By Nicholas Jason Lopez
With catchy pop anthems like “Ride,” “Heathens” and “Stressed Out,” Twenty One Pilots’ ‘Blurryface’ album bridged the duo from indie darlings to a household name, so much so that it inspired a new wave of artists that have emerged in the now-christened “Covid Era.”
One such is MNERVA, who had actually composed a musical theatre parody of the album entitled “Blurryface: The Musical,” but any dashes of hope from his popular trailer were evaporated when he received a cease-and-desist letter and the project was no more.
Never deterred, MNERVA – known for his fusion of rock, trap and musical theatre influences within the realm of conventional hip-hop – recently dropped his full-length debut EP ‘Talk Too Much,’ notable for its emotional singles like the quarantine-induced “Stuck” and life-questioning “Quarter Life Crisis.”
For this release that was five years in the making, MNERVA worked with Nashville producer Andrew Gomez (Lost Stars, John Harvie), co-writer/musician Kory Shore and singer CYPRSS (“The Interview”).
The Music Bugle had the opportunity to talk to MNERVA about his career and more.
Music Bugle – What initially inspired your idea for the ‘Blurryface’-inspired Musical and how do you think it would’ve been received had it not been squashed?
MNERVA – Back in 2015, I first discovered Twenty One Pilots and instantly fell in love with the band and their ridiculously unique sound. I remember distinctly listening to the final song on ‘Blurryface,’ “Goner” and instantly seeing the ending to a musical in my head. Even though I had never written a script before, I decided to pursue the idea and created a story by following Tyler Joseph’s lyrics to my ending for “Goner.” Had the show been endorsed by Twenty One Pilots, I actually think it could have been well-received by general audiences, who were unaware of the lore behind the band. I definitely took some liberties with the source material and there was a subsection of their fans that did not enjoy my changes, but I believe that I wrote an incredible story about learning how to overcome mental illness and I would have loved to take that story to the stage.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
MNERVA – Right now, I’ve been very into grandson, Mike Shinoda, Jon Bellion, Joyner Lucas, NF, Bring Me The Horizon and AJR, as well as less well-known acts such as CYPRSS, Bilmuri and Marianas Trench. I’m also very into theatre as well, so I play the “Hamilton,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Rent” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” soundtracks on repeat all the time.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about being a creator?
MNERVA – I love long-form storytelling, so getting to work on a cohesive record/musical excites me every day. I love having musical motifs and references come back around in my music and I love nothing more than developing a records’ track listing – in my opinion, track order is so important for a good listening experience. I also love being able to write something that people can relate to and having people reach out to me saying that my music touched them motivates me every day to keep going and push through the constant self-doubt.
Music Bugle – Musically speaking, what’s something that you’ve been working on to improve lately?
MNERVA – Being a drummer first, melody and harmony were not parts of my musical education, so everyday, I’ve been working hard to get better at writing catchy melodies and unique chord progressions. I really miss singing, so getting better at melody is allowing me to finally sing on record again.
Music Bugle – How did you get to decide the “MNERVA” name and stylization?
MNERVA – I decided to be an artist while I was working a sub-par desk job at a guitar shop. On my last day, I didn’t know where my life was headed and then the song “Minerva” by Deftones came on my shuffle. I really listened into the song’s instrumental and absolutely fell in love with the track’s atmospheric synths and shoegaze guitars. I thought, “What if someone took these sounds and fused it with trap drums?” In that moment, I knew I had found my sound and then discovered that Minerva is the Roman Goddess of wisdom. I decided to adopt the moniker in order to share my story and turn the conventional wisdom of rock and hip hop on its head. From there, I dropped the “I” because I loved the way the “MN” looked next to each other. It’s great, though, because I’m the only MNERVA out there!
Music Bugle – “Stuck” was one of the earliest glimpses that we got of ‘Talk Too Much.’ What in particular was your goal for that song?
MNERVA – Before “Stuck,” I hadn’t put out music in eight months, so that song was my way to get back on the music release grind and say to my fans that I’m still here. I also used the song to finally fully showcase my singing voice and let my listeners know that my music’s going to get darker before I released ‘Talk Too Much’ this fall. Hearing that people have related to the song has been extremely validating and I’m excited to release more songs that talk about my struggle with my mental health in the near future.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
MNERVA – The pandemic was both the best and worst thing to happen to me personally. I open up about it a lot on “Stuck,” but the isolation caused me to be alone with my thoughts without distractions for the first time ever and I hit my lowest rock bottom. I started drinking way too much and didn’t recognize who I was becoming, because I was always defined by a strong work ethic, but I had lost all of motivation to do anything. I also lost all of my momentum as MNERVA and felt like I had to completely start over as an artist, but on the positive side, I got to see my flaws firsthand and decided to fix them. I started therapy right after writing “Stuck” and months later, I am so proud of my progress and feel like I completely different person. Finally, I started a relationship at the very beginning of the lockdown and I don’t think our lives would have ever properly lined up had the world not forced us to slow down. I still wish that the pandemic didn’t happen, but I truly believe I’m coming out of it a better person who’s more equipped to handle life’s challenges than I was before the world ended.
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
MNERVA – Had I been asked this a year ago, I would have told you that social media only hurts artists in the long run, but since the rise of TikTok and more organic forms of engagement online, I can now say that it’s a fantastic tool to find communities of like-minded people and get your music heard by the right audience. I think social media becomes dangerous for artists when their life becomes defined by the medium. It’s so easy to quantify love thoughts likes, but if social media is used as a tool instead of as a means for validation, I believe that is a method for artists to get heard.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
MNERVA – When I need to take a break, I go on long walks and call my friends and family from back home. That, or I start playing chess online to clear my head. Nothing feels more powerful than decimating a stranger’s pieces from across the world!