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San Antonio musicians dedicate jazz-infused conceptual album to last year's winter freeze

Musicians Brandon Guerra and Nick Mery pose for their new album "DEATHBLOOM"
Nick Mery
Musicians Brandon Guerra and Nick Mery pose for their new album "DEATHBLOOM"

The album was released on the anniversary of the storm, which left many areas of Texas without power and water.

Paying homage to the losses and struggles endured from last year’s winter snowstorm that left many areas of Texas without power and water, San Antonio-native musicians Brandon Guerra and Nick Mery — who also goes by the stage name “Merykid” — present a new collaborative album. This lo-fi, jazz-infused, electronic conceptual album titled “DEATHBLOOM” is named after the death bloom flower found on Agave plants right before their freezing death.

“DEATHBLOOM” acknowledges the uncertainties and insecurities of last year’s unexpected weather when thousands of Texans were greatly affected. The “instrumental interpretation” incorporates excerpts of news stories, personal anecdotes, all layered within sounds of synth manipulation and live jazz instrumentations on top of lo-fi beats.

Guerra is a full-time musician and gigs at Jazz, TX alongside owner Doc Watkins, who invited him to play. Recognized by his experimental soundscapes, Mery, is a renowned producer, who released his album “Exit Music” back in 2020. Guerra and Mery met in high school where they were in a band together. Years later, they came to partnership during the pandemic, holding intimate jam sessions to express themselves through music.

With multi-instrumentalist Guerra on drums and piano and Mery producing and singing vocals, they spontaneously created their first single "Cold" in one session. They continued their momentum and contrived “DEATHBLOOM.” The album dropped on Tuesday, Feb. 15 — on the one-year anniversary of the unprecedented snowstorm.

Album cover for "DEATHBLOOM"
Brandon Guerra and Merykid
Album cover for "DEATHBLOOM"

Jiawen Chen: What were some challenges you experienced during the freeze that led to creativity for the album?

Nick Mery: When Brandon and I first got together (in the session that would eventually lead to recording our first song), we discussed our mutual sadness over the death of so many plants — I personally lost a tangerine tree that I loved dearly. A death bloom is the act of a local Texas plant blooming one last time after dying, and we both found that imagery to be perfect for the spiritual muse of the album.

JC: Can you tell me about the first song that you made?

Brandon Guerra: The song is titled “Cold” and it just came together super quickly. That's also when we first hung out, we were talking about the winter snowstorm from February of 2021 and how much it impacted him and how much it impacted me. And it was really tough for my wife and I. We lost power and we had a pipe burst into our house, so we didn't have water for like five days. Oh yeah, it was below freezing inside of our house. And we just were like, “Man, we have this like shared trauma.” And that kind of became the theme through the music that we were making, which I thought was really cool. You know that we weren't just making love songs about girls and broken hearts. Just how much it kind of affected us.

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JC: How do you describe the style and sound of "DEATHBLOOM"?

NM: The genre: lofi/electronic/jazz. The intention: a concept record intended to describe the feelings of cynicism and helplessness of being left to die by the Texas government, contrasted against the overwhelming beauty of a once-in-a-lifetime snowstorm.

BG: It pulls from a lot of different genres of music, but some of the songs are more beat-driven and they have elements like hip hop with some jazz chords. But then towards the end of the album, it kind of loses the depth ceiling and it goes into the ambient side of things with lots of synthesizers and tech. Sure, you know, swirling kind of soundscapes. It's a mix of like jazz influences, with electronica, with ambient and and hip hop and just all kinds of different stuff.

JC: What is "DEATHBLOOM" to you personally and what have you experienced since putting together this album (emotionally)?

NM: "DEATHBLOOM" to me personally is an almost identical metaphor to my musical career. With my last record, "Exit Music," I had decided to quit music and releasing albums. "DEATHBLOOM" the record, much like a plant's natural death bloom, has given me one more chance after death to create something.

One of the many instruments Guerra plays are the drums.
Brandon Guerra
One of the many instruments Guerra plays are the drums.

JC: So when you and Nick did come together, what time was that like? 

BG: In the summertime, I think we started working on this music back in June or July, which is actually kind of comical because it was so hot outside. And we were writing music where the lyrics are about it being so cold outside. So it was kind of ironic that we were working on this stuff throughout the summertime, but we kept working on it all the way. I think we finished recording in December, so we were working on it pretty regularly from summer through the winter.

JC: Both of you put the same amount of work on top of whatever else you were doing...

BG: Yeah, I mean, I was still playing gigs at Jazz, TX every weekend, and I play at a church out in Boerne every Sunday. So I still had all my regular gigs and everything, and we really just kind of stuck to the schedule of getting together once a week and we would hang out for several hours and just work on it. And that worked really well for us that there were some weeks we'd get together twice that week or three times. But most of the time we just stuck to this schedule of doing it once a week. I actually played all of the instruments on the recording. So I'm playing piano and drums, synthesizers.

JC: Since this album is going to be released Tuesday on the 15th, it must have taken quite some time since the summer. So how did y'all continuously stay motivated and get new ideas for the music? 

BG: Yeah, I think so. It's interesting because I've worked on albums before where you record the whole thing in one day and you just go into the studio and you record 12 songs in an afternoon. But I think this was kind of nice because we recorded everything at my home studio. It was nice because we didn't have this pressure of like, we've got to get this done right now. We just kind of knew that each week we'd be able to check in and slowly just keep chipping away at this project. We did have a deadline and that deadline was the one year anniversary of the snowstorm. So it has to come out at the same time one year later. And so that was always part of the plan. It helped us to stay on track because sometimes if you don't have a deadline, you can have these open ended projects that will just be open ended for four years, you know? But having a deadline of February kept us on schedule.

JC: So would you say this album is political or is trying to tell a certain type of message? 

BG: Yeah, definitely. I got to be careful saying it's political, right, because it's like maybe some people are going to get really offended or take it the wrong way, but I think so. I think that that's a big part of this. When I heard that Ted Cruz was trying to go to Cancun, you know, and I'm like sitting in my house and my dogs are shaking and we didn't have any food or water and it was just so cold. Maybe they'll post it in the actual story. We're all struggling so much. And these are the people who are elected to be our leaders. And they're just literally trying to go to Mexico to have a vacation during this time. I had a lot of frustration, as I'm sure many, many people did. It was a massive event for the state of Texas. I think at the peak of the snowstorm, there was like 4.5 million people that didn't have power, which is just crazy to me (for) a state as big as Texas and you know, Texans are proud people. We like Texas. We're like, Yeah, I'm from Texas. I just didn't know that it was so fragile and that something like a storm could (happen) just all of a sudden. It's like, well, I can't charge my phone anymore, and I can't use the bathroom in my house. Yeah, it just was crazy.

The 11-track album "DEATHBLOOM" can be heard on Spotify and Bandcamp.

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Jia Chen is a freelance journalist and photographer for Texas Public Radio. She began with TPR working as the Bexar County selected Summer Arts Intern in 2021. Her coverage includes arts & culture, technology, politics, and more. She holds a BA in Communication from University of Texas at San Antonio and has lived in San Antonio for over 20 years.