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We are back with the second instalment in our Tera Melos chronicles. If you haven’t read it yet, check out Part 1 of this interview, where we discussed pedal collections.
Initially before chatting with the guys, we had thought that it would be interesting to discuss the seemingly surfy, garage-y turn that the band’s more recent song-writing had taken. Even a quick listen to X’ed Out in comparison with their earlier albums will reveal an album that seems less complex, maybe a little bit more ‘California’, and perhaps a little more accessible in its own way. That said, X’ed Out undoubtedly retains more than enough complexity to leave the listener engrossed after repeated listens. It’s just that there are, for example, definable choruses, verses or hooks, rather than the more scrambled spaghetti-like forms of from previous records. Despite all this, when we actually started talking about their influences, it became obvious that a concept as banally-titled as “surf rock” was far too simplistic to describe their process and progression as writers…
Kat: How has your writing process changed since the Drugs/Complex era? It definitely sounds like there’s fewer hooks or definable parts on the earlier records. So how did you start out writing something that was so intricate?
Nick: It probably just has to do with being young and really ambitious. Like… specifically tonight, when we were playing ‘Spoonful of Slurry’, I remember even thinking. “Man, there are so many parts in this song. It’s just part, after part, after part.” We wrote those songs when we’d lost our other guitar player. We were down to a three-piece band, and it was like, “How can we make this super interesting and keep it moving?”, because we never wanted to be an instrumental band. And actually instrumental bands kind of bored us at that point, because a lot of bands were like Explosions in the Sky, and just post-rocky… I mean it was never parts just slammed together, there was a lot of thought put into how we could link all these things together and make them sound like a song, but I think it was just being young and ambitious and hyper-active, and wanting to just play fast and technical stuff.
Kat: Did you have to write all the parts down? There are so many parts that didn’t use the same rhythm, but were still weirdly synchronous…
Nick: Well, when we wrote that, it was with our other drummer. And he was really into jazz, and so he kind of taught us how to play like that. There were a lot of things happening where guitar would be doing one thing and drums are doing a completely different thing. A lot of times, the way he would play drums, was that he wouldn’t even want the drums to be linked up timing-wise. He just wanted the length of what he was playing to be linked up. So it would be this weird sounding thing, but he would drop in on the right beat. But he came from jazz, whereas John is more of a punk and rock drummer. So that would also make sense why things have started to change a little bit [in regards to our sound].
But I don’t really know how we would remember all the parts. I think it was just that we practiced A LOT. And we would practice parts for entire practice sessions. Hours. A practice with the band five years ago wasn’t just like, “let’s run through the set” – right now when we practice, we run through the set; we work out what the order of the songs are so that we just run through them. Whereas back then, we would drive up to the drummer’s house and just work on 30 seconds. For hours.
That’s why there’s not that much material from that era of the band. Drugs is an EP and Complex is an EP, of like five songs. Actually, Drugs is really only three songs but we just split it up into however many tracks. But it was definitely difficult to write that way.
Tom: So would you say that working that way, and running through the same 30 seconds is actually detrimental to the speed and flow of writing?
Nick: Well now because John lives really far away from us; we live in California and our drummer lives in Texas. So now we all do it in our own time. Instead of going to practice, I’ll just email them some guitar stuff, and then everyone plays around with it and we email stuff back and forth. And then when we get together it happens a lot quicker.
Kat: Do you think then that the songs have a clearer meaning behind them, because they’re starting out in a much more holistic way?
Nick: Yeah, probably. I think so. I mean there’s two songs on X’ed Out, ‘Tropic Lame’ and ‘New Chlorine’; those were song ideas that I had written way before we even started writing or recording X’ed Out and on my own, I had demoed these really generic versions of those songs. Nothing like they are now; just the basic chords and parts. And I never thought the band would be able to use that. And then when we had almost finished writing [X’ed Out], I sent emails to the other guys and said, “I’m not sure if we can make anything out of these”. And I remember specifically, John didn’t like ‘Tropic Lame’.
Nathan: And that song happened really quickly, like, you (@Nick) showed it to us one day and we took it home, and then another day he (@John) didn’t like it, and we had to be like, “Just think about it a little differently”, and then the next day he was like, “OK, I like it.”
Nick: Well when we recorded it, he ended up saying it was one of his favourite songs on the album. So yeah, I guess maybe [these songs] are more meaningful because they’re not just little meaningful parts crammed together; these are songs that have more musical meaning.
Nathan: And for me, when I hear something he comes up with.. I never get anything and go, “I don’t like this”. You know, it’s not a song until we’ve all applied our parts to it. So for me there’s not ever any reason to not work something through.
Kat: So in the system that you use, are the vocals the last part?
Nick: Yeah. They have been for the last two records. When we were writing and practicing before we recorded them, I didn’t even practice with vocals. For Patagonian Rats I didn’t even have the words written for most of the songs until we recorded the music, and then I took the time to write the lyrics. I’d like to not do that on the next record. I mean the vocal melodies I have in mind but the lyrics aren’t super important. I like the lyrics on both the last records, and I’m really happy with them, but it’s not a pivotal thing for us. The emphasis is definitely on the music.
Tom: I was going to ask where you get the song titles from…
Nick: Well… those aren’t like Don Cab song titles, they all relate to the content of the songs. And it takes me a long time to even come up with ideas for song titles because even the song title to me is really important and I don’t want to cringe a year later when I think about it.
Kat I guess that’s another thing that makes this seem like more of a surfy album, like in the song titles you’ve got ‘Sunburn’, and ‘Slimed’, which seems to refer to some surfy stuff…
Tom: ‘Surf Nazis’…
Nick: Definitely, people mention it being a summery-type album, but it probably is a sub-conscious thing. And the artwork is kind of bright and colourful… yeah. I can see that.
There’s… let’s see…
‘New Chlorine’: Pool, water. ‘Bite’…
Nathan: You get bug bites in the summer
Nick: Or a shark bite,
Nathan: ‘Snake Lake’: Going camping there…
Nick: ‘Sunburn’….Well ‘Melody Nine’ is an old song… so that one doesn’t quite match. ‘No Phase’… ummm…
Nathan: “Dude, this summer is like no phase I’m going through. I LOVE to swim”
Nick: ‘Tropic Lame’: like tropical weather. ‘Slimed’: could just be…
Nathan: When you get caught in a wave and you get seaweed all over yourself…
Kat: Or like some kind of word from the ‘90s, like, “You totally got slimed, man!”
Nick: ‘Until Lufthansa’… It just kind of sounds summery… almost.
Tom: Like… ‘German Airline’?
Nick: Yeah sure! Like you’re flying to the beach.
Tom: A German beach.
Kat: What’s the meaning behind the lyrics in ‘Until Lufthansa’? Is it maybe something about a fear of flying?
Nick: It’s kind of a reference to that famous heist that happens in Goodfellas. Well actually it’s all about Goodfellas, but it references the robbery a lot too. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie, but spoiler alert: everyone pretty much dies.