Joshua Merello is a self-taught musician whose solo acoustic guitar music represents "a reflection of my own state of mind: the depression and anxiety that most of us tend to deal with, and the joy of living that comes from growing beyond a mental illness." With his first album, Equilibrium, Merello creates contemplative music for chaotic times. It is a pleasure to share an interview with Joshua Merello about his musical background, touring and creative process.
You describe yourself as a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. How many instruments do you play? What got you started with playing music?
I started playing music when I was around 13 years old. My family always had a guitar lying around the house, and my older brother's friends would jam on it when they'd visit. As soon as I heard them play a couple Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin riffs, I was hooked. I still have plenty of fun in my free time playing rock music, but classical/Latin guitar gives me life. Guitar is my primary focus, but I also play mandolin, ukulele, and banjo.
Tell us about your first album, Equilibrium. How did this album come about? What did you learn from the recording process that you’ll bring to future projects?
My first album, Equilibrium, came about pretty fluidly. A little backstory though: my father was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2017, and during his chemotherapy treatments, I would play classical guitar pieces to put his mind at ease. I created a few of my own pieces on the spot, and saw the impact it had on his mental well being. From there, I wrote down the music I just created, which turned into my album. Six pieces representing the highs and lows of life. The music is a reflection of my own state of mind: the depression and anxiety that most of us tend to deal with, and the joy of living that comes from growing beyond a mental illness or episode. Life is a balance, hence the title Equilibrium.
The recording process is arduous. Easily my least favorite aspect of music creation. No matter how many times I've performed a song, as soon as the recording button is pressed, I'm bound to make dozens of mistakes. What I continue to learn with recording is that the best take happens when you're able to clear that self-imposed mental hurdle. What helps me get over that hurdle is to hit record and play the entire song in one take. It forces me to continue on with the song, even after hitting the wrong note(s). Afterwards, I delete that take, and record again, this time focusing on one part at a time.
What inspired the meditation-focused aspect of Equilibrium?
I'm glad you mention the music as being meditation-focused, because that's what it truly is. I touched on the reflective sate of the music in the last question, but to expand on that, I want the listener to focus inward when they're listening to my music. I believe in the importance of paying attention to those subconscious thoughts that rise up when you're listening to music. Sometimes it's a direct reflection of the tone of the music itself, while other times it's your mind telling you to pay closer attention to the things happening in your life, both positive and negative. We're constantly surrounded by noise and distractions - our phones, TV, etc. - and I'd like this album to serve as a small reminder that it's okay to slow down and process the world around you.
You’re also a touring performer. What have been some of your most memorable experiences on the road?
I absolutely love being on the road. My favorite aspect of touring is being able to meet and connect with complete strangers simply due to a shared love of music. The first time someone bought my music (outside of my own friends and family) was the most surreal experience to this date. I don't create music with the purpose of making money, but for my music to resonate with a stranger so much that they wanted to purchase my album was incredibly humbling.
One of my other favorite moments occurred in Gilbert, Arizona. I was playing my own classical rendition of Metallica's "One", when a couple teenagers walked in wearing Metallica shirts. I saw their eyes light up as soon as they recognized the song. That brought me so much joy. I could picture myself at their age wearing my Master of Puppets shirt everywhere I could. That little experience served as a good reminder that music is timeless.
What new music are you currently raving about?
I can't get enough of Bombino. He's a guitarist/songwriter from Niger. He's revolutionizing the electric guitar again. Favorite song: Tehigren.
Another favorite of mine is Rodrigo y Gabriela. They're a flamenco/rock guitar duo from Mexico. They've been a major influence in my playing style, and I've had their newest album Mettavolution on repeat since day one. Favorite song: Electric Soul.
Lastly, I have to share my love for the Black Pumas, a soul/rock band from Texas. I saw them at Record Bar and was blown away. Favorite song: Black Moon Rising.
Joshua Merello's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. This is a lost-in-the-woods survival story focused on how, with the right mindset, we are capable of accomplishing incredible things when faced with difficulties. I love being outdoors, and I firmly believe we can learn more about ourselves when we're alone in nature, than in any other environment.
Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. On the surface, it's a refreshing, fun, and gruesome story of vampires. But what I love about this book so much is how it delves into bullying, and how we all have to come to terms with our own identities whether we fit in or not.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This is one of the first books I remember reading in high school that actually got me interested in reading as a hobby, rather than a homework assignment. Vonnegut always questioned the way our collective society worked and thought, in order to learn and grow in his own life. That mindset remains an important pillar in my life.
Party Of One by Anneli S Rufus. I am a very social person, but I absolutely love doing things by myself. I travel by myself, go to concerts by myself, etc. Each time I do something alone, I learn more about myself and the world around me. In this book, Anneli Rufus chronicles some of her life's journey of doing things solo. This book was a great reminder to live in whatever way makes you happiest, even if it doesn't fit into a certain societal norm.
Darth Bane: Path Of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn. Outside of the films, this is my favorite Star Wars story. It tells the story of a young man escaping his abusive, alcoholic father, coming to terms with his past, and creating a new life for himself. What I've always loved about Star Wars is how they're able to convey very relatable stories and themes under the guise of taking place in another galaxy, far, far away.