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Mustard Service On New Album: ‘Art Should Speak for Itself’

Miami-based zest pop rockers to perform at Ottobar in Baltimore on Oct. 3

Mustard Service discuss their new album, Variety Pack, and upcoming DMV show.

Mustard Service pose around a urinal in a vintage bathroom for a press photo shoot.
Mustard Service - Press Photo - Courtesy of Evan Garcia

It all began with an ambitious college dropout.

As a teenager, Marco Rivero, lead vocalist and guitarist of Miami-based zest pop five-piece Mustard Service, found himself on a journey of self-discovery, and initially, his quest led him down unfruitful and potentially destructive paths.

“When I was 18, I was kind of fucking up my life,” Rivero explained. “I hadn’t done my best in high school, didn’t care much for college, and I was doing too many drugs for an 18-year-old, so my parents decided to ship me off to another country not as a punishment, but as a way to try to give me new perspectives through  which I would hopefully find a purpose or path in my life that didn’t end in rehab or jail.”

Rivero experienced culture shock when he arrived to Germany, his new residence, and the language barrier did not help. He recalls attending German class for a few hours daily, and then, either hanging out with his “one friend,” Leon Von Uhrenson, or making music.

“I would prop myself up on a street corner and busk for the rest of the day or until I had enough money for a kebab,” said Rivero. “I would play mostly covers for as long as I could, but eventually, I built up enough confidence to start writing my own songs.”

One of these songs, “Taking Up Space,” penned in the comfort of Marco Rivero’s Floridian backyard after he had returned from his year-long stint in Germany, immediately began to make waves. The 2017 single eventually went viral. It feels safe to say that Rivero’s parents’ plan worked out quite well.

Many of Rivero’s early songs were inspired by a love interest in his hometown who would Skype him (pre-FaceTime) until they both fell asleep.

“Very cute at surface level, I know,” said Rivero. “This was the kind of relationship where we would both break contact and find new partners only to come back to each other, and ‘Taking Up Space’ was a way for me to express to her that although I wished I could let her go, she would always have a place in my heart.”

Now, three albums, one EP, and eight singles in, Mustard Service has amassed a loyal following since their starts in 2015. Their music features an eclectic mix of indie rock, surf, funk, jazz, and bossa nova – self-described as “zest pop.” The band consists of Marco Rivero (lead vocals, guitar), Gabriel “Nunchi” Marinuchi (guitar), Augusto “Tuto” Di Catarina (bass, vocals), Leo “Big Guy” Cattani (keys), and Adam Rhodes (drums).

Each member of Mustard Service is a proud descendant of Latino immigrants, and audiences sense an authentic brotherhood among the band.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say that the Latin part of our identity is really important to us,” said Rivero, noting that Mustard Service consists of an amalgamation of Uruguayan, Argentinian, Cuban, and Mexican backgrounds.

“The great thing about Latin America is that throughout cultures, these hundreds of millions of people seem to have extremely similar cultures and customs, which naturally lubricates the connection between all of us (even, you Brazil, moito obrigado).”

Mustard Service poses with cigarettes in hand for a fun photo shoot.
Mustard Service - Press Photo - Courtesy of Evan Garcia.

Mustard Service’s latest album, Variety Pack, which dropped on Aug. 4 via ONErpm, is an impressive work of art that merits an uninterrupted listen from start to finish. The expert musicianship of the band is evident throughout the entire album but not once in a bombastic way.

Each composition is layered with warmth and accessibility that unites listeners from all backgrounds – English, Spanish, you name it – around the strange and wondrous reality that is life. Instruments range from guitar, bass, keys, and drums to charango and cuica.

Two of my personal favorites, “Baby It’s Scary” and “All or Nothing,” explore the concept of vulnerability and learning to embrace the entirety of ourselves and the people we love.

“We all have an idealized sense of what a lover should be, and I think maturity is coming to terms with shattering that illusion,” Rivero explains about “Baby It’s Scary.” “On the other hand, knowing someone has an idealized version of you can be scary when you look back at all the skeletons in your closet that they’re always bound to find.”

Variety Pack is the first Mustard Service album that showcases songwriting from multiple members of the band. Guitarist Gabriel Marinuchi composed the delicate and bittersweet downtempo track, “All Or Nothing,” and the story behind the song that crosses generations, realms, and lived experiences makes it even more poignant.

Marinuchi was inspired to write “All Or Nothing” after visiting an uncle who was fighting the reoccurrence of a brain tumor. Marinuchi’s uncle sadly passed away. “He was the coolest and I loved him very much,” Marinuchi shared. The song began as an instrumental voice memo. “Music came out, but I didn’t really have any lyrics, so the voice memo just stayed chilling on my phone for like two years.”

Further down the road, Marinuchi experienced “a pretty short situationship” with someone he really liked that did not work out. He turned to music to process the complex emotions surrounding the end of the relationship.

“I remembered that old voice memo, and I just looped it on GarageBand, and then just kind of did a bit of a ‘freewriting’ exercise, mumbling and scribbling words and narrowed down the ones I thought sounded best together,” he explained. The result is absolutely stunning.

Cause it’s you

Tell me that you feel it too

Cause it’s all or nothing when it leads to something

Marco Rivero, who has managed the majority of songwriting for the band in the past, says that the collaborative nature of Variety Pack alleviated the pressure for him to single-handedly write an entire album.

“It’s hard for me to write songs if I’m being honest, or better yet, it’s easy when it’s easy but impossible when it’s hard,” said Rivero. “The good songs kind of come in an hour, or a day at most, but when you feel like you have to write another tune so that we can release an album of 10 or 13 songs, it feels more like a product and less like an expression, which can be fine don’t get me wrong, I love a pop song as much as the next guy, but I think you can always tell the difference.”

Gabriel Marinuchi was tickled by the fact that his bandmates voted on a number of his songs for the album, including “All Or Nothing,” as well as groovy coastal track, “Alolé,” and melancholy instrumental piano ballad, “Song for Marco.”

“None of those songs were made with the intention of being on a Mustard Service record,” Marinuchi shared. “For the most part, I made the original instrumental demo for ‘Alolé’ thinking if Adam would like it, and it was an accident that it’s in Spanish. ‘A Song for Marco’ is a sad song for the sad boy Marco.”

On YouTube, a doting fan comments jokingly on “Alolé,” “I have no idea what any of this means, but I’ve been listening to this since it came out,” adding that the song is “certified banger.”

Smokey, cat of Marco Rivero, sleeps on desk while Rivero writes his song.
Smokey, Marco Rivero's cat, sleeps on desk while Rivero writes his song - Photo Courtesy of Marco Rivero.

While Mustard Service ponders occasional weighty themes in their music, there is an unmistakable playfulness in the band’s vibe, as evidenced by their behind-the-scenes content in addition to the music videos for songs like the funk-inspired “(Your Cat) Don’t Stand a Chance,” an amusing celebration of Marco Rivero’s beloved cat, Smokey. The music video is genius and a must-watch.

Per Rivero, the curious juxtaposition between the youthful energy of the band’s aesthetic and the whimsical maturity of their music is not by accident.

“Although we take making music very seriously, we don’t necessarily take ourselves nearly as serious,” he explained. “I think a lot of artists might want to take themselves seriously as artists so that people take their art seriously, but the way I see it, the art should speak for itself, and anytime an artist’s ego seems inflated because of their art, that’s really just overcompensation and coping. Like the fake macho who drives a Hummer.”

When asked for the biggest takeaway that Mustard Service wants audiences to gain from Variety Pack, Rivero replied, “Listen to more styles of music. I’m all for having a ‘sound,’ but exploring different elements in genres, there’s so much good shit out there you might be missing because you think you ‘don’t like reggaeton.’”

Catch the band performing live on Oct. 3 at Ottobar in Baltimore, Maryland, for what promises to be an exciting evening that is not to be missed. Rivero said that DMV fans should “expect the unexpected” and come prepared to create something of untamed beauty together.

“We’ve played twice at Songbyrd in D.C. and sold out both shows if I’m not mistaken,” said Rivero. “This will be our first show in Baltimore, so I hope the crowd is just as nutty as it was in D.C.”

Cynthia Gross

Cynthia Gross is a freelance writer and award-winning spiritual pop artist based in Maryland. With more than a decade of experience as an executive ghostwriter, she understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.

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