How Standards’ Marcos Mena is making shred guitar danceable: “The important thing is writing the hook first, then working in the other techniques”

Marcos Mena
(Image credit: Maxx Diaz)

Ever since Yngwie Malmsteen descended from Mount Shred and single-handedly invented the instrumental guitar album, scholars have debated one question: can anyone dance to this stuff?

On Fruit Town, California-based guitar-and-drums duo Standards [stylized as standards] have finally proven that, despite near-global doubt, it can be done. 

Standards, the brainchild of Marcos Mena, have been kicking around for a few years, but on Fruit Town Mena’s mad-scientist vision has truly come to fruition. Ultra-clean tapping riffs and complex chords get thrown around liberally, but despite Mena’s extraordinary technique, he manages to keep any “Look at me!” instincts at bay.

“I think the important thing is writing the melody and the hook first and kind of working in all the other techniques and all the other stuff,” Mena says. “I love all that stuff, but I feel like it’s hard to stand out when everyone’s focusing on chops. It’s a lot more fun to write really fun melodies and focus on that – and then work in all the other stuff.”

Instead, each display of electric guitar mastery serves to show off only Mena’s even more virtuosic sense of melody and kinetic rhythms, which may finally get guitar nerds to wiggle their butts as much as they do their fretting hands. The end result is a tight LP that’s as refreshing as a fruit salad on a hot summer day. 

That being said, for a few years, dancing was the last thing on most people’s minds. While many of us were locked up at home, marathoning Hulu shows and having anxiety attacks, Mena was concentrating on improving not just his shredding, but his production techniques. 

His practice is noticeable in Fruit Town, which despite being relatively minimalist (the band is just two guys, after all) can also sound enormous. With Standards planning on touring, recreating the sonic experience of the album will be a challenge Mena plans to meet with the help of backing tracks, but those tracks won’t be aimed at faking having another guitarist on stage. Rather, they’ll help capture the depth and fun weirdness that makes Fruit Town such a unique experience. 

“I think everyone had their own Covid story, but for me, I really just wanted to get better at adding layers in production,” Mena says.

“I think we live in an age where guitarists are really infusing production. It goes beyond typical backing-track stuff or adding any vocal harmonies or any extra guitars. It’s mostly about the other stuff, like the synths and the percussion and sound effects and stuff like that. I think it really elevates the band, as well as the entire album, to another level.”

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Adam Kovac

Adam is a freelance writer whose work has appeared, aside from Guitar World, in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Esquire and VICE. He spent many years in bands you've never heard of before deciding to leave behind the financial uncertainty of rock'n roll for the lucrative life of journalism. He still finds time to recreate his dreams of stardom in his pop-punk tribute band, Finding Emo.