booking their own upcoming SXSW tour, Mena and his partner Tim Lormor have "got it all covered."

Mena was born in El Paso, Texas, and moved to the Valley with his family around the age of 10 when his father got a job in Phoenix. Around that time, he got his first guitar, an acoustic. He messed with it, but that was about the extent of his playing ability at that time. He wasn't taking lessons. And though his family loved music, they weren't musical. Even after years of playing, and switching over to electric guitar, he only played bass in bands that he gigged with. And in his high school music life, he was all about that bass.

Flash forward to his early 20s, and Mena found himself wanting to play electric guitar and write more music.

While he was in college at Arizona State University, Mena majored in philosophy, but took all types of extracurricular music classes. Those helped him play more and beef up his music theory chops. That time proved crucial for him as a budding musician. It sparked his passion for playing guitar and writing music with Strange Lot.

Now, Mena has been writing songs the past four years with Strange Lot. The duo are a well-oiled machine, thinking of all aspects of their music and business in all the ways they know possible. Currently, the band's gearing up for a tour into Austin, Texas, for a slew of rock solid "unofficial" SXSW showcases. They will also hit other surrounding cities between there and Phoenix.

Before they head off into the wild blue, Strange Lot will perform at The Lost Leaf on Saturday, February 17. Phoenix New Times was able to get some words in with Mena via phone and email about his gear, the band's love for DIY, and upcoming performance.

click to enlarge Strange Lot rocking out. - JAKE VILLAREAL
Strange Lot rocking out.
Jake Villareal
New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Dominic Mena: The true secret weapon to our sound is the collaboration between our drummer, Tim Lormor, and I. A significant portion of our songs were ideas written by him (“The Horror”, “Stone”, “Oxygn” are highlights) and he always contributes to any song either of us write to the fullest extent. He’s even recorded guitar on our records). This helps define our sound in that it has given our music its identity and provides variety.

What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
Favorite pieces of gear are my Gibson SGs. They’re both from the Norlin era and have that nice “worn-in” feel. The necks are extremely comfortable, and I’m able to get a wide array of tones from both of them.

Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
We have an Otari half-inch 8-track tape machine that has been our crown jewel in recording. Getting it was an adventure in that Tim and I traveled to Santa Monica and back in one day to grab it. The price was too good and the condition it was in was way better than others available, so we couldn’t pass it up. Fun fact: The guy we bought it from turned out to be the guitarist from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Just listened to “Born” off your latest release, Gods and Clods. Super fun and upbeat track, with awesome guitar work all over the place. How did you go about recording the guitar(s) for this song and what effects are using during the solo to make the guitar super surf-pysch?d

Guitars were recorded through a mic’d amp — ‘64 bandmaster — to our tape machine. The solo was actually the first take from the demo I first recorded for the song, so I honestly don’t know what effects I had on at the time. When recording demos, my only goal is to get the idea out so I don’t pay any attention to gear settings. In the case of the solo, it came out so well in that first run that we kept it for the final track, rather than spend time trying to remember or replicate that sound.

You had said that you guys love doing things DIY and making all aspects of your show and entity happen. From custom visuals, to booking your own tours, you guys handle it all. What do you enjoy most about your strong infrastructure you have built over the past four years?
My favorite part of it all is the collaboration. It’s a lot of fun to bounce ideas off each other and have someone to provide different perspectives about all the things entailed in a band. Since we both help with all aspects, I’m proud to say we’re a “band” in the truest sense. I’ll be the first to admit I can’t do it all alone, so I attribute a lot of our success so far to being a great team and seeing each other as equals.

Strange Lot is performing at The Lost Leaf on Saturday, February 17. Any words you wish to share with fans about your upcoming performance?
If you’ve ever been curious about Tucson bands but never made the leap, this is the show for you. We have The Rifle and Burning Palms making the trip to Lost Leaf, so it’ll be a nice change of pace to have some different sounds playing in our neck of the woods.

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Henri Benard
Contact: Henri Benard