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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

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Arts + CultureIs Marcos Mena the best guitarist in indie rock?

Is Marcos Mena the best guitarist in indie rock?

The Mountain View-born math rock virtuoso, better known as Standards, plays at Bottom of the Hill Fri/6.

Those whose image of do-it-yourself indie rock shows is of kids struggling to tune their guitars onstage might be surprised that virtuosity—good, old-fashioned, blurred-fingers virtuosity—has had a pretty good last decade. In the 2010s, bands like Tera Melos, CHON, and This Town Needs Guns have crafted a style of math rock that supplants the gnarlier, punkier roots of the genre with clean leads and a wholesome aesthetic.

Even given the high bar set for instrumentalists in this genre, it’s possible Standards’ Marcos Mena has the most fearsome chops of the lot. Somewhere in his musical development, the 22-year-old got “obsessed with the idea of becoming a really great guitar player,” and when he’s not touring with or promoting his band—basically himself and a revolving cast of drummers—he can usually be found grinding away at the fretboard.

He’s so good he even out-CHONned CHON by playing the two guitar leads of their song “Sleepy Tea” at the same time. But he’s not shy about his secrets. He’s the author of Compositional Guitar Tapping, possibly the first guitar workbook ever written from a math-rock perspective, which is available to download online.

Born in Mountain View, Mena was first drawn to guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix before discovering Tera Melos around 2015. After checking out the band’s Facebook page and being drawn to the group’s intricate sound, Mena noticed their guitarist, Nick Reinhart, was offering lessons.

“He basically introduced me to the whole thing,” says Mena. “[He’d say] ’Check out King Crimson, they’re really great. Check out This Town Needs Guns, check out Hella.’ It was clearly a new world to me.”

At the time, Mena was studying political science at San Francisco State. “I was failing all my classes really, really badly,” he says. “I felt like I’d made a huge mistake. I signed up to do stuff that I wasn’t really that passionate about. So as a way to kind of derail the whole thing, I decided to practice as much as I can.”

Mena says he missed out on a lot of shows because of his single-minded devotion to his craft, though he was able to occasionally drop in at Bay Area indie-rock incubators like Bottom of the Hill and Honey Hive Gallery and make local connections.

He eventually decided to pursue his passion full-time and study music at CalArts. He started Standards in LA, and so far the band has two EPs to its name (2018’s “Standards” and 2019’s “Friends”). A full-length called Fruit Island is tentatively slated for this summer.

A major part of Standards’ iconography is anthropomorphic fruit, designed by band friend Liam Hopkins, that gallivant across their album covers like the Grateful Dead teddy bears. Mena says several fans have gotten tattoos of the dancing watermelon that adorns the cover of “Friends.”

Mena still lives in LA but says the Bay Area is a “second home.” His shows in San Francisco tend to be more well-attended than his gigs at home, and his upcoming performance at Bottom of the Hill with fellow West Coast bands Floral, Wander, and Elaine the Singer should be no exception.

“I hope one day I could retire there and live there,” says Mena of the Bay. “That’d be really cool. But in the meantime, I’m just going to have to come and visit once in a while.”

Standards, Floral, Wander, Elaine the Singer
Friday/6, 8 pm, $12+
Bottom of the Hill, SF
Tickets and more info here

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Daniel Bromfield
Daniel Bromfield is a San Francisco native and arts journalist whose work has appeared in the Bay Guardian, San Francisco Magazine, Resident Advisor, and various music sites. He ran the SF Rebirth blog, documenting all-ages shows in the Bay Area, from 2010 to 2013. His work can be found at danielbromfield.com
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