Fruit Island Interview with Truth In Shredding

Marcos Mena is a rising talent currently resident in California. He’s started to make a name for himself with guitar players into two handed tapping and has found a home in the math rock community with his exciting polyrhythmic guitar exploits. I was lucky enough to see Marco Mena playing live with his band, Standards at the ArcTangent festival in the UK, where his band performed a storming show for the packed crowd in the main tent. I thought I would catch up with Marcos and find out a little more about his playing and how he got so good at guitar.

[Truth In Shredding]

When did you first start playing, your technique suggests you’ve been playing a long time and the classical two handed pieces you play suggest that might have a musical family. Tell us a bit about how you started guitar, the effort you put in to get the skills you have today.

[Marcos Mena] 

I have NO real musical family haha, my mom “played” flute but she told me she would intentionally reposition her old school clock so that it displayed time an hour a head so that she could stop practicing! I guess her practice was timed or something?

My sister also played the flute and gave up entirely. 

There’s some family lore that my great grandfather won over my great grandmother by playing the mandolin? 

My grandfather played drums…poorly. He told me when he was 13 he got a lot of gigs playing drums for two reasons: 

It was world war, so no male musicians were left at home 

2 He owned a drum set

Suffice to say I’m related to a lot of dabblers but nobody that I know of other than my relative Ira Giltin who does music as a career. He plays bluegrass music in Washington D.C. and came to my show out there!

I started playing piano at 5, violin at 8, drums at 11 and finally guitar around the same time. I didn’t have many formal lessons until I was much older, 17, so that’s when I got pretty serious about guitar. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I considered myself to be making a serious effort and when a lot of the learning happened. 

 Invention #8 Bach Two-Handed Tapping Guitar 

[Truth In Shredding]

With regard to your music education, when did you decide that you would go to music school, I think it was CalArts as I understand you were originally studying political science at San Francisco State? How did you go from politics major to a polyrhythmic monster?

[Marcos Mena]

It was right around 19. I ditched living in San Francisco, it was a totally different experience than what I was used to. I headed home and was kind of stuck. No real progress on a degree but also no progress on the music. So I figured if I was going to do this it’d better do it correctly and go study music. I chose CalArts because it was far enough from home but not too far that I couldn’t move home if it was all a waste! Also, at the time at least, it was far cheaper than Musicians Institute, Berklee School Of Music and on par with Atlanta Institute of Music.

[Truth In Shredding]

I really noticed your playing first with the two handed classical pieces, how did you get attracted to performing those, as you’re more rocking out these days?

[Marcos Mena]

I wanted to learn pieces that would level up my guitar tapping quickly. I chose the Inventions by Bach because that’s normally what an intermediate piano student would work on to improve their playing. Since I was trying to play like a pianist, I worked hard on those! But that wasn’t my main goal, I really wanted to cultivate a style of my own so that was my priority. 

 cantina theme 3 guitars at once

[Truth In Shredding]

With the Standards band format you don’t utilise a bass player. Is this more in line with Math Rock style, as I am noting that fellow Math rockers Floral, with Nate Sherman, are going the same route and don’t have a bass player. Although, I see Invalids, with Pete Davis and Brock Benzel, using a full-on bass player in Raymond Bonanno. Is this something you think works for you, allowing you to create polyphonic bass lines?

[Marcos Mena]

Math Rock is whatever you want it to be, I simply elected to not have a bass player as I thought it would be apart of my guitar sound to have a split signal setup versus another person in the band. Being in a two-piece was very freeing for a long time because it’s very easy to setup as well as travel. Lots of bands are stifled by their sheer numbers when doing smaller tours or trying to fit on small stages! We’ve never had this problem and on top of that convenience it is interesting writing for only a drummer and guitarist it pushes my creativity.

[Truth In Shredding]

I’ve seen you play live at ArcTangent in the UK, where you put on a great show to a packed audience. Watching the performance it’s clear you’re a showman you’re not a guy rooted to the spot buried under technique, you had some great grooves going on and the audience were bouncing around to the performance. Is this something you strived for and how do you achieve that in a live setting?

[Marcos Mena]

I always want to put on a great show! I try to engage and bring energy because I feel like it makes the crowd comfortable and interested. That is my biggest goal, since it’s not common you see a math rock band that isn’t super awkward hahahah.

[Truth In Shredding]

Also at the ArcTangent show, it was really great to see all the Maths rock / post rock bands acting like fans, with each attending each other’s shows. Do you see Standards as part of a new wave of Math Rock bands, along with bands like Invalids, Covet for example, leading the way, much like Periphery and Animals As Leaders lead the way for the Djent wave before you?

[Marcos Mena]

Yeah I suppose so! I just got into the genre about 3 years ago, so it is fascinating that many bands have been around much longer than I’d even known about it! I want to try and bring my style to many people who wouldn’t otherwise know or care about it,.

[Truth In Shredding]

In terms of performance are you using standard tunings or others, like Yvette Young who uses a lot of open string tunings to get the desired tones.

[Marcos Mena]

I use both! Nothing is off limits! Whatever the song requires I will do. Open tunings can help further my technique as I can do lots of great things when my entire guitar is tuned “simpler”.

[Truth In Shredding]

Who are the musicians that inspire you, and why are there any specific pieces of music that you might recommend to players wishing to embark on the polyphonic journey?

[Marcos Mena]

I always get this question but there are so many musicians! I really liked a lot of tapping guitarists when developing my style, but I love solo guitar and draw from that being the only melodic element of the band. If I had to name a few, I’d say Josh Martin, Daijiro Nakagawa, Stanley Jordan, Tommy Emmanuel, T-Cophony. So many more however! 

 both parts of never meant played at the same time

[Truth In Shredding] Those are some serious players! Josh Martin is insane. I’ve been following T-Cophony for a long while, 2007 is probably my first post. 

 Marcos Mena: Nap from the new album Fruit Island

[Truth In Shredding] 

You have had some interesting looking guitars, including a shark, and a White Whale guitar, Yamaha guitar and the Music Man Ernie Ball St Vincent model. I guess you have acoustic guitars as well. Tell us a little bit more about them, your amps, and any endorsements you might have?

[Marcos Mena]

Sure! I’m endorsed by Ernie Ball strings, they give me perks on Music Man models and as you have noticed I took full advantage! I always wanted the St. Vincent for the longest time so I’ll be using that guitar for awhile. I was formerly endorsed by White Whale guitars, a custom shop out of Monterrey, Mexico but the partnership ceased after a year because of financial trouble. I was getting guitars for cheap and sometimes free which was nice for me because it was lots of custom work I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else but there was a lot of miscalculation of the part of the owner Alejandro and he had to focus on paying customers over his developing endorsees such as myself. He built a lot of guitars for my friends and I am still happy to have my models, although since having played them so much I am sniffing around for other models!
I may have another guitar endorsement next year but I can’t say much right now! 

 Sleepwalk two handed tapping cover 

[Truth In Shredding] I see players like Yvette Young using a lot of effects pedals to achieve their desired music palette. What effects pedals do you use, and how do you use them?

[Marcos Mena]
I….don’t use effects pedals haha. I heavily respect those who do, but it’s wayyyyy too much effort for me. Carrying around big boards and being tied to your pedalboard during a show. It just isn’t for me. I like to move around and I’m never going to write my songs around effects, I feel like effects should enhance and not chain you down to your pedalboard, rendering you completely still onstage. I did acquire an Axe FX and I’ve been playing around with the effects on there, so I could see myself using that onstage because it’s much easier to change sounds with one of those versus a full on pedalboard! I like pedals, but the other big detractor for me was not being able to progress my technique because I was busy searching for new pedals or setting up ones I already owned. It’s like any gear, it can really take the playing out of the guitar haha. For me, it was like chasing the dragon, I just never stopped tweaking or improving and it was like “ok enough, it’s time to practice” haha. 

Boba Date by Marcos Mena (Standards), Featuring Re-Guitar And Axiom Software

[Truth In Shredding]
With your musical releases, I see you also have tab to accompany the albums. Perhaps more importantly you have put together Compositional Guitar Tapping: Video Lesson and Workbook series. Can you tell us a little more about that? Plus are you giving skype lessons or something like that?

[Marcos Mena]
Yeah! My new record via Topshelf Records Fruit Island will have an accompanying tab book! I’ll be releasing details about that next month! I also am doing online lessons as someone who is stuck at home! It sucks but at least I can do that! 

 Marcos Mena Teaches Me Tapping Riffs From His New Album And Makes Me Look Bad

[Truth In Shredding]
Like everyone globally, covid-19 has had a massive impact, particularly musicians and bands who rely on an audience to perform and raise revenue. How have you been coping with that, have you been pursuing other avenues in the meantime or working on social media and new music material?

[Marcos Mena]
It was hard at first, but I set new goals for myself. I want to try and finish more releases while stuck at home and of course work on my guitar playing. Sometimes I feel inadequate so it helps to practice a lot in order to really bolster my skills. In way of temporary shows, I’m going to do a livesteam to celebrate the release of my new album Fruit Island on August 29th on Facebook, 5 pm pst. I am really excited to try it out as it seems like shows will not be returning for the foreseeable future.

[Truth In Shredding] Have you always had a “passion” for fruit, a lot of your music videos and album cover references have various fruit references, indeed I myself have a watermelon doll plushie. When did you first notice that you were attracted to fruit, and are there any fruits you don’t like, can you see yourself gravitating towards vegetables in the future or sticking with fruit only… can we envisage that you might have fruit references on your guitar and pedals in the future as well?

[Marcos Mena]
Apparently I had an obsession with bananas when I was younger? I don’t remember it.
I love fruit as imagery, I feel like it perfectly represents my music as sweet and fun. I feel like imagery should match your music and fruit is just the perfect fit. People love the fruit characters on my albums and always give us fruit as gifts. So I’m very happy about it all, haha. I think I’ll be putting fruit on lots of things, and certainly my guitars!

[Truth In Shredding]
Tell us about the new music you have been working on, when are we likely to see the new release?

[Marcos Mena]
Well aside from my new album coming out this month, I am working on a more experimental EP that I want to release late next year. It’s all done with Axe FX and there are lots of synth and sound effects, I think people will really dig it. For myself, it feels like the next step musically. I don’t want to say too much more but I hope you’ll check it out when its out! In the meantime, you can listen to the new release Fruit Island on spotify August 28th!

Get the new album

  • Fruit Island 01:16
  • Nap 03:42
  • Starfish 02:26
  • Special Berry 03:07
  • May 03:03
  •  Rainbow 03:34
  •  Mango 03:10
  • Horchata 03:43
  • Kiwi 03:30
  •  Changes 03:05
  •  Val Verde 02:16
  •  What You Aren’t 03:20 
  • Fruit Island by standards

    [Truth In Shredding] Marcos, it’s been a pleasure working with you for this interview, my best wishes for the new release and lets hope touring starts again soon.

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