Nick Reinhart Interview
Guitar and effects professor Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos, Bygones and Big Walnuts Yonder and a personal favourite musician of mine. Nick is one of those guitarists whose sound is instantly recognisable, continuously innovative and always progressing and venturing into unexplored territories.
Here’s my interview with Nick.
What inspired you to become a musician? What artists/bands/musicians or albums inspired or made an impact on the musical direction and approach you’ve taken with your instrument? And In terms of musical development what were the steps or process that you had to take in order to play the music that you are creating?
I got a guitar when I was eleven years old and it was a mind blowing thing for me. To be able to create music in your own hands was a really neat concept. Nirvana really spoke to me at that age. Seeing Sonic Youth swinging their guitars around and manipulating effects at lollapalooza when I was 12 had a big impact on me. I was into mostly punk in my teens until my friend Bob introduced me to electronic music in 9th grade, specifically Aphex Twin, Squarepusher and Underworld. Then I heard Hella and Dillinger Escape Plan around 2000/2001. I I guess when you mash all that together the music of Tera Melos comes out. I never wanted to play in a band that sounded like anyone else, it was always important for me to attempt create something completely different and unique.
How would you describe the elements that make up your approach to playing guitar, manipulate effects, looping, tapping and other features of you style?
I just really like having a lot of options for different sounds when I’m playing guitar. It makes it way more interesting and exciting for me. I look forward to certain parts of our set, knowing that I get to turn a certain pedal on during a song and do some really neat stuff. I definitely use a lot of looping, but we don’t really play to them in a live environment. Our band is too fast, raw and a.d.d. to be able to do that without heavily concentrating on some really precise loop, and I’m not really interested in that kind of approach anyway. The tapping stuff is mostly just a way to play certain parts that I couldn’t physically play if I was using a pick.
PedalsAndEffects Featuring Nick Reinhart
What was the first piece of music you made a conscious effort to purchase and learn? How does it compare to the music you listen to now?
I don’t know that I’ve ever really done that. One time when I was like thirteen I went to a grocery store and was looking through a Guitar World magazine at a tab for Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls On Parade”. I didn’t want to buy the whole magazine, so I grabbed a pencil and piece of paper wrote down the transcription. When I got home I realised that the whole main riff was only two notes and I had wasted like 30 minutes painstakingly writing it down. That was probably the first time where I thought, “Damn, I can probably just listen to stuff and figure it out”. Another time, probably when I was eighteen, I had written a really fast keyboard part on a program called fruity loops. I wanted to see if it was possible to play on guitar so, once again I got out a pencil and piece of paper and tabbed the whole thing out. The only way to physically play it was by using both hands to tap out the notes. I think that was the first tapping riff I’d ever written. I still mess around with it today, it’s really difficult to play. And recently I decided to learn the guitar solo to Smashing Pumpkins’ “Quiet.” I didn’t want to print the tab, so there again- pencil and paper. Got it down pretty good. I think that’s the first piece of music that I had sat down and learned in years.
Did you have any personal goals as a musician when you started? If so how have they changed? What do you now want to achieve as a musician in comparison from then?
There were no goals when I first started. They just gradually built themselves up starting with wanting to start a band, wanting to play shows, wanting to be on a record label, realising I should want to tour first, wanting to tour more, more touring and touring outside the US etc etc. My biggest goals now are to make this a proper living and to play with other musicians that I admire.
Bygones-Zach Hill and Nick Reinhart
When was the first time you decided that being a musician was the career path that you wanted follow? As you’ve made films such as your debut Snakeville. Would you like to create more films or a movie to accompany one of your albums or would you want to create something brand new and create the soundtrack for it?
I think it was around the time when Tera Melos started playing D.I.Y tours. I was in junior college and figured, “Well if I’m gonna do this I should do it all the way”. So I stopped going to college and started touring. That was 10 years ago. I would love to do more film stuff. It’s definitely one of my biggest passions. I’ve recently been talking with some friends about taking it more seriously. Luckily Tera Melos gets to make a lot of music videos with our amazing friend Behn Fannin. I’d also love to make scores for film and video game soundtracks. That is a pretty big goal of mine that I hope I get to fulfill.
What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve received that’s helped you along with music or anything? What advice can you also give to musicians who are developing their skills? Are there any realities that you think are needed to be realised by modern musicians?
I can’t think of any specific piece of advice that has really stuck with me though, reading “Get in the van,” by Henry Rollins, was pretty inspiring and helpful. Anything Ian Mackaye has to say is pretty profound as well, even though he’s sometimes a little too cranky for me. My parents are also very supportive, so that’s also big for me. My advice is to do your own thing, don’t copy other people and take what you learn from other artists and apply that to your own world, carve out your own path and do things yourself. You don’t need a label or a manager or whatever. Want to make a record or press vinyl? Don’t start a Kickstarter. Work a shitty job and save up, buy a van and tour, don’t wait around for people to help you. We probably played 500 shows before we even spoke to a record label.
With each of your albums progressing in vastly different directions how do you feel that your musicianship and creative mindset have developed between each release? How do you feel that the other bands and musicians you have worked have contributed towards your development or changed the way you think or feel about music?
I don’t know that I’d say our records are vastly different from each other. I think there’s a been a pretty gradual evolution over the years. We mostly just want to keep getting better while maintaining the overall vibe of our band. We thought X’ed out was pretty tame when we were writing it, but then we realised that there’s a lot of wacky stuff in there. The emphasis of Tera Melos will likely always be based around technicality and strange musical ideas. Maybe not super strange, but very non-obvious, sometimes we’ll take an obvious idea and exploit it to where it’s no longer run-of-the-mill.
The other musicians that I’ve worked with have 100% helped shape and improve the way I play music. Zach Hill is one of my favourite musicians of all time and making the first Bygones record was sort of a precursor to Patagonian Rats. I can remember my playing/writing style physically changing when I started playing with Zach. I made a record with Mike Watt, Nels Cline and Greg Saunier. The band is called Big Walnuts Yonder. Each one of those guys have had a big musical impact on me one way or another.
Greg’s drumming specifically has really inspired me and my approach to playing guitar. Like I said earlier, playing with other musicians who you look up to is pretty much the greatest thing you can do as an artist. Then actually inspiring those who inspire you is a whole other level of coolness.
How are the songs in Tera Melos written? Please describe the process from A to B ? How has the process changed or is there a strict method? How does writing the differ between the instrumentation and the lyrics? What are your most favourite and difficult parts of the process?
I’ll usually jam in my bedroom and come up with guitar parts I like, then figure out ways to structure them into songs. Then I’ll make a demo after refining them a bit and send it over to the other guys. Then we’ll all sit at home with them and flesh out our individual parts. Eventually we get together and practice and put everything together. That method seems to work the best for us. Then once the songs are completed, I’ll figure out vocal melodies and then lyrics. The vocals are definitely the hardest part for me, just because it’s not something that comes natural to me. I can usually come up with neat guitar stuff pretty quickly, but lyrics take me quite awhile to get to the point where I’m happy with what’s coming out of my mouth.
As mentioned in another interview you said that you have a vat of inspiration that you pull ideas from. How would describe the composition of that space and what acts as a catalyst towards it’s creativity? Is it a combination of things you see or compositions you hear in your heard?
Well I can feel inspired by anything, but it’s not so much that I’m pulling ideas from somewhere. I can be watching a movie and then feel inspired to want to create something, so I’ll grab a guitar and just start playing. The same goes for most things- food, relationships, cartoons etc. On occasion I’ll have a melody stuck in my head, unbeknownst to me how it got there, and I’ll work off of that. As far as what actually comes from the spark of feeling inspired it’s really just up in the air. I never know what’s gonna come out. I just let my fingers dance around the guitar and see what happens.
How would you also describe what you are trying to communicate to the listener, between yourself and the other musicians?How does it differ with Bygones, Big Walnuts Yonder, Tera Melos or any other musicians or bands that you’ve worked with? Do you always have a musical goal or direction in mind?
In Tera Melos I feel like i’m trying to communicate a sense of musical wonder. Whether it’s a weird sound or a chord progression or vocal melody. Pretty much anything the band creates, to me, is communicating something that’s not very obvious and would leave someone saying to themselves, “Hm, that’s interesting.” When I’ve worked with other bands I don’t think there has really been much of a musical goal. Since Tera Melos is what I spend most of my time on I tend to think about that stuff a little more. Big Walnuts Yonder was written and recorded in a very interesting way. Mike Watt sent me bass lines he’d written and then I added guitar parts to them. Greg and Nels hadn’t really listened to the stuff we’d written until we were literally in the studio ready to hit record. On top of that it was recorded almost 100% live, which is something I haven’t done since my punk band years. So with BWY I suppose the goal was for a very honest, in the moment recording between the four of us. I’d say generally with each project there’s a pretty different vibe as far as goals are considered and what we are wanting to communicate goes.
How did Big Walnuts Yonder form and what are you currently working on? How is the experience and creative approach different from the other bands you’ve played in? What do you want to do differently in comparison to other bands that you have played in?
A few years ago we ended up playing a show with Mike watt and The Missingmen in Ireland. We knew Mike pretty well by that point. He and I were talking backstage. I was asking him about his second opera, “Contemplating The Engine Room.” Nels Cline played guitar on that record and there’s some really insane stuff going on. I’d asked Mike about the process of writing and recording with Nels. His response was, “You wanna know Nels? You gotta play with Nels!” So he suggested that we should all start a project and that I should find a drummer, whom neither of us had ever worked with. Right off the bat I mentioned Greg Saunier from Deerhoof. Shortly after that we talked to everyone about the idea and we were all pretty excited about it. Of course the one problem was getting everyone’s schedules to line up. Fast forward three years and we each had a short window of availability.
How do you feel that progressive and experimental music is changing or music in general? Do you feel that you or Tera Melos are a part of this change or are part of a different movement?
I try not to think about what’s happening in the musical world too much. I’m afraid that it might influence me in a way that wouldn’t interest me otherwise. Generally I think things seem a little too safe though. I’m not sure what part myself or Tera Melos plays in all of that, but I hope we’re creating a positive influence and are helping to push things forward. That’s what we’re trying for at least.
Personally I feel that Tera Melos or your general sound has inspired a generation of musicians as elements of your playing is present in a lot of experimental or what most would consider “math rock” bands sound. How do you feel about the impact that you’ve made on music? Did you ever think you would ever create such a global following?
I try not to let my mind wander down that alley, but if that’s the case and we have somehow even made the tiniest impact on the musical portion of the musical universe I think that’s really, really special and amazing. I never thought we’d get to the point we are at right now.
What equipment is in your setup and what are the preferences within your setup?
At the moment I’m playing through a Peavey 6505 2x12 and a Roland JC-120 2x12. I like that amp combo because it’s loud and has the mid range rawness from the Peavey which gets smoothed and crystalized with the JC-120. I use lots of pedals of course. Then a Roland SP-404 controlled by a Berhinger Midi footboard, which is really big and a pain in the ass to travel with. I’ve been playing my Fender Supersonic guitars a lot lately. I think it’s probably my favourite guitar ever.
With Dwarfcraft creating the Reinhart pedal and your recent involvement with Earthquaker devices will you or would you like to make a series of custom pedals or signature pedals? What would you want to include in your series whether that be pedals or guitars?
Thinking about that is insane. All of the above i suppose! I’m so thankful and honoured that these people acknowledge my existence. All the people I know in the gear world are REALLY cool, amazing humans with interesting stories. I really enjoy surrounding myself with those kinds of people.
When was the last time you saw a band that surpassed everything you thought was possible with music? What albums and artists are you also listening to?
I saw the Bad Plus recently. They were completely amazing. before the show I went to a frozen yogurt shop with my girlfriend, I walk in dave king was standing there, he’s the drummer from The Bad Plus. he’s one of my favourite drummers. I was too much of a weenee to say hi though. I didn’t want to disturb his pre-show froyo. Someday it’ll make for a good story if I ever meet him. I’d love to play music with him. I’ve currently been playing listening to Elliot Smith, Madonna, My Bloody Valentine, Marc Ribot, Dot Hacker, Chug and Cheer-Accident to name a few.
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Big Walnuts Yonder
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