If you are wondering whence the next generation of Adrian Belews and Nels Clines will come, wonder no more. As is the case with Belew and Cline, effects are not an adjunct to Nick Reinhart’s playing but an integral part of it. Watching Reinhart dance on his pedals during a Tera Melos performance, you might be reminded of a classic hoofer tapping out complicated rhythms. But be careful, lest the choreography cause you to miss the high level of technical facility that lets him finger complex chords, whip through rapid atonal lines, and tap out figures and riffs on the fretboard—all while handling the lead singing chores.
“I’m really into combining cool sounds and complex ideas with melodic parts,” Reinhart says. “There can be crazy stuff happening with the guitar that perhaps only musically trained people might understand, but then I sneak in a melody that anybody would be able to follow.”
His work on Tera Melos’ most recent outing X’ed Out [Sargent Records] fulfills this ambition as the band infuses pop-friendly, accessible tunes with prog and math rock influences that will delight those who crave the more complex. Both camps will be stirred by the band’s punk rock abandon and energy. Though primarily known for his work with Tera Melos, Reinhart has engaged in collaboration with drummer Zach Hill (Death Grips, Hella) as Bygones, and has a record in the can with Big Walnuts, a band featuring Reinhart, Mike Watt, Greg Saunier, and Nels Cline.
The Sacramento-raised guitarist spoke to GP about the status of that potential super-group, replacing clothes with pedals, and stealing guitar riffs from synthesizers.
You have some serious technique on the instrument. Was that developed through lessons, or on your own?
That was mostly on my own. One of my guitar teachers showed me exercises with two-handed tapping, even before I was aware of Eddie Van Halen. I lost interest because I didn’t like practicing guitar. When I was around 18, I saw tapping and fast technical stuff applied in a cool context, in bands like Hella and the Dillinger Escape Plan, as opposed to shredders soloing. I would try and emulate it but couldn’t come close to what those guys were doing, so I started to approach it my own way.
Around that time, I was getting into musical software, like Reason, playing melodies on software synths on my computer. I started putting the things I had written into tablature to see what the notes would be on guitar. To play them I had to figure out how to do it with two hands. That became a kind of exercise I use to this day.
What led to your extensive use of effects?
When I was 12, my friend’s older brother let me borrow his DOD delay pedal, which had two-second looping capabilities. You could set the loop, layer stuff, and pitch shift it by turning the speed knob. That made me think pedals were kind of neat. Fast-forward through my punk rock years of no pedals, and I bought the DOD delay pedal I had played with as a kid.
Another thing that got me into pedals was a DigiTech synth pedal that made sounds that were totally non-guitar-like. I had a very small pedalboard: delay, distortion, and this weird DigiTech synth thing, which I would drop in randomly for fun.
When you combine all these sounds and rearrange the order of them, you can start doing a lot of cool things. I was into the music of Squarepusher, Air, and Underworld, who were all using sounds that I could now sort of recreate on guitar with this small pedalboard.
One sound that you use is pitch shifting with a short delay. What pedals are you using for that?
I acquired a Boss delay with a hold function and figured out that by barely tapping it I could get the smallest amount of time possible recorded, which sounded like a drill or abrasive buzzing. I thought of it as a Squarepusher-style sound, or like when electronic musicians take delays and tweak them into self-oscillation. Eventually, I combined looping really short recordings on the Boss Digital Delay with pitch shifting using a Boss PS-5 Super Shifter
You employ the Line 6 DL4 in a very interesting way.
On the DL4 you can reverse the loop, drop it into half-time, which slows it down, or record it in half-time, and then speed it up. Essentially, it’s an on-the-fly sampler. I was listening to stuttery sounds and things popping in and out in electronic music and the DL4 helped me expand on some of those ideas. When some bands use the DL4, the drummer has a separate amp right at his head so he can play to the loops. We tried it and could not do that. Our band is way too fast and loose. With the DL4’s Play Once function, I was able to make these weird loops I could restart on the downbeat so they would be locked in, even though they’re not in time. I use that function to retrigger the layers of looped sound on whatever beat I want. That became a technique and sound that seem to have become synonymous with my playing.
You change pedals on your board regularly. I am assuming the DL4 is one that stays through many rotations. What are some other must-haves?
I like the Super Shifter because of the gliding stuff you can do with it. If you want to hit a D, but get the slide effect, you have to start on F. That way when you hit the F it’s going to glide down to the D. A Digi- Tech Whammy is always there as well. That’s about it as far as the absolute must-haves.
How much improvisation goes on in the Tera Melos tunes, and how much is strictly, “I have to step on this pedal here”?
We play with a lot of improvisation. We don’t necessarily want it to sound like the record. But it is nice to incorporate some of the elements live that are important to us. Two records ago, we had a fourth member touring with us because there were so many sounds and arrangements that we felt were important. I had two pedalboards, our bass player had two pedalboards, and the fourth guy had one pedalboard. We had never been overseas and found that we lost a lot of money due to luggage expenses, just because it was important for us to have all the gear to do what we wanted. Now, when we go to Japan, I dumb my board down, and barely bring any clothes because, in addition to the pedalboard, my backpack is filled with pedals.
I finally realized any song can be rearranged or have a different sound. Also, when touring so much, it makes it more interesting to be able to rearrange my pedalboard and try different things. I come home with new ideas.
What’s the appeal of the Fender Squier Super-Sonic that you play?
I stopped into a Sacramento guitar shop to see if there were any guitars my girlfriend might like. I saw this weird, blue-sparkle Squier guitar called a Super-Sonic. It really irritated me because it was backwards and cost 800 bucks, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I went back and played it and it was the coolest playing guitar. What originally annoyed me is what I ended up loving about it. It looked like a weird optical illusion. It’s a mid-’90s Japanese Squier, so it’s a good one. People scoff at Squiers, but I liked that. It fit with my personality—like having a ramshackle pedalboard and an old, crappy Marshall cab—it fit the vibe.
What’s going on with Tera Melos?
For ten years, we had never gone more than six weeks without playing a show or going on tour, unless we were recording, writing, or getting new members. For X’ed Out, we toured for almost two years. We’re at the point where everyone is happy to take a breather and work on other things before we jump back into that crazy world. At the moment, that means me recording and writing demo songs and emailing them to the guys. We work on individual parts, and then we’re going to get together and start writing the next record.
The other big question is about when your project with Mike Watt, Greg Saunier, and Nels Cline will be completed.
Mike needs to finish some vocals and Greg is going to mix it. Both those guys have been extremely busy. These guys all have so many different things going on and they are used to the idea of a record not coming out until years later. It’s my job to gently nudge people to get it done, because it sounds awesome. I think it will really be worth the wait because it’s a cool, interesting, weird rock record.