The music of Los Angeles “math rock” duo standards is as satisfying to the ear as it is technically impressive. The quick, bright blips and zoops of Marcos Mena’s guitar pair beautifully with Jacob Richards’ nuanced drumming, and the result is the sonic equivalent of a healthy and refreshing summer salad.
Following the release of their new eponymous EP on May 28, I had a chance to ask them about their unique style, the term “math rock,” what motivates them, and more.
How did you meet and start playing music together?
Marcos: I was in my first class at CalArts, which was a crash course on touring. Jacob was the only one in the class who had gone on tour, and I heard his solo drums & electronics project and really liked it, so I decided to introduce myself. We didn’t play music with each other for several months after that, but eventually I messaged him about the possibility of starting a math rock band and that’s how standards was formed.
Tell me a little about your songwriting process.
Jacob: Marcos writes rough drafts of the songs in Guitar Pro and shows them to me. Next, I give suggestions about changes to structure or new rhythmic ideas I have. Last, we play the song together, and, with some improvisation, we solidify our parts to make something we’re both really into!
You identify your music as math rock. Do you like that term, or do you prefer others? Why or why not?
Marcos: We accept the term math rock but we don’t let it define us. It’s one way of describing what we do, but there are many others! We’re experimenting with song structure, polyphonic part-writing on a single guitar, and odd time signatures. These things overlap with characteristics of math rock but we’re also super into pop music, jazz, and electronic music, and these influences are definitely present in our music. We’re also really stoked that dads have been into our music, and that has to do with how we fit into the larger genre of rock as a whole, rather than the very specific category of math rock.
How did you begin using your instruments in this alternative way? Did you always know you wanted to play math rock?
Marcos: I was taking lessons with Nick Reinhart from Tera Melos, and he showed me a lot of different ways to play the guitar that I hadn’t even dreamed of before. All of the sonic possibilities of the guitar opened up to me, and I began looking for different ways I could play multiple parts on the guitar at once. It turns out that there is a long history of this practice, including the masters Michael Hedges, Stanley Jordan, Dave Bunker, and others. After a while of listening to these folks and others, I began writing my own original music using the techniques as a way of getting better at them!
Jacob: I was interested in super technical music in my teens, and I was in a math rock band in high school. I moved away from the genre for many years, and when Marcos asked me to play with him I initially wasn’t sure about it, as I hadn’t listened to math rock in years. However, the parts he was writing had such a different character than what I had heard before that I realized there was a real space within the music for me to stretch and express myself in ways I care deeply about.
What do you hope the listener experiences when they hear your music or watch you play? Are you trying to set a specific mood with any of your songs?
Marcos & Jacob: We want people to feel happy!!! Our music comes from a passion for living and a love of the natural beauty in this world. Our songs are a reflection of that, and I think that when people see us play and meet us, we communicate those things directly.
I’m also interested in how you think the lack of a vocalist limits or liberates your songwriting.
Marcos: In a lot of music with vocals, the song is tailored to support the vocalist. The other instruments play to help carry the message of the vocals. With instrumental music, we speak through our instruments, and the music becomes a conversation between unique personalities. The message of the music can be less clear with instrumental music, but I think it can have a powerful impact because of how open to interpretation sonic language is. It’s interesting how clear of an image our music seems to give people, and we want to keep it that way!
In your opinion, which cities have a particularly strong math rock scene right now? This is also your opportunity for math rock shout-outs in general.
Marcos & Jacob: Los Angeles has a growing math rock scene right now (The Unending Thread, Jerkagram, Sea Monkey See, Heirloom), and San Francisco is awesome too (Wander, Dokoe, Sloth & Turtle, Damper, Floral, Covet)!!
Elsewhere in the US there are large scenes in certain states!
Texas: Televangelist (Austin/San Antonio), Doggo (Dallas), Trái Bơ (Dallas), Den Mother (Houston)
Boston & New Jersey: SAWCE (NJ), Good Game (Boston), Invalids (NJ), Vasudeva (NJ)
I love the fruit & veggies theme; it’s so simple and wholesome. How did you come upon it?
Jacob: WE LOVE FRUIT N VEGGIES !!! I love cooking veggies, and my favorite food is salad, so that pretty much comes out somewhere in all of my musical projects. For example, my solo project BATTERY has a song called Peach Juice that was recorded in Berkeley in this old co-op house where I lived that I named The Giant Peach. The standards fruit theme kind of just came out of that, as well as out of the general vibe of our music.
You’re touring CA and NV this summer on your “Fruit Salad” tour. What else do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Marcos & Jacob: We’re writing a LOT of new material, which is super exciting because we feel that we’re progressing a lot in sound and concept. We’re opening for our heroes Covet and Vasudeva on July 20th at The Observatory in Santa Ana, and another tour before the end of the year is in the works, but we won’t say any more about that yet :->