SF State Music alum collaborates, tours with André 3000 on guitar

Author: Matt Itelson
March 11, 2024
Nate site with a guitair with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background

Multi-instrumentalist Nate Mercereau has collaborated with pop stars like Lizzo, Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd 

When hip-hop legend and actor André “3000” Benjamin released an album by surprise last fall, he was not the only multi-hyphenate involved. San Francisco State University alumnus Nate Mercereau is a member of the nine-time Grammy winner’s ensemble on the album, “New Blue Sun,” and on tour.  

Mercereau (B.Music, ’10) is in a different universe of guitarists. He uses an electric guitar, a guitar synthesizer and a Midi-guitar.  

“He hardly ever sounds like he’s playing guitar, but he’s an awesome guitarist,” Benjamin, of the hip-hop group OutKast, told National Public Radio. “He’s kind of like a magician in a way.” 

On stage, Mercereau samples the band’s live performance by hand, using Abelton software to record a loop of sound, creating an in-the-moment composition. This improvisational technique creates a new sound with every note.  

“I have a microphone going directly into the sampler, and I also plug my own guitar into the sampler,” Mercereau says. “I’m either sampling the sound of the group live with me, or I’m sampling myself live. ... The sample becomes my ‘instrument,’ pitched all up and down the fretboard.” 

Mercereau’s magic is not just on guitar. He plays up to a dozen instruments on songs he has co-written for Lizzo, Shawn Mendes and Leon Bridges. Drums, piano, violin, French horn, glockenspiel, you name it.  

Mercereau’s own recordings are more exploratory, describing them as exploratory, “music with a sense of discovery and “a searching quality.” In 2021 he garnered national press for an album of “duets” pairing his guitar work with the wind-blown hum of the Golden Gate Bridge.  

Dissonant sounds 

Before being admitted to San Francisco State’s School of Music, Mercereau had to audition. He didn’t know it yet, but his ambitions would swerve in a different direction.   

“They ended up accepting me as a guitar student with the caveat that I would also play French horn in the Wind Ensemble,” he said. 

Exceeding that requirement, he played in over five other student ensembles and made a name for himself off campus. 

“I was playing every possible gig I could,” he said. “I was playing weddings. I was playing restaurant gigs. I was playing bars and clubs all around the Bay and also in the church.” 

Joining the SFSU Gospel Choir band, led by student Mike Blankenship, opened Mercereau to an entirely different way to play music. No longer did it have to be an academic, conceptual exercise. 

“It was like, ‘Let’s get to the stuff. Let’s deliver this music. Let’s really play,’” Mercereau said, noting Blankenship’s mentorship. After graduation, they both joined Sheila E.’s band for five years of touring worldwide. 

“Nate was one of those students who just has it. I could tell that major success was ahead of him,” said Paul Wilson (B.Music, ’08), the longtime staff technician for the SF State School of Music. “His musicianship was always off the charts, and he was also just the nicest humble guy.” 

Deep listening 

Mercereau is still absorbing lessons from SF State Professor Hafez Modirzadeh. Modirzadeh told students that he enjoys listening to two radio stations at the same time to hear how the dissonant sounds blend together. It took Mercereau years to decipher. 

“I find through the years an influence in the small things that he did say to me, or even just a look in his eyes when he would walk by,” Mercereau said. “When he was talking about stuff like that, I wasn’t ready for it, but it was something that stuck with me. And now I think about those things a lot more.” 

Mercereau thinks about Modirzadeh when sharing the stage with Benjamin’s ensemble. He appreciates the professor as “a creative thinker.” 

Benjamin and each member of the “New Blue Sun” ensemble are also creative thinkers, on the same wavelength. Connecting on levels musical and personal, they practice “deep listening”: being present, open, emotional and thoughtful with each other. 

“Each of us is bringing our whole lives to the moment of creation together,” Mercereau said. “I’m very into being here on the Earth, and I’m very into getting involved in things and feeling how it feels to be alive. To move through life with that level of awareness, it feels really powerful.” 

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