An Interview with Nick Reinhart (of Tera Melos)

John Clardy is the first to come on stage, hardly recognizable thanks to a haircut at odds with every promotional image of the band. He ‘plays’ the drums like a large cat might play with its prey before chow-time: relaxed, precise and in control. The stage is about two feet above ground level, painted black. Then comes Nathan Latona on bass, sporting one of his reliable plaid shirts. The unforgiving white lights make no attempt to set a mood, and won’t alter their color or brightness until shortly before the concert starts. They are joined by singer and guitarist Nick Reinhart, who has more or less successfully managed to become a master of the synthesizer by running a Fender Squier Super-Sonic through analog effects pedals. Doo-wop hits of the early ’60s are playing at high volume overhead. The opening band was made up of local metalheads. Everything about the show is a bit weird, including the headlining act.

The last time I caught Tera Melos on tour, I was disappointed in their live sound, not for any lack of technical ability or aural inefficiency, but simply due to the harshness of it. Their setlist at the time put extra emphasis the dark, messy and thrashier moments of their oeuvre (I’m looking at you, “Slimed“) while overlooking soaring melodic wonders such as “Kelly,” and “Weird Circles.” I left that show feeling what can only be aptly described as ‘scrumbly.’

This time around, they played “Weird Circles,” and I had goose bumps like no other. There was very little banter, more than one instance of momentary silence between songs, and a few ‘thank yous’ to the audience. The band doesn’t talk much on stage, but when they perform, the music does more than enough talking. As an encore they played two ‘bonus tracks,’ unreleased songs which hinted at a great next release, whenever it may be. The finale felt more or less like being lifted into a UFO and taking off into the outer limits.

Apart from acting as frontman to Tera Melos across four full studio albums (and a handful of EPs) since their founding in 2004, Nick Reinhart has contributed to three Death Grips albums, played guitar on tour with Portugal. The Man, and played in side projects including the improvisational Swollen Brain, Zach Hill-backed bygones and last year’s new supergroup Big Walnuts Yonder. Tera Melos’ latest album, which dropped last September, is titled Trash Generator, and just might be their best blend of messy melodies and scrambled hooks to date.

I’m slowly starting to learn the value of mentioning something you have in common with an artist as a means of opening up into conversation rather than starting out of the gate with flopped attempts at intense questions. Thus, our conversation began with Nick asking about where this will be published. I explain it’s for my personal blog, and that I want to start focusing a bit more on interviews, especially with musicians. I mention an interview with Tim Kinsella I did last year because I happen to know that Nick and I both follow Tim on Instagram.

“Oh I know Tim!”

MLP: Have you guys ever considered collaborating on anything [with Tim’s band Joan of Arc]?
Nick Reinhart: We wanted to tour with them. I saw their new version of Joan of Arc and thought it was really cool but we couldn’t work it out. We had thought about it. I would love to do something with Tim. I just met him maybe a year and a half or two years ago. He was really cool and we kinda hit it off. He’s a good guy.

With the new album, how did you decide ‘It’s time to make a new Tera Melos’? Did you just have a lot of ideas lying around? I realize you guys are now living far away [from one another].
We had taken some time off. When we did X’ed Out we just played so much, we toured a long time for that record. After that it was kind of nice to just step away from it a little bit and let the songs and energy generate itself to where we were like ‘oh we’re excited and there’s this batch of songs now that we could all start working on and piecing together. Some of the songs on the record are very old. There are some that are from 2009, pieces of them. I don’t think it was a decision. It was just that everyone’s schedules were ready for us to all be together and start writing. The process was fairly fast. The other guys are better at dates and times, I’m not very good at those, but I feel like it came together pretty quickly. And then we booked studio time, which made it happen a lot quicker than the last few records. I think just the combination of songs starting to amass, all these different ideas, and us just being like ‘oh yeah it was nice to take a couple years off from being in each other’s hair every single day.’ So we got together and it came together really quickly.

Were you already playing some of the songs that ended up on this album on the X’ed Out tour?
Yeah, the songs – well they changed names for the record – “Dyer Ln” and “Don’t Say I Know” were from… I don’t remember the year but we wrote those songs before we went on tour with Dillinger Escape Plan, which that may have been… 2014 possibly? [Nate later confirmed that it was indeed 2014.] Actually the song “Dyer Ln” was written when we were on tour in Europe last. I remember writing it in the band flat in Switzerland [Nate lives in Lausanne, Switzerland.]. So those two songs had existed and we were playing them live for a few years.

Is “Treasures and Trolls” an outtake from the new album?
That was just a song that was written at the same time that didn’t make sense to put on the record, or have it exist yet. I’m sure that at some point it will. I don’t really know how much more touring is gonna happen for this record, I hope a lot, but I’m guessing as soon as this album slows down we’ll be like ‘okay let’s do something with that song, let’s write a bunch of other songs and let’s create a new thing, a new record.’ We have been playing it [live], but we’re just not really sure how it fits with what we want to do currently.

[UPDATE: the song saw an official release as a single on November 2nd, 2018]

It seems like on Trash Generator there’s a shift of focus toward a lot more ‘digitally-oriented’ ideas. Was that a conscious framework in any way?
In what way?

We already have a lot of digital sound effects as far back as Patagonian Rats
Yeah.

But here for example, the opening track is called “System Preferences,” and mentions a right-click, while the “Warped Run” music video has a guy playing this slug game…
Yeah… that’s true. And even the album artwork is sort of… well, it’s kind of like optical illusions is what we wanted to do, but all in analog. So none of it was actually done digitally, it was all done with props and photographs and stuff, so… I wonder if that was a conscious thing. I don’t think it was. I think maybe that was just a reaction. The lyrics to [titular track] “Trash Generator” are somewhat about being bogged down by digital bullshit; the digital wasteland of your phone, computers, technology… I think it was probably a subconscious reaction to just the world now. It shows in the visuals, the lyrics, the sounds, like you said. We had access to a lot more different types of sounds, effects, gadgets and digital things, so I guess yeah, that is one way to interpret what the record is. Sonically it sounds better, I think, than our previous records, so you can attribute that to just higher quality, hi-res, hi-fi…

Production-wise?
Yeah. I guess there is sort of a sub-theme to the record, which is maybe existing in such a digital world now.

Do you have any particular album or song that you’re most proud of, from any band or project?
Uh…

Or that’s maybe closest to your heart?
Yeah… I feel like any time a musician has released something current, that’s their favorite thing. And that is true for me. I think it’s the best-sounding thing. You’re always kind of working towards something better, and each time you make – I’m assuming this goes for any musician, but for me personally – every time I’ve made a record with a band, I’m like ‘This is it! Finally, I got there, this is the sound I wanted.’ And then by the next record it’s like ‘No that’s what I wanted to do, I’m finally there.’ Definitely with this one it has everything that I’m interested in, as a musician, as an artist, whatever, and I guess I am most proud of this record. I’m proud of the compositions, the actual guitar parts, the way that the band plays on it… Lyrically I felt more comfortable. I don’t ever feel comfortable writing lyrics but I could probably read all of these on the record and be stoked on them, completely objectively. Removing myself from actually having been the person that wrote them, I could probably read them and think ‘oh that’s pretty cool.’ I guess I would say that record and the one that I did before that, the Big Walnuts Yonder thing, which is still pretty special to me, just to have been a part of it: a record with some of my favorite musicians.

Any idea if you guys [Big Walnuts Yonder] might tour or put out another album? Or is that pretty up in the air?
I would, I would totally do that. It’s just near impossible lining up schedules. I’ve tried. We’ve all been on email chains where it’s like ‘hey, what’s everyone doing?’ and it’ll literally be one of those guys going, ‘well, I’m booked until next year.’ So I’m like ‘huh alright well then there’s no real point in even trying to work this out’ you know? It’s a weird thing, doing a band like that. I guess I’ve done it a few times now, but where you work with musicians that were just like ‘cool let’s make a band and do a record!’ instead of ‘let’s develop a musical language, and let’s go through the growing pains of starting a band and turning it into something.’ When you do a project like that, none of that exists. It’s a completely different context of; basically you have the afternoon to learn how to speak to each other musically. I’m really happy about that album, it’s a really different way to make a record, but I think if we were to do it again we would have the musical language, now knowing how each of us works. Granted, it’s not years or months in a practice spot hammering away together but I just think, having done it once, it would be really interesting to take that group of people and make another album and tour. I would love to tour. To be on stage with those three dudes playing the songs we made? That would be so cool. I hope it happens, that’d be great.

Two more questions related to collaboration while we’re still on the subject: in 2013 John told me there was maybe a split with LITE in the works? Did that ever come to fruition?
I was unaware of that [laughs] but they’re really good friends of ours, I’m sure we’ve talked about that before. It’s really weird to do splits or collaborations or something like that. Someone was asking us in an interview yesterday in Prague about doing another covers thing, another Idioms record. Any time we have the availability to make or record music, it’s difficult now to give that to something else that’s not a Tera Melos record. It’s really hard for us to all get together to create stuff, so to do a covers EP or a split where we have… This is what I imagine happening: ‘Oh I have these three songs! Let’s work out these three songs and maybe they can go for a split with LITE.’ And then we work out the three songs and in the meantime I come up with another three songs that are in the same universe as the first three, and then it’s like ‘if we do three more we could have a full-length record.’ You know what I mean? Then you get into ‘oh well maybe you could have leftover songs go on a split with someone,’ but then it’s like…argh…it’s hard to dedicate songs to something like that, but we love LITE and to do something with them would be really cool. That would also give us a reason to have them to the U.S. to play, which we’ve never done. And Europe, we’ve talked about playing with them in Europe too. If we could have that happen someday, that would be awesome.

Are you playing on the new Death Grips album by any chance?
Um…I won’t say. Someone asked me that in Munich the other day…I explained to her – it was actually a girl from the U.S. who’s living in Munich now – and I thought about it when she asked me and those guys are so… particular and in control of how they release information about their band that I think it’s my responsibility to respect that and not say things that don’t come from them. Even if I’m hanging out with them and I take a picture of something, I don’t even feel comfortable to show that, you know what I mean? They’re so in-control of their entire world, and I think they’re very particular about who they let into that world and it’s with a mutual respect that they let people in because they don’t want people to adversely effect what they’re creating. So something as simple as oh am I playing on the that? I don’t really want to say. Does that makes sense?

Absolutely.

It’s always a difficult thing, because they’re awesome people. I love their band, I love working with them, everything about it, it’s such a neat thing to be a part of, but I don’t really feel comfortable saying. It’s their thing. I’m a guest in their world and I feel like it’s more important for them to release information as they like it, as opposed to the guest coming in and being like ‘hey check this out.’

I’m glad you talked about their ‘world’ because I want to ask about the world of Tera Melos: the visuals, the aesthetic that’s developed over time. I’m thinking of sentient hot dogs, [s]lime green colors, Freddy Kreuger, some gore stuff, skating and upside-down crosses. How did all of that make it into the mix? Or was it just one thing at a time being thrown in?
It didn’t start like that, but kinda like we were saying, when you start a band, you develop it into something. To me it turned into a very colorful, abstract, visually interesting thing. The music is really visual, I feel like. You hear all these sounds, and it’s not just a rock band playing. We’re playing these songs and there’s all these different sound effects, hits and crazy things. It’s very…cartoony sounding, or even if you’re just walking down this main road in Berlin here, and there’s like graffiti all over the place, characters on the walls and all this shit that’s inside of a structured city. It’s so weird and abstract, and I just think of that as a really interesting contrast to what the music is. Maybe they’re both related. Something about that over the years, it just… maybe accidentally happened. We were just like ‘yeah this all makes sense,’ to have colorful things that maybe aren’t meant to be taken super seriously. You look at the way our gear looks and how we are as people… that’s just what we are: lots of things happening and colors and sounds and different mental images. I think it is a colorful band, it’s very – as our drummer John says – it kind of exists in its own universe, like cartoons do. Like the Simpsons, or even like Seinfeld or something. Those all have their own universes. Or the Quentin Tarantino universe. Those are kind of like what our band is. It’s its own thing. Any other bands I do are completely unrelated to Tera Melos. They couldn’t be related because Tera Melos exists as its own little thing. But yeah I definitely think the aesthetic has developed over time, and turned into something that is ours, that feels ours.

How did you decide to keep the two different versions of “Kelly”/”Kelley”? And why did they both get their own music videos?
I thiiiink when we were in the studiooo… Nathan might remember this… I remember when we did Patagonian Rats we just had a lot. We finished all the foundation music in the studio and we were like ‘cool we have some extra time and all the guitar amps are set up. Instead of like getting into whatever we were gonna get into after that, let’s just continue, let’s just do some extra things.’

And that’s how you ended up with “Another Surf”?
“Another Surf” I think we may have planned to do, I don’t remember that. But we did that thing called Echo on the Hills of Knebworth, which is the hour long noise thing. I don’t remember any specifics about recording the two different versions of Kelly, other than like one’s a little slower… on the album version there’s no guitar, I think it’s all keyboard, and then the other version, the EP version has guitar. It might even be tuned down a half-step, possibly? It was just fun, it was a fun thing to do. As far as the music videos, I think our buddy Behn Fannin was just available a lot that year, so we tried to make as many music videos as possible. When we were in Glasgow a couple weeks ago, we were on tour with the band Tangled Hair. There was a big TV above the bar, in the venue, and the bass player, Alex, had hacked into the system on his phone, projecting what was on his phone onto the TV and he played the Kelley music video, where we’re in the city. I said “Wow I haven’t seen this in years, this is hilarious.”

Do you like horror films a lot?
I’m a big horror movie fan, yeah. I’m down with horror. That was Behn’s idea though, I think, yeah he must have come up with that, to have all the inserts on the billboards – and actually you know what’s funny is that Donald Trump is in that video.

Yeah.
I saw that and was like “oh my god Donald Trump’s in one of our music videos!” Pretty funny. But yeah, I’m a fan of gore and horror stuff for sure.

And the other video is credited to you as director.
I made the other video, yeah.

Was that a one-time thing? Have you done other videos?
I’ve done….let’s see…I did that, then I cut together the “Another Surf” thing with all the Simpsons gore scenes…

Wow I haven’t seen that.
Oh you haven’t? “Another Surf” is all Simpsons cut scenes that I made of all just brutal… it’s not 100% Treehouse of Horror scenes, but most of it is, people getting their head chopped off or whatever. So I did that and then I did the “Slimed” video and then I did, just for fun, with extra footage from the “Slimed” video, I did a “Slimed” remix. It’s maybe a minute or two long, and I made an accompaniment video for that as well. So yeah I’ve done a few of ’em, though I think that might be it for this band. There might be some other one I’m missing… Which reminds me, the “Slimed” music video was actually supposed to be for the song “Skywatch,” but for whatever reason, when I was cutting it together, I was like ‘eh, it’s not right, the pace isn’t correct for it.’ So I made it into the “Slimed” video instead.

Maybe this is a pretty off-the-wall question but what about Satan? You mention him in the first track of the new album and you have a Christmas album, Satan’s Power.
Yeah.

Do you just like the sound of the name, or just the iconic power?
Just… the iconic power to it, I guess. There’s a lot of agnostic/atheist themes in our music, so just using Satan as an idea I think is a powerful thing, sure. I read like the Satanic Bible when I was a kid, pretty cool. I wonder how many Satan references there are on Trash Generator. There’s also one – well I guess it’s an indirect reference – in the song “Don’t Say I Know”… What’s the second verse? [pause] I can’t think of what it is. What is it? Hold on, let me look this up.

I’ve gotta say, I was looking at the lyrics for the album today and reading them without the musical context was insane, like I was seeing the words for the first time, and they’re really great!
Thank you. Like I said, I’m definitely proud of them, I think they’re cool. [He finds the lyrics] Oh here we go, they’re online! Let’s see… Oh yeah here it is, it says “Your hell/I think I really wanna go/He’s got a hidden Mickey on his throne.” That was supposed to be Satan’s throne. Do you know Disneyland? The ‘imagineers’ that designed Disneyland with Walt Disney hid Mickey heads throughout the park, so sometimes there’ll be like a circular doorknob, with two little circles above it. And that’s supposed to be a ‘hidden Mickey.’ They’re just fun little things hidden throughout the park. It could be in like the corner of the ceiling or something like that. There are entire books dedicated to finding all the hidden Mickeys in Disneyland. So yeah, Satan would have a hidden Mickey on his throne. So there are references to that just because I think usually it’s really interesting, has a high contrast with the music, which is usually very bouncy and playful, not meant to be taken seriously. And you could argue ‘oh like Satan is the most serious thing in the entire existence of the universe.’ Some people would say that. I just think its an interesting reference for our music.

Do your parents like Tera Melos?
Uhm… yeah! My parents support Tera Melos. They probably don’t listen to it. I think my dad really likes it and then my mom and my stepdad are also very supportive and they come to see us and stuff. But my dad will come and see our band play and he just loves our drummer John, ‘Oh John! John, so crazy! John John John!’ It’s always very funny. But they are fans, they’re always very supportive and really cool about it.

Is “Men’s Shirt” about a real shirt from your Grandpa?
Yeah, someone asked me the same question in Prague last night. Yeah that’s like a very literal song about my Grandpa, correct.

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