Leilani Finau (Haida/Samoan) and Waylon Mendoza (Lakota/Mexican) play blues-rock as Daisy Chain, but they didn’t initially bond over their indigenous heritage. Leilani had heard a CD that Waylon had put out, and she thought he might be a good mentor. “Because his voice is so deep,” she recalls, “I thought he was an older guy. I thought we could collaborate, and maybe he could help me get gigs.” The two started talking on the phone; Leilani was in Seattle while Waylon was back on the rez at Eagle Butte, South Dakota, home of the Minnecojou band of Lakota. Eventually, they realized they had something in common.
Basketball, of course.
Leilani mentioned she had played a tournament in Spokane in which Waylon had also competed. “He asked me, ‘Are you, like, six foot seven?’” Finau recalls. “I said, no, that wasn’t me. Then he said ‘Are you really buff?’ I said no, that wasn’t me. And then he said, ‘Do you have a tattoo on your right arm?’ I said, yup, that’s me.”
In 2008 they started playing together and within months had landed a slot at the Northwest Folklife Festival. “We get a kick out of playing fairs and festivals,” says Finau. “Everyone’s there for the music, because nobody’s getting paid.” In addition to festivals, Finau and Mendoza play clubs around Seattle and try to schedule shows wherever Finau’s basketball travels take them. She plays in 10-15 tournaments a year all over the country.
Daisy Chain’s music is an eclectic affair; they cite as influences the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the mellow rock of Big Head Todd & the Monsters, and their latest obsession, the jazzy funk of Michael Franti & Spearhead. Finau says they’ve come a long way as collaborators. “We’re much more about harmony now. Before, it was ‘That’s your song, you wrote it, you sing it and I’ll play on it.’ Now when we write, we’re not thinking ‘This is my song,’ or ‘This is your song.’”
On April 29, Daisy Chain will take the stage at the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “We’ll be playing a mix of covers and originals,” says Finau. “We’ll probably play ‘Tightrope,’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan and a song we wrote called ‘Seven Generations,’ which of course really speaks to Natives.”
To learn more about Daisy Chain and listen to some tracks, visit them at myspace.com/daisychain4u