Mathcore Index correspondent Levi Sebastian* interviews Los Angeles instrumental math rock duo, Standards.
Originally aired on Mathcast Episode 22: 6/28/18.
*additional commentary by Christian Segerstrom
Read the full transcription after the jump.
Mathcore Index: How’d you guys meet?
Marcos: Well, I had a change of course in my colleging, and I decided I want to study music, so I got into CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) and I was really blessed to get in as a guitar performance major, and my very very first class ever I see this guy walking in with like a green shirt and then a slightly greener hat and like “oh that guy looks cool,” and then I was in a touring workshop and it was like a three-day crash course like a little mini thing before these classes started and it was like how to tour and stuff and so this guy was the only guy in the class then. He was the only person and I was like, I’ve got to talk to this guy. He’s really cool. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with everything. I’d actually studied with Nick Reinhart from Tera Melos, so I’d taken lessons with him. I had a little bit of like expertise in that and then I was listening to a lot of cool bands, but I was actually like really into indie rock and stuff. So I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to feel it out and just play with different musicians.
Mathcore Index: (to Jacob) What was your background before meeting him?
Jacob: I studied math and music at UC Berkeley before and I was kind of doing a lot of research there and working on computer programming stuff and then one summer when I was working at this place called JPL, in Pasadena, actually where I live now, I was playing in a band with my friends, and actually it’s funny because it was this math rock band that I was in high school, and I hadn’t really played any of that kind of music since then like I’ve been more into jazz for a long time and just other other kinds of music: hip hop, R&B, and all that kind of stuff super technical music already. So yeah, just all kinds of different stuff, and at that time I realized like, what what music really meant to me and how it was and so I decided to go full speed ahead for that thing, and then I ended up going to CalArts for grad school, and in the Jazz Studies Program and I kind of like got everything together at that point. Was working on my own music, composing, playing drums learning piano, all this different stuff, and I guess at the time that we had met my main project was (still one of my main projects) called Battery, which is a solo drum set and electronics project, and so that was the project that I had toured with and it’s this kind of like jazz centric project where I’m triggering synths with my drum triggers and there’s a lot of improvisation in it and all this kind of stuff.
Macros: Shit, you guys should cover it.
Mathcore Index (Levi): Did you know about this Christian?
Mathcore Index (Christian): I did not know about battery.
Jacob: Yeah, well we did we actually did in on this tour we’ve actually done a couple of Battery / Standards shows. So in Arcata, we did a workshop. That’s another thing. So we’re both from we both met in Humboldt, basically.
Levi: Oh, yeah, us both I sold him weed at a dispensary and we both saw each other’s t-shirts basically. 2007 to about 2008 and so we we booked shows in a house in Manila forever. There’s so many fucking houses shows in Arcata. It’s all houses: The Bat Cave, which is…
Jacob: Oh yeah, I know The Bat Cave.
Mathcore Index: Oh, okay. Cool.
Marcos: Actually did some workshops there and Jacob went into like this deep, deep like, explanation of all this shit and then I just was like, here’s how you play like, you know the Cantina song
Mathcore Index: Are you gonna do another show with Battery?
Jacob: It’s kind of like wherever it feels right because the thing is when I play Battery right before Standards I’m basically dead at the end. So usually when I’m playing with Standards it’s definitely like taxing, but when I do both of them, it’s like the craziest shit. In Arcata I was down and I think we’re playing at those cafes in San Luis Obispo in like two days, so maybe I’ll do it there but probably we’ll probably just play it as standards.
Mathcore Index: Would you guys rather do a house show or a stage show on any given day?
Marcos: I mean, it depends on the mood. I definitely think there’s perks to both but after having played a ton of house shows it feels really refreshing to play at a real venue and get treated like, I don’t know, less like friends and more like musicians. The relationship here is very curt. Just also having everything mic’d up and controlled by someone who’s obviously really good. That’s why we wanted to play here. It sounds awesome. So a house show it’s like oh like, yyou know, something is not loud enough. That’s that’s just the deal, but also there’s that raw DIY energy that I think we’ve both come out of really strong that we really feel in touch with the house shows. We did a couple venue shows and after we played we did a string of house shows and we felt really refreshed. So I think a healthy balance is really good.
Mathcore Index: With the you guys being a two piece playing house shows, obviously nice you guys fit in the house and everything. What did the perks and also just the cons I guess of just being a two piece?
Marcos: Well for me, I’m covering a lot of melodic ground, so what I do is I have a guitar and I split it into two signals: one of the signals goes just throw all my pedals and then the other one goes into an octave signal which has a range feature on it, so it only activates when I play the lowest three strings on my guitar and that goes into a bass amp. So we get
a cool stereo effect. And also we have like a low end so I’m playing guitar and bass. Obviously the upside is we’re touring in my Prius. Spent like nothing because it’s just like really easy to zip around and everything is really easy just to do as a band, like go out and do practice. I just text Jake and I’m like, “hey, dude wanna practice?” He’s like “cool.” It’s not like a group chat. Someone’s at work…we have to like put schedules together. It’s just like “hey, man. Are you free Tuesday night? Dope.
Mathcore Index (Christian): Yeah, being the only tonal instrument and touring van is obviously very challenging, but you have that, you know, the two-handed technique which gives you the opportunity to cover more a lot of ground as you say.
Marcos: …but even then sometimes I wish I had a third arm to add something extra, so we might just experiment with either looping or…we just don’t know, I guess we’re just gonna see because we’re working on our next release already and we’re just trying to see if we can come up with more thought-out compositions because it’s usually just like: riff, polyphonic part, then another riff, and then maybe like little drum fill. So we’re really kind of limited to what we can do, but we’re trying to expand that.
Jacob: I think I feel like we’re less limited than we think. I think that there have been so many times in this journey that we’ve taken so far where it’s been like, “Oh, man, we can’t get the bass sound” or like, you know when we were mixing the record like shit, man it’s never gonna sound bass enough. We need to get a bass player, but I think that this whole thing is just like an exercise in limitation, and that’s the same thing that I’ve really experienced in my solo project where it’s like I have this drum set. I have this programming language that I’m using and it’s actually quite limited. How do I create a full song as a performance? It’s actually very freeing to have this set up because there’s you know, interesting challenges that happen . So you’re solving those challenges by playing all these polyphonic parts and then for me, it’s like my goal is to be able to highlight all of those at once. So for example, he might be playing a polyphonic part where there’s a polyrhythm between the hands, and I myself am playing that polyrhythm between limbs. So it’s like we’re kind of doing the same thing, we’re both just drumming on our instruments really.
Mathcore Index: So really, I’m getting there’s a lot of pros here you guys are working with being a two-piece but really no downside of being a two-piece, you just don’t have a bassist.
Marcos: I mean there there was a huge one in that when I started I couldn’t play independently with my hands and I actually had to train for several months to do it. I started with Britney Spears’ “Whoops I Did It Again.” So basically I started the chord and then changing the chords as I’m playing the chords and that took me like a week just to do that and then I was like, okay great. And then I learned Fur Elise which is like the basic basic piano song. So then I got that that took like a month and then just can I do scales with this hand. Can I do some scales with two hands? So I like really methodically built it up, and then now I’m trying to learn Mozart and Bach, so I put a lot of time into making sure we could do it and I’m really pleased with the results.
Mathcore Index: We are too. So with the videos Facebook: there’s a lot of them. You guys are playing outside, inside, posting the shows and everything. Other than just posting to show everybody what you’re doing, is there any other reason why you do it.
Jacob: Yeah, so as a musician or specifically as a band in 2018, it’s like, what is your output? And then that’s the question I was like, what is your work? Is your work just your albums? Is your work just your shows? Are those things connected and for us? Everything is connected. Literally every single story. Everything we post on Instagram, every single thing we put on Facebook, it’s all part of part of the world that we occupy in our own lives, you know what I mean? Literally everything that we do is sharing the things that we care about. Sharing our vibe. It’s not like “I hope I can post this thing.” I mean, obviously there’s a little bit of that where it’s like, “oh, I want to post this thing because I know people will like it” or whatever, you know, but it’s also like as an artist and I’ve seen so many other people do this actually…and one really funny example, is this kind of meme pop artist named Oliver Tree. Everything that you put online is like a piece. It’s like a piece of work. You know what I mean? And so like if you’re treating every single thing that you put out with care and you really feel like it represents what you do in all these different ways like, you know, we’re musicians, we’re making music but we also produce photos. I take a photo myself and put it on on the Standards page, that’s part of Standards.
Marcos: It’s really an extension of our art form and I think a lot of bands are just like, okay “we’re playing a show tonight. Thpppt.” I’m not hating on that because obviously we’re just looking at it differently, but we see that as an extension of our art form and I think those videos are really creative. We get really really creative with them and they’re a lot of fun to me. On this entire tour, we’ve probably played to from four people to 90 people per show. So we’ve played like 13 days already, 12 days or whatever. So I’m not very good at math, but that’s not as many as even one of our videos that we’ll put up at any given time, because one of our videos has anywhere from like a thousand to ten thousand views, so that’s instantly more than we’ll ever play to in a given year maybe. It’s crazy to think that if you’re taking advantage and and treating that as an art form as I get an extension of your performance, you know, and people like artists that that really capitalized on what was coming out, you know, Michael Jackson with music videos.
Mathcore Index: You definitely have a strong visual aesthetic –
Marcos: And I think Internet is the new thing and I think and like if you want to be out there doing it, especially just like Oliver Tree, an amazing example, you have to have that you have to think about it like that.
Jacob: You can think about it like that and we we choose to think about it like that, but I think that there are also so many bands. We were just talking earlier today with our friends who are in this really great post-punk band called Patti, and we were talking about this other band called Black MIDI…
Marcos: …they’re one of my favorite bands and I’ve never been to a show and they have no music out, but there still there one of my favorite bands. They made a Facebook and then they
just announce the shows that day, so I think that that’s just like part of their art form. Your online presence is your art form, whether you have one or you don’t, and these are all like artistic choices that we make as musicians. We just happen to choose this because, I mean at least on my end, I really enjoy documentation. I really enjoy curating the shit and just having like oh yeah, we’re playing the song, but it really feels like it needs like a yellow background. So we’re gonna put a yellow background on it.
Mathcore Index: So the next thing: the aesthetics here. What is going on with the first release with the grass and now you got the Kiwis and fucking avocados, kale, all that kind of stuff. What’s going on?
Marcos: We’ve kind of I’ve kind of always done this when it was just me and he’s kind of always done this too, and now we just do it together, but we really are into fruit and we just feel it represents our music.
Jacob: Well, for me, well…I love food so much. I’m wearing cherry hearings right now. I hope they don’t like gauges to you, they’re little circles, but yeah, they’re just just cherries not gauges. But yeah, I have these other ones that are like a fork and a spoon, and that just like kind of represents my relationship to food. I’ve always been super into cooking huge amounts of food, storing it for like nine days and just having all this stuff, all these vegetables and stuff, and I just really enjoy veggies and fruits and making smoothies and all this stuff. So the love of this, you know, the natural world but specifically that in natural foods and you know, that kind of contributes to that whole thing.
Mathcore Index: Will you ever have vocals? Why don’t you have vocals?
Jacob: When you have vocals, there’s a very clear communication of concepts, right? Like you say “I’m sad because I had a bad day,” you know?
Marcos: That there be a vocal line: “I’m sad because of the world,” and that’s what you’re saying. But you can also express this with instruments. It’s just not as clear because music is a language, but English is also a language. Like, maybe you listen to a song in French and you aren’t understanding the words, so it’s almost similar. So yeah, to me, because I don’t know any French it’s similar to me to instrumental music because the voice is just another instrument. So if you understand that language, it’s very easy, like very ground floor. Like, I’m sad because the world is sad…you get what I’m saying already and the music will match that and the music works around that. What we’re doing is like a dialogue. It’s like a conversation and we’re both speaking through our instruments and we get to do things that we cannot do in other ensembles because we’re basically chatting it up and it’s the musical language. So some people that don’t listen to a lot of instrumental music or haven’t thought of that concept, it is a little jarring to them or something, but if you listen, there’s stuff there.
Jacob: Instrumental music foregrounds the personalities of the players and the styles and character of those different players. That totally happens in a non-instrumental setting, like there’s obviously personalities of the individual players. We feel like with instrumental music you’re really able to show who you are super openly and then the concepts that are communicated can be a little bit more, I don’t want to say universal, but there’s just more ways to enter into what the music means to you, and that’s something that I really enjoy. I mean, I love vocal music as well, but you know…
Marcos: It transcends language, it transcends culture. It’s really, you know, people can really dig it no matter what because it is one of those things. It’s the language of people, music.
Mathcore Index: So I’m gonna say you guys are going to stay instrumental, correct?
Jacob: We’re kind of just biting off little chunks. I think definitely for a while.
Mathcore Index: I saw your influences on Facebook, CHON, a lot of jazz artists and everything. They’re a really good instrumental band and they threw the vocals in then they got rid of them again. So yeah, that’s why I asked.
Jacob: I mean, I’m down for a vocal feature like Axl Rose. Hit me up.
Mathcore Index: We know him. Don’t worry about it.
Standards: Cool. Perfect.