High South’s origins stretch back to the early 2000s, when Garner and Mendoza met shortly after each had moved to Nashville. Interested in songwriting and influenced by ‘70s music, they were pursuing solo careers and trying to get discovered. Around the same time, Campos was growing up in Los Angeles with an early desire to be a performer – one that led to singing background vocals on three world tours with Enrique Iglesias. It would take 12 years before Garner, Campos and Mendoza ever got in a room together playing guitars together and bonding with the harmonies of some of their favorite artists, such as Crosby, Stills & Nash and America; almost immediately, they realized they had created something special.
Garner grew up in the small town of Chester, Illinois, near the Mississippi River. His family lived in a large Victorian house, the kind you’d expect to be haunted, he says. As a boy he happened to find a harmonica laying in his backyard. Curious, he picked it up, dusted it off, and started to play. That moment sparked a lifelong interest in music, although his college degree is in public relations. On the advice of a respected friend, he moved to New York after graduation, where he did some acting and worked on his songwriting.
In contrast, Mendoza was raised in Arizona, as the second of five kids. His father played Spanish guitar and Flamenco music, which enchanted Phoenix from a young age – particularly because of the way it compelled friends and family to gather around and listen. At 15, Phoenix started playing guitar, too; a few years later, he formed a band with two of his brothers. As that group started getting traction in the Southwest, Phoenix decided that they should all move to Nashville and try to make it big. The brothers didn’t agree, so at 21, he headed to Nashville without them.
By playing at songwriter nights, Mendoza landed an audition for a publishing company in Nashville. Initially they passed, but decided to introduce him to other writers, including Josh Leo. He eventually landed the publishing deal and started getting road gigs playing for country artists. Yet the work felt unsatisfying, to some degree, because they weren’t his own songs.