Musician Jesse Sendejas is grateful for the life he has. That’s what stood out to me most during our short conversation outside the Middle East, a small venue in Cambridge, this October.
Sendejas is a singer and guitarist for the band Days N’ Daze, a thrash grass band from Houston, Texas. Thrash grass, often colloquially called folk punk, is punk music played with bluegrass instruments. Common themes in the genre are anarchism, substance abuse and mental health. Days N’ Daze (DnD) is one of the most popular active thrash grass bands, with nearly two hundred thousand monthly Spotify listeners. But numbers do not matter to Sendejas: “Honestly, I’m happy to play for one person, I’m happy to play for a thousand people. It doesn’t really matter. As long as that one person is having a good time, I’m stoked on it. We’ve literally played a show to nobody in Houston one time and it was a blast, I’m just happy to be here. Just happy to show up.”
Sendejas started writing music in high school. He was inspired by bands like Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, Mischief Brew and Leftover Crack, all of whom he went on to play shows with. “When I was like 18, we decided to dip and never really stopped after that. Not touring, just traveling and playing at gas stations for gas and food money; that was the jumping-off point where it was obvious: no going back.”
Sendejas has been playing music for the whole of his adult life: “this is literally all I know how to do.” But Days N’ Daze did not gain much recognition until 2013, with the release of their album “Rogue Taxidermy.” So for a few years, he worked an array of retail jobs during the day. He recalled working an early morning shift at Target, saying “I only had a bike with no tires on it so I’d ride rims down the shoulder of the highway to get to work; it was terrible.” He’s now able to dedicate his time to writing and performing with DnD and two other bands. “I started Chad Hates George with my sister just so we could have sibling time and a reason to travel together. And then I have Escape from the ZOO with my wife because I always wanted to have an all-electric band.” Sendejas’ whole family is extremely supportive of his music: “I am so lucky to have the family and friends that I do, my dad’s a music writer in Houston so obviously, he’s on board, and my mom is just like the best of all time, she like the mom-est mom when we’re on tour.”
DnD’s newest album, “Show Me the Blueprints,” was released in May 2020. It was the band’s first release under an established record label, Fat Wreck Chords. “Surprisingly and much to our comfort, it didn’t really change anything at all, they were really kind and patient with us. They knew that we had no clue what we were doing … they put us in the studio to figure out a sound and we were visibly terrified and they were like, okay let’s not do it in a big studio, we’ll go to this little practice space and we’ll set up the laptop in there and y’all can record it like you do at your house in the closet, but with our fancy-ass equipment.”
Sendejas and singer/trumpeter Whitney Flynn, who Sendejas founded DnD with, write all the music for their band. Flynn was unfortunately unable to join the band in their 2021 tour. “In my mind, it seems obvious which songs I wrote and which songs Whitney wrote. Hers are very poetic. She’ll come to me with pages of words, and I’m like this is not a song, it’s a novel and we’ll need to condense it. I’ll help her pick and choose and piece together what she wants to write. But if it’s a ska song or a pop punky song, it’s probably me.”
He noted that writing is what comes easiest to him in the music-making process and that inspiration always comes early in the morning, “before the stressors and pressures of life begin to crush my soul back down.” Sendejas, no stranger to drugs and alcohol, insists he can only write while sober. “I’ve heard people say write drunk, edit sober, I don’t agree. I’ve, in the past, written things drunk, and it’s just rambling babbling nonsense. There’s no editing that, it’s just awful.”
Recording music poses a much greater challenge to Sendejas. He’s a perfectionist who can spend nearly 10 hours on a guitar part for one song. “I have pretty intense obsessive-compulsive disorder. If something doesn’t feel right, or I was thinking about something weird while I was recording it then it’s bad, bad vibes, gotta do it again. It takes me a lifetime if I’m doing it by myself.” Sendejas expressed that working with a producer from Fat Wreck Chords for DnD’s last album made the process much easier. “Johnny, who was recording us would be like, nope, that was great, we’re moving on. So that really took the pressure off me.”
Sendejas loves the genre he plays in and the people he plays for: “The folk-punk scene as a whole in my experience is one of the greatest, kindest, friendliest scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. I feel very lucky to be a part of it.” The music he plays defines the genre. It is fast-paced, angry, political, but also honest and personal and, more often than not, optimistic. Sendejas was kind and funny and a pleasure to talk to. He recommends listening to DnD’s most popular album, “Rogue Taxidermy,” as a starting point for their music.