Painting with Lyrics
On the second Saturday of each month from 6pm to 9pm, people gather at Crema coffee shop for the Songwriter Saturday Showcase. It’s a cozy affair. Crema’s large picture windows offer a view of The Alameda. A dark red Diedrich roaster sits in the corner, and twenty coffee dispensers filled with a variety of beans line one of the walls. Around the room, visitors enjoy their lattes and paninis while listening to the live acoustic music.
Founder Mardi Morillo started the showcases back in January 2016 with the intention of heightening the music culture of San Jose. “It’s not just out of town bands playing at the SAP Center,” Mardi says. “We have local music and a lot of earnest, smart songwriting here.” He chose Crema because of the freedom it extends to artists. “There’s no directive on-high,” Mardi explains. “You can build whatever you want to, so we have a nice little sandbox here.” After the first few months, Crema put up a poster for the event right next to their menu—a sign that the showcases were now a permanent staple.
Mardi’s good friend Israel Sanchez also lends a hand. He runs sound, while Mardi handles the booking and marketing. “He’s my close advisor, my best music man,” Mardi says of Israel. “I swear I always end up talking about him a lot because he’s my favorite person!” Both men often perform at the showcases. Mardi’s songs are pop acoustic, while Israel favors new age acoustic. “My stuff is more easy reference—like Ed Sheeran, but sadder. Israel’s style is almost like Nine Inch Nails meets Tears for Fears.”
Mardi’s inspiration for songwriting springs from personal struggles. A little over half a decade ago, Mardi lost vision in his right eye due to glaucoma. It was a dark time for him. One day, completely on a whim, Mardi became determined to learn John Mayer’s song “Stop This Train.” From there, he started learning guitar chords and writing his own songs. Because of his experiences, Mardi’s songs reflect hope in hopeless times. “I feel like good songs normally have a tension,” Mardi explains. “They can’t be all happy or all sad.” One of his more popular songs, “Third of December,” reflects this tension with an upbeat melody that doesn’t match the melancholy lyrics. “It’s about drinking too much and losing somebody. When we drink, we want to be happy. There’s that mask and illusion of joy, of levity.”
Both Mardi and Israel will be featured in the upcoming Songwriter Saturday Showcase on December 10, 2016 alongside The Singer and The Songwriter, Company Vacation, and Jake Wichman.
Written by Johanna Hickle
Photography by Daniel Garcia