MERCH - "Ten Quetzales" (audio) (premiere)

by Jonathan Frahm

2 October 2017

MERCH offers up progressive indie rock featuring a 30-piece symphony orchestra on "Ten Quetzales".
Photo: Parker Day 

“I write much better when I put myself in unfamiliar surrounds,” says Joe Medina, the man behind the ever-ambitious orchestral rock of MERCH. “So when it was time to begin composing songs for what was to become the new album, Amour Bohemian, Guatemala became my workspace for a month.”

Spanning just over six minutes in length, “Ten Quetzales” is the latest tune that Medina is releasing from off of his impending record. It might be a long track, but it never drags. Rather, it consistently evolves throughout a bevy of influences ranging from golden era jazz, to symphonic orchestral composition, to rock ‘n’ roll.
“Ten Quetzales” alone is a song that defines Medina as a modern troubadour. Its development has seen him travel to California, Guatemala, and the Czech Republic.

MERCH says, “While I (and my lover at the time) explored parts of the country, like Lake Atitlan and the pyramids and temples of Tikal, the bulk of our stay was in Ciudad Vieja, a ten-minute scooter ride from Antigua.

“On most mornings, before we would venture into the village, I would sit in the sun with my portable recording device, and write. I would do so under the watch of three volcanoes in my eye view—Fuego, Agua, and Acetenango. ‘Ten Quetzales’ is a snapshot of my time there. I’ve found that Guatemala is a place of poetry.

“Quetzales are the currency of Guatemala and ten quetzales equals about a dollar and change. The subject of the song is my spin on a classic romantic trope—having next to no money but being so into someone that, at least for that night, it doesn’t matter.

“The song was recorded in multiple places. The orchestral parts were in Prague, the rhythm tracks at Greg Ashley’s studio in Oakland, the vocals and lead stuff at Lolipop in L.A., and the mixing at Chris Porro’s in San Francisco.

“My two most distinctive memories of tracking the song are both from the sessions in L.A. I remember Matt Adams of the Blank Tapes coming in to do the extended solo on the outro and being a total workhorse for being willing to do take after take until we got it just right. I also remember my cousin Madison coming in and doing harmony vocals with me and the assistant engineer, Andrew. We all struggled to keep our chill and focus on getting the parts right while singing into a mic that a sizable cockroach was hanging out on.”=

“Musically, I think the song draws from a bit of Bacharach, a little Hazlewood, some ‘70s AM gold, and then all the drama starts/stops, the pregnant pauses, from the large marimba bands I would hear at the village street festivals.”

Amour Bohemian releases on 3 November.

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