Interview With Acclaimed Los Angeles Math-Rock Duo 'standards'

An exclusive interview with the renowned Los Angeles math-rock duo, "standards", led by guitar virtuoso Marcos Mena and skilled drummer Moises Popa.

By Chris RoditisMusicngear Lead Editor

Article photo - Interview With Acclaimed Los Angeles Math-Rock Duo 'standards'

With their 3rd studio LP, 'Fruit Galaxy' on the horizon, "standards" shed light on their musical process, the gear that sculpts their distinctive sound, and the mastery behind their instruments.

Chris Roditis, Musicngear: Congratulations on the upcoming release of “Fruit Galaxy”. Can you delve into the specific gear choices that played a significant role in shaping the album’s sound? Are there any new additions to your setup that particularly stand out?

Article photo - Interview With Acclaimed Los Angeles Math-Rock Duo 'standards' Marcos: I think for me it’s just the split coil neck pickup sound. I was using Fishman Fluence pickups for every song, they have different voicings depending on what you want. I have my neck pickups set to that single coil setting so it comes across bright in every song.

I also used the Bogner Harlow Boost V2 on every song, it’s like a boost pedal with a compressor built in. It kind of compresses and saturates all at the same time so I got this clean yet aggressive tone from my dumble style modeling amp.

All of the guitars were done via Axe FX III. I think all of this together creates a unique, bright and compressed sound that isn’t really overdrive but isn’t really clean either.

“Cosmos” is touted as your most ambitious song to date. Could you walk us through the intricate guitar work on this track, highlighting the gear and techniques that were pivotal in bringing this ambitious vision to life?

Marcos: For "Cosmos" I wanted to write a riff that was really attention-grabbing from the start, yet beautiful at the same time. So I ended up with the opening harmonic riff. Once again, I used my single coil voicing on my Fishman Fluence pickups as well as a good amount of compression to get the harmonics to sound even.

I’m kind of weird in that I usually track everything kinda dry and add effects later. So all of the reverb and delay are coming from plug-ins! For me, the performance was the most important part if I’m being honest.

For a math-rock duo, the complexity in your instrumental compositions is striking. Can you share your approach to crafting intricate guitar arrangements, and how your choice of gear facilitates this unique blend of complexity and groove?

Marcos: Like I said, the performance really is everything to me. I really try to have my gear compliment that. Most of my playing features percussive techniques like guitar tapping and slapping so I usually have a compressor on. I love a broken-up guitar tone so I am usually using a Bluebreaker style overdrive, namely the JHS Pedals Morning Glory V4.

Outside of that, I try to keep it minimal. I do split my signal live, with an A signal going through my pedals into my amp and the B signal going into an octaver which has an EQ filter on it. The octave goes into the subs of the venue and simulates a bass player (which we don’t have!).

So in a way, I have to compose for this setup. I’m used to it, however, as I studied a lot of fingerstyle which usually has self-accompanying parts written in. So I guess this style of composition works for the gear and vice versa.

Moises, as the drummer, your rhythmic contributions are integral to standards’ sound. Could you shed light on the drum kit, cymbals, and any other gear that you find crucial in creating the rhythmic foundation for the band’s music?

Moises: I like the sound of Tama Drums and Meinl cymbals. I feel like those two brands sound great for the style of music we’re doing. Also, personally, I like to tune my drums pretty high. The drums sound better when they cut through the mix.

Being endorsed by Ibanez, Fishman, Ernie Ball, & Meinl Cymbals is impressive. How do these endorsements impact your playing style and the sonic palette you explore with standards? What specific gear from these brands plays a crucial role in your setup?

Marcos: I think something I didn’t realize was how cutting-edge a lot of the brands that have reached out are. I used to have different notions of how certain companies were. Like, “Oh Ibanez, they do shred stuff for Warped Tour bands and that’s not me”.

Well, I hadn’t played one in years and when they sent over their Q series for me to demo I was like “dude what!? This thing shreds”. Lots of Ibanez models are really easy to play and they even customized a guitar for me that was such a crazy ask.

I wanted their AZS Prestige guitar but with only a single pickup at the neck, no bridge pickup. When I play live I hit my pickup selector often on purpose and I just wanted to stay dialed into the sound I always use for standards. I asked thinking they would say no and they were like “yeah no problem, give us a week”. Sure enough, it was perfect.

That’s my favorite guitar and people are dumbfounded when I bring it onstage. It’s literally one of a kind.

So having endorsements has allowed us to find specific sounds that we’ve wanted very easily.

Ernie Ball ships me strings straight to my door in like two days, so I can always mess around with new string gauges or get different cables for my rig.

We’re very lucky and grateful to have support from all the amazing companies that have backed us, they’ve all helped us immensely.

When it comes to drumming in a math-rock context, precision is key. Can you discuss specific elements of your drumming technique and gear setup that allow you to achieve the precision and complexity demanded by standards’ music?

Moises: I try to stay as loose as possible while playing drums in standards. I’d say my kick pedal the Tama HP900PN PowerGlide Iron Cobra makes it easy for me to play with precision. It’s a seamless transition from your foot to the drum with the Iron Cobra 900.

Marcos, as a guitar virtuoso your playing style is often lauded. Can you share any specific gear or tools that you feel have been instrumental in developing and expressing your unique guitar mastery over the years?

Marcos: I think honestly just a metronome. I think it’s kind of disingenuous to say “I couldn’t play anything and now I have this thing and I can play”. I used cheap guitars until I got endorsed and I think as long as I was comfortable I didn’t care.

I’ve just tried to work on my raw playing a lot before I plug in. Once I plug in though, I really think compression has helped me craft my sound. I love the sound of a light compression setting that smothers a guitar. Also, thin neck profiles. Wow! It just makes it easier for me to zip around the fretboard. I really didn’t know too much about those until I went to music school. Now that I’m with Ibanez it’s just so easy, all their necks are so comfy to play.

So yeah, I’m not a stickler about much except neck profiles and compressors. I can really feel it now if a neck isn’t great for me. I’m also very picky about compressors now. I hate when they sound cheesy or too aggressive. I’m using the JHS Pedals Pulp'n Peel V4 and it’s awesome.

Drummers often have a unique relationship with their kit. Are there any modifications or specific gear preferences you’ve adopted to ensure your drumming complements Marcos’ guitar work seamlessly, especially in a live setting?

Moises: I feel like brighter hi-hats make an important part of our sound in a live setting. I use the Meinl 15' Byzance Polyphonic Hi-Hat. I also like Remo Emperor drum heads because they have great attack in a live setting.

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Pre-order 'Fruit Galaxy' (Digital, Vinyl, CD, Cassette) HERE

About Chris Roditis

Chris Roditis has been an active musician since 1995 in various bands and projects across a variety of genres ranging from acoustic, electronic to nu metal, british rock and trip hop. He has extensive experience as a mixing engineer and producer and has built recording studios for most of the projects he has been involved with. His passion for music steered his entrepreneurial skills into founding MusicNGear in 2012.

Contact Chris Roditis at

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