Nate Mercereau is a songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who is building a success story in two different ways. First, he is a writer/producer who recently co-wrote two chart singles for Shawn Mendes: the Top 5 pop hit “If I Can’t Have You,” and “Lost in Japan.” He has also co-written several songs for Lizzo, Leon Bridges and other artists.
Second, Mercereau is a cutting-edge instrumental artist who has just released his debut album Joy Techniques, on his label, How So Records. This label is a new partnership with hit writer/producer Ricky Reed’s Nice Life Recording Company. Joy Techniques displays Mercereau’s more experimental music side, showcasing his unique guitar and guitar synth playing to create a jazz-influenced, instrumental production. This album was released on July 12, with a launch event at The Virgil club in Los Angeles, where Mercereau has a residency.
Now based in Los Angeles, Mercereau started his music career in the San Francisco Bay Area. He learned to play guitar, piano, bass, drums and French horn, and he landed a gig as the guitarist for renowned artist/drummer, Sheila E. He subsequently toured with her worldwide for four years, before deciding to focus on his studio session work. This eventually enabled him to develop his skills as a songwriter and record producer.
In addition to his writing & producing for Mendes, Mercereau co-wrote & produced five songs on Leon Bridges’ second album, Good Thing, including the singles “Bad Bad News” and “Beyond,” which were hits on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart. He also co-wrote & produced three songs on Lizzo’s hit album, Cuz I Love You, and he has co-written songs for Banks and R&B act, Rhye.
As a musician, Mercereau played on several cuts on Jay-Z’s acclaimed, platinum 2017 album, 4:44. He has also played guitar and toured with Rhye, Banks, Jennifer Hudson and Phillip Phillips.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Nate Mercereau. He tells how he got started as a musician, how he became a songwriter & producer, and he discusses his debut album, Joy Techniques.
DK: I read that you’re from Poway, CA (near San Diego) and you’re now based in Los Angeles. How did you get started as a musician?
Here’s the video of Shawn Mendes’ hit “If I Can’t Have You,”
which was co-written by Nate Mercereau.
Nate Mercereau: I was lucky to be supported by a public school music system, and I played saxophone in the school band. I also learned to play French horn, guitar, bass, piano and drums. Guitar is my main instrument.
DK: Early on, you played guitar in Sheila E’s band. How did you connect with her?
Mercereau: I had moved up to San Francisco to pursue a music career, and I got involved in everything (music-related). At first, I played restaurant gigs and local bars, and I taught guitar. Then I got involved playing in gospel choirs, R&B groups and jazz bands.
The Bay Area music scene is pretty tight-knit, and Sheila E. is a big presence there. Then I got the call to sub one time for Sheila’s band, and I held on to the gig for the next four years (laughs). It was a big opportunity for me, to get picked up by someone like Sheila and to learn from her. I became a better musician through my time with her. For the next four years, I toured with her, doing world tours and playing jazz festivals.
DK: During your years touring with Sheila E., did you also work on your songwriting & producing?
Mercereau: I was doing my own thing on the side, but for a long time I was first and foremost a guitarist. I was on the road supporting other people’s music, but I was also building a catalog quietly in the background.
DK: In terms of studio work and co-writing, what was your first break?
Mercereau: A few things happened simultaneously. I reconnected with a friend from the Bay, Ricky Reed (a top writer/producer), who’s in L.A now. We now do a ton of work together.
I was also working with No I.D., who a producer for Jay-Z and Jhene Aiko. I had the opportunity to play on Jay-Z’s 4:44 record. I was also involved with Ricky Reed’s project with Kesha, her Rainbow album. And I was working with a band called Rhye, and I toured with them and wrote a couple tunes with them for their record. Those things happened within a few months, and it showed me that I could make the transition from being a musician executing the music, to a musician who could create the music.
Here’s the video of Leon Bridges’ single “Beyond,” which was
co-written by Nate Mercereau.
DK: You recently co-wrote & produced the pop hit “If I Can’t Have You” by Shawn Mendes. How did you connect with Shawn and (hit songwriters) Teddy Geiger and Scott Harris, to write this song?
Mercereau: My connection to Shawn is through Teddy Geiger, who works closely with Shawn. I had written with Teddy for Leon Bridges’ record, and we became friends.
“If I Can’t Have You” was something that Shawn, Teddy and Scott Harris had previously written, and I came in and helped them finish that one…I helped massage some different chords and different guitar parts. This was at a session we did in the Hollywood Hills.
DK: You’ve also co-written & produced several songs for Lizzo and Leon Bridges. Can you talk about working with both artists?
Mercereau: Both of them are so talented…it almost doesn’t feel like work. That’s the same with Shawn, too. With Lizzo and Leon, these were projects that I did with Ricky Reed. The tracks that I was a part of, especially on the production and writing side, were tracks that I had made. On some of these songs we would already have a vocal melody, or we would have the lyrics. And we would try to match them to different tracks, and see if some magic happened by pushing them together. So that’s how those songs were created…they were like two separate creations put together.
There were sometimes minor or major work to do, to make the actual songs work together, because it’s very difficult to just have a track and have a vocal, and smash them on top of each other. So it felt like we were mixing a modern way to do things with a very classic way to do things. It was almost as if we were playing beats for people, but then we needed to make it a song more than just a beat. So then we would do surgery on the production to make it sound like a cohesive thing.
DK: Your debut solo album, Joy Techniques, is an instrumental record that you’ve released on your own label. What is your vision for the album?
Here’s the video of Nate Mercereau’s song, “Joy Techniques”
(feat. Terrace Martin).
Mercereau: The vision for my record and my label in general, is to do things that I just don’t see in the world right now, at least from my perspective here in L.A. There’s so many amazing musicians and people who have their own ideas, and I wanted a place to have specific things that [go beyond the world of pop music]. Specifically, I want to make high-level, complex music, but I’m not interested in making music that goes over peoples’ heads. I want to invite people to the party. I want to make music that is compelling instrumentally, that can also bridge the gap that I see when people talk about pop music versus jazz. There doesn’t need to be a disparity between those two worlds.
DK: I read that for your album, you play guitar and guitar synth, but you don’t play keyboards. Is that correct?
Mercereau: Yes. On this particular record, I wanted it to be all guitar-based. Guitar is my main instrument—it’s what I really found my voice on. And I discovered these guitar synthesizers…they were making them in the late ‘70s for a few years. The guitar synths didn’t catch on in the mainstream, but there are a few relics out there that I discovered, and I really wanted to make a record specifically with these instruments. Everything that you hear on the album is a guitar or a guitar synthesizer.
DK: With your label, How So Records, have you signed other artists?
Mercereau: Yes, I have a few records in the can and ready to go. We’re starting on an experimental side of things. We have some more instrumental, guitar-based music coming out, and some spatial, multi-speaker, generative music that we’re working. So we’re coming from the experimental angle, with goals to take this as far we can take it. We can take it into the pop realm if we want to, but the idea is for it to always be left-of-center.
DK: In addition to your artist career and label, are you also in the studio writing and producing songs for other artists?
Mercereau: Definitely. I will be going back in [to collaborate] with Shawn Mendes, and we’re also working on Leon Bridges’ next record. I love working with other artists for their records, as well as working on my own projects as an artist.