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Tera Melos To Play Amoeba San Francisco April 14

Posted by Billy Gil, April 9, 2013 07:17pm | Post a Comment

Sacramento avant-rockers Tera Melos will play Amoeba San Francisco April 14 at 2 p.m. Their latest record, X’ed Out (due April 16 on Sargent House), is a blast of tightly coiled riffs unraveling in all directions while sweet melodies keep the whole thing grounded in the eye of the storm. “Weird Circles” chugs along on math-rock riffery, while “New Chlorine” starts like some demonic cover of “Chopsticks” before unveiling a big, acidic rocker. “Bite” balances nasty, nauseous riffs with big, dreamy choruses, while “Sunburn” is the band’s clearest entry point, with non-stop riffs tapping underneath the band’s bright melodies. They chill out for ballads like “Snake Lake” and “No Phase,” as concerned with heavenly harmony as the guitar trickery beneath the surface, and they ease the tension with the sunshine pop of “Tropic Lame.” It’s been a while since we’ve heard a band as unabashedly guitar-centric as Tera Melos that can also write a decent pop song, recalling their Northern California brethren like Deerhoof and Hella, and while X’ed Out has its share of heady noodling, Tera Melos never sound self-indulgent. It’s a feast for guitar geeks and a reminder that indie rock need not be a laid-back, tepid affair. They make indie-prog that’s as fun to listen to as it is impressive, and that’s no easy feat.

I caught up with the band’s Nick Reinhart as Tera Melos prepared for a tour that begins with their Amoeba performance. They’ll be back in California in May, hitting L.A.’s The Echo May 23.

PST: I’ve read that you started the band rehearsing for a year before playing live, and vocals started out as not as much of a concern. Can you talk about the process of honing the music first and then concerning yourselves with vocals and perhaps accessibility down the line?

Reinhart: We’d originally intended on having vocals in our band. We practiced for a long while before we started trying a few friends out. Nothing really fit the vibe. I’m not even sure we knew what we wanted. At that point we decided that we should start playing shows to see if we could elicit any interest from a cool vocalist, and just because we were ready to start taking our music out of the practice spot. We didn't end up finding anyone, but we had a blast playing. So by default we became an “instrumental” band. For several years the main focus was on how to keep the music interesting without having any sort of vocal textures to guide it. At some point we decided it was time to re-explore the vocal conundrum, and since I was writing all the guitar parts, it made sense that I might have an idea of how to start integrating melodic vocal parts. Of course I didn't know how to sing (laughs). It would take me several years until I became even remotely comfortable with it. I don’t think that we consciously concern ourselves with accessibility, there just happens to be large chunks of our musical personalities that like catchy sounding things, so that comes through in our music sometimes. Of course, there are a lot of times that we end up doing the exact opposite of catchy and accessible.

PST: I’m a guitar player, but I can’t tell what you’re doing half the time. Can you talk a bit about your effects set up and what sorts of techniques you employ, or would that be giving away trade secrets?

Reinhart: It’s funny you mention trade secrets, because I’d never really thought about that too much until recently. We have a conspiracy theory brewing about the new Boss “Tera Echo” pedal. It sounds suspiciously similar to some sounds that we get by combining a bunch of different effects. Probably just a coincidence, but funny to think about. I wrote to them and very politely asked about the pedal and the striking similarities. I did not get a reply.

My effects setup really isn’t much of a secret, I guess. I mostly like combining effects to get new sounds that the pedals weren't necessarily designed to make. Because we can’t really afford nice, boutique gear, sometimes the stuff we can get our hands on is built poorly or just really crappy and will break or malfunction. I like being able to work around that and incorporate the “broken” sound into our music.

Aside from a bunch of broken pedals, I use a boss sampler to cue certain sounds to round things out a bit and add another sonic layer. Most of the time, my hands are busy, so I had to modify a midi footboard to sync up with the sampler, that way I can use my feet.

Tera Melos X'ed OutPST: There’s a lot going on in these songs, but they still seem very pop-oriented, not overstuffed for the sake of it. How do you find that balance? When do you know what to take out and leave in, or is it something that just happens naturally?

Reinhart: I’m not really sure how it happens. A lot of people would probably argue that the songs on our new record are still pretty complex and overstuffed. Initially I thought it’d be interesting to approach this record with a “less is more” philosophy. In a lot of ways, I think we did that. Again, our version of less-is-more is probably not the same as the average Joe’s version. In a weird way, it felt like the songs from this record already kind of existed in the Tera Melos universe, and rather than impose ourselves too much on them, we just figured out how to grab them from the sky and play them.

PST: Are most of your songs built on jams and improvisation, does someone bring in material and you work on it together or some other concoction?

Reinhart: We’re not much a jam-in-the-practice-spot band. For some reason it just doesn’t come natural to us. I think we each prefer to write music when we feel inspired, as opposed to forcing something out at practice. We’ve done that before, but we discovered that we all work much more efficiently when we can self edit for hours and hours, without wearing each other out in the studio. It just gets frustrating when you spend hours on 30 seconds of music in a hot and smelly practice spot, day after day.

I generally come up with a handful of guitar-based ideas, demo, send them to the dudes, and then we get together and flesh everything out.

PST: It’s tough to pinpoint your sound or put a label on it. A song like “No Phase” is definitely not “math rock,” whereas a song like “Sunburn” could be labeled as such. Do those labels bother you, do you actively avoid them or seek them, or try not to think about it?

Reinhart: All of the above, for sure. It feels very limiting to be defined by such a specific genre. To say that we have elements of “math rock” would be fair. Even then, I don't fully understand it though. To me, “Sunburn” ended up sounding like an ’80s prog-pop song, a la The Police or King Crimson. I don't know, it's just a difficult pill to swallow. When I think of math rock, I think of cold, very precise and clean sounding music. It feels confined. We like our vibe raw and limitless. To drop us into that category so easily feels haphazard and surface level. But at the end of the day, we don't really worry about that sort of stuff. It’s more of just an eye roll kind of thing.

PST: After years of playing and issuing releases on Sergent House, everything seems to be lining up for the band now in terms of interest, hype and all that. What do you attribute that to?

Reinhart: Hmm, it feels a little awkward thinking about this outside of closed doors, but I think the real answer is just hard work. When we were younger, we were under the impression that in order to get signed to a label or get “big” or do really cool, unbelievable things, you had to hone your craft to the absolute best of your ability — take it to the very edge of what you're capable of, and even then you'd have to extend that edge and keep pushing. The reality of how things actually work is far from that. Now a band can play Coachella before even playing one regular show. And we're not talking Coldplay-style, A&R crap. This is stuff that exists in the underground circuit. It’s so crazy. In any case, I’m not even sure how close we've gotten to our “edge.” We’re just really grateful for the opportunities we've been presented with and hope that more cool stuff comes our way.

PST: “Tropic Lame” was the song that pulled me into you guys, then when I heard the album I discovered this whole world of sound you guys were pulling from that was just hinted at in that song. Was that the goal with that song and releasing it as a single — rope people in with a breezier, shoegazey pop single, and then have them discover your more experimental leanings?

Reinhart: Yeah, I think that sounds about right. It would be difficult to bomb people with a song like "Slimed" — it's almost atonal and feels really unsettling, kind of has a "shit, i feel like i'm about to puke" vibe. I think album strategy for a weird band like us is ultimately just wingin' it. Do we want to isolate potential new fans or piss off the old ones? You can't make everyone happy. Don’t get me wrong, we put a lot of thought into what songs to release first. In the end i think we all did a great job because everyone seemed really stoked on "Tropic Lame," as well as the tunes that were released after that. Wingin’ it!

PST: Can you give me a list of five records you’re either really into right now or that have influenced you greatly?

Reinhart: Currently and always awesome:

Squarepusher ufabulumSquarepusherUfabulum

GenesisAbacab

Melt-BananaBambi’s Dilemma

Brian Wilson and Van Dyke ParksOrange Crate Art

Frank BlackCult of Ray

 

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Tera Melos (5), Amoeba San Francisco (106)