More Than Logic: An Interview with Meris
When Terry Burton made the choice to quietly leave Strymon Engineering in late 2012, it was because he wanted to find his own way.
“Once you have your own company, you get to set your own direction,” he says. “That was the main focus and inspiration. It was just to go on a path and follow our passions — things we were unable to do at the places we worked before.”
The plurality of that statement includes Terry’s wife, Jinna Kim.
Never an official member of the Strymon team, Jinna has an extensive background in design and, according to Terry, was responsible for the overarching brand development and graphic identity of every Strymon pedal up until the time he left. But it was his leaving that made space for new opportunities — most notably, of course, Meris.
Which brings us to the third and final character in this story, Angelo Mazzocco.
Also a ex-Line 6 developer, Angelo engineered some of the most successful pedals of the past two decades but, like Terry, was looking for a change.
“On the product side at Line 6, I was always working on someone else’s product direction,” he explains. “But being able to make products I wanted to make was always important to me, so around the end of 2013 I was talking with Terry, and around the same time Line 6 also sold to Yamaha — so I mean, I think it was a good break for me to build something new.”
Interestingly, Angelo also lays claim to the title of Terry’s favorite DSP guy. Like, ever.
“We knew each other for years,” Terry says. “We worked together at Line 6 and always just clicked. We were always friends and kept in touch. And when the opportunity to work with my favorite programmer and my favorite artist came along — that just seemed like a perfect situation to me.”
And that’s it — the Meris three.
“What sets us apart is experience. The three of us all are flexible and wear a ton of hats, but in each of our fields we have a ton of background and experience,” Angelo says. “So when you get an electrical design from Terry, you can be sure it’s super clean. When you get artwork from Jinna, it’s world-class work. And for me, I’ve really dedicated most of my life to guitar effects and developing DSP. There’s only three of us, but we bring tons of expertise to the table.”
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Terry uses the phrase rōnin to describe how Meris works best: drifting warriors, each specializing in their own craft. Yet, when it comes to new product ideas — what things will look like and how they will sound and function — there’s an innate sense of collaboration that bleeds into everything from the creative dynamic to how the company operates.
They talk about following their muses the way poets and painters do, which makes sense when you consider the intentionality they put into fusing art and engineering.
“We’re always wanting to do our own thing, not specifically looking for a niche or a market,” Terry says. “We kind of do what we feel like doing — what we want to do. The real goal is to create effects that are not “me too” effects. We want to create effects that solve a specific problem we have and that are musical instruments in and of themselves. Something you can’t operate unless you have that specific piece of gear to accomplish the sound.”
Though Meris is still a nascent company, Terry explains how each product was uniquely inspired.
"The 440 Mic Pre — the first Meris product — that was independently developed by me. I wanted to get effects into the pro audio world, so that was kind of a personal project. I love pro audio gear and I really like the 500 Series, so I wanted a way to bring effects into that world — which is why I put the FX loop in it. I also wanted to make something that was really useful for recording guitar because something I did all the time. Everything else after that just followed a little bead of an idea. For example, the first Ottobit 500 Series rack was all because we grew up with the Sega Genesis and Commodore 64 and loved 80s video games. We wanted a way to make those sounds from standard audio. The most successful unit has been the Mercury7 Reverb, because not a lot of high end hardware reverbs exist anymore. It’s hardware, it’s not a plug-in. Everybody in the 80s had a Lexicon 224 sitting on top of their mixing board, so we’re sort of filling that void.”
Filling voids led them toward developing a pedalboard-friendly, live performance-oriented stompbox platform to encapsulate some of their pro audio concepts — but Terry says that wasn’t originally the intent.
“There’s wasn’t a plan to do the racks first and then the pedals,” he says. “That wasn’t really the idea. It was more like, they serve different purposes, so what better fits the application?”
As it stands today, the Meris catalog is still a bit thin — though, thick with adulation from users and reviewers alike — and features a pair of rack unit and stompbox trios.
Terry says that Meris’ Mercury7 Reverb was the first to be converted and was “a pretty obvious one to implement in a pedal format once we decided to create a pedal platform.”
And though the hardware is completely different, that one shares the most similarity with its rackmounted ancestor.
“The rack reverbs are mono-in, mono-out, because of the format of 500 Series,” Angelo says. “But they have a linking cable where you can chain them together. So with the 500 Series, in the studio world, you get these ultra high quality, dedicated dual mono halves and that serve a really good purpose. The pedals are different. They do stereo ins and outs in a different way because they have their own native stereo. So we made tweaks for the pedal to make it for guitar stereo rigs.”
The Ottobit Crusher also exists in both a 500 Series and pedal platform, while the guitar-centered 440 Mic Preamp and Meris’ most recent effort, a dreamscape soundtrack-worthy delay called the Polymoon, stand alone in rackmount and pedal format, respectively.
“The Polymoon is very much based on a stereo system and the 500 Series is mono obviously, so that’s a little bit of unique one for us and we haven’t quite decided on it yet,” Angelo says.
But the word around Meris HQ is that the future is teeming with new design prospects, because even though the current effect landscape may seem like it has a lot of saturation, the Meris team sees a world of opportunities.
“There are places where people haven’t gone before, or looked before or explored,” Terry says. “And we don’t want to be predictable as far as what we’re going to put out next. We have a bunch of stuff cooking, but our main focus isn’t to be predictable or like anyone else.”
This passion for unpredictability may be what drives Meris forward, but the most interesting thing about the company is the way its founders talk about their products.
They don’t think of what they create as extras, add-ons or accessories — let alone refer to them that way. They’re instruments. Each one, they feel, brings depth and adds something all their own as an elemental extension of the player, much like a traditional instrument would.
“If you have a really inspiring instrument, it pulls something out of you as a musician,” Angelo says. “If you have a guitar you really connect with, or an organ that you really connect with, or a keyboard or drumset that pulls something out of you that’s really personal — where you have a connection with it — that’s how I want our effects to occur. They should pull something out of you and create an experience more that just what you’re bringing to the table.”
This approach is of the utmost importance, because it instills within each Meris product a voice that reflects both the creator’s inspiration and its ability to create inspiration of its own design.
“In a world where you see a lot of things that don’t feel as inspired, it’s important for Meris products to have their own voice,” Angelo says. “There’s so much undiscovered territory in music in general — such a wide range of places to go that really haven’t been explored yet — and we want to help bring that to all: guitar players, musicians, studio musicians. We want to have all those tools at their disposal to push music in an interesting way.”
For more with Meris, visit meris.us
Note: This interview was originally featured in Distortion LTD