When somebody finally works up the gall to bring up math rock in a conversation, you can be reasonably sure of at least three things. One, you’re about to question your existence and/or social standing as someone rattles off dozens of bizarre band names that you may or may not have heard of, let alone care about. Second, there will be some kind of debate – math rock, despite its name, is hardly objective, and its community is as passionate as it is polarized. And third, you’ll be quizzed on Nick Reinhart.
Though widely known as the leader of Tera Melos, Reinhart’s mind-blowing guitar tones and textural excursions are second only to his sheer amount of output. We’re not talking signal strength: since we last spoke to Nick in 2014, he’s had a hand in oodles of projects like Big Walnuts Yonder, Acid Fab, Swollen Brain, Bluewhale, Undo K from Hot, Death Grips, Holy Western Parallels, and Disheveled Cuss – and that’s just off the top of our heads.
In the midst of preparation for Into the Couch, the upcoming Disheveled Cuss album, we thoroughly caught up with the legend himself on important topics like pedals, hardcore, Zach Hill, and a whole lot more. Strangely enough, if you’d like some visual aid, the Earthquaker Devices feature below from last week follows an eerily similar line of questioning, but not necessarily in terms of the answers that follow. So the next time some cheeky bastard brings up the math rock again, you’ll thoroughly prepared for the quiz.
FB: What was your first experience playing live? How much musical experience did you have at that point?
Nick: my first live performance was playing guitar at my 6th grade talent show. i played alice in chains’ “them bones.” i’d gotten my first guitar around that christmas. we had a family friend that was a punk and had a band called the shitkickers. he showed me how to play the song. i remember my guitar being pretty out of tune. i also hadn’t gotten my first fuzz pedal yet, so i played it clean- a clean and out of tune “them bones.”
FB: Even though you were allegedly bored with hardcore after playing with bands like No Regard and Stabbed in the Throat, it routinely shows up in your discography as an influence. What is it about hardcore/punk that keeps you coming back?
Nick: stabbed in the throat was jeff worms’ (second tera melos guitarist in 04-05) other hardcore band. shoot, the timeline is fuzzy, i can’t remember if that band existed before or after tera melos. i didn’t play in that band though, but i did play bass in his other band called drowned in silence, which was like a punk/thrash/grind thing. no regard was my punk band with nate latona pre-tera melos. and then i’d played bass in another sacramento hardcore band called hoods, between no regard and tera melos. anywho, when you grow up in punk and skate culture that stuff just seeps into your dna and never goes away. i wouldn’t say i was necessarily bored by it, but my brain and musical interests were just expanding quickly in my early 20s and tera melos started as a band that could incorporate all these different musical ideas in one centralized project.
FB: Do you still listen to hardcore and punk regularly, or just on special occasions?
Nick: definitely listen to it regularly. way more than i listen to anything tech-y or “mathy” or whatever it is i’m generally associated with.
FB: Is it a challenge writing solo material as Disheveled Cuss or do the songs come to you instinctually?
Nick: not at all. writing that kind of music is much easier than most other bands or projects i’m involved with.
FB: Speaking of, the new DC single “Creep a Little Closer,” is mellow to the extreme, and you’ve mentioned that the new record has a more acoustic direction. Did anything in particular inspire the laid back direction?
Nick: i have an acoustic guitar in my living room that usually rests up against a chair just for show. at one point during the early covid quarantine i’d been strumming it while sitting on the couch watching movies. i put the guitar into an open tuning just so i could mindlessly play stuff that sounded nice while not really paying attention to what i was doing. so that was sort of the genesis. songs just started pouring out from there. i love the beach boys, Jon brion, elliot smith etc. definitely grab quite a bit of inspiration from that universe.
FB: You also recently revealed that Into the Couch has a pretty exciting guest list – if you had to say, which song on the record changed the most once it got to the collaboration stage?
Nick: the song “Run” is me and jimmy chamberlin. it started as this sort of tender, strummy, blue song. then jimmy sent me his drum ideas and it initially stressed me out because it was fully something other than what i’d imagined. of course after thinking on it it totally opened up my mind to where the song could go, dynamically. the point of having such a collaborative record wasn’t to have all these incredible artists just play what i wanted them play- it was for them to contribute their own ideas and nuances to the songs. every song that has friends playing on it has musical ideas where i’m like, “fuck! i never would have thought of that!”
FB: All of your projects have featured pretty fantastic drummers, but snagging Jimmy Chamberlin of The Smashing Pumpkins is pretty legendary. Do you have a favorite Jimmy Chamberlin drum moment?
Nick: my favorite jimmy chamberlin drum moment occurred in feb 2020. my friend billy mohler (upright bass on into the couch) asked me if i wanted to play an improv set with him and jimmy in LA. i said YES, obviously. we met beforehand and had dinner. jimmy was so nice and kind and down to earth. we went into the set with no plan whatsoever- just see what happens. we started playing and when his left foot fired up and started chicking the hi hats i was losing my mind. it gave me goosebumps. at one point i “took a solo,” which i don’t find myself to be particularly great at. i was doing this very dissonant square wave-y synth thing with these really pretty, orchestral chords over the top. just creating a really bizarre atmosphere. i realized billy and jimmy had dropped out and it was just me playing. at one point i looked to see what was happening in the real world and jimmy had his phone pointed at me, filming. that blew my mind.
FB: Is finding new music to listen to an active goal of yours, or do you just leave that kind of thing up to friends and their recommendations?
Nick: i guess i’d say my active goal is to discover new music organically, as opposed to ya know reading music blogs and just spam listening to new music everyday. the organic, non-forced reveal of something new just makes it that much more special and connected. i have a few very trusted music recommend friends. rob crow texted me the other day asking if i’d ever listened to the zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle,” because that was really hitting the spot for him. i’ve only heard the big songs, not the entire record. so i’ll check that one out.
FB: Is new music something you go to for inspiration for your own work, or do you prefer to stick to old standbys?
Nick: i’m actually way more interested in discovering old music that i’ve never checked out, like the zombies record for instance, that hits me on a deep inspirational level. i really try to consciously not let too much current stuff get filtered into whatever it is i’m making at the time. i feel like most of my favorite artists chose that same path- zach hill, rob crow, adrian belew, kate bush, richard d james, etc. i guess Brian wilson was the opposite, Pet Sounds was a direct response to Rubber Soul, but he also evolved it to a whole other level. well and then he did Smile, which had nothing to do with whatever else was happening in 1966. i like being semi aware of what’s going on around me musically, but i’m happy to be in no man’s land with the possibility of people liking what i’m doing.
FB: How did you first meet the inimitable Zach Hill? Was there anything bizarre on his head?
Nick: the zach story is- i was, and still unequivocally am, a zach hill ultra fan. watched him play from 2000-2007 without ever saying a word to him, even though he was radically changing how i perceived music. then a mutual friend of ours, dan elkan, called me one day and asked if it’d be cool if he gave my phone number to zach because he was looking for new people to play music with. of course i was like, “OK YES.” i can’t remember if he was wearing a cool hat when we met though.
FB: When you and Zach first started collaborating, did you have any idea you’d be working on projects together for years to come?
Nick: no, not at all. we bonded pretty quickly though. i mention the “having never spoken to him prior” thing because i feel like that was a cosmic thing that was supposed to happen that exact way. if i had tried to nerd out to him at a show or something that could have altered our path in some weird way. so in my mind everything had lined up the way it was supposed to and we hit it off. i think because a lot of my musical personality at that point (as it related to fast/progressive/tech’d out music) had been informed by him, our musical rapport was very natural. i understood his language and once i got my sea legs we could communicate pretty easily. i guess the point of all that is- you absolutely CAN end up being in bands with your musical heroes, you just gotta play it cool haha.
FB: What was the impetus behind Undo K from Hot? And yes, we’re asking how the hell did you guys come up with that for a band name?
Nick: zach had called me during covid about some music he’d been working on, like a full record’s worth of material, that needed some guitar. it was instrumental at that point. we went to sunset sound and i added a bunch of guitar stuff and then he took it and did his thing. i remember listening to that finished record thinking, “wow this is psychotic! i love it.” i called him to tell him it was great and he asked if i wanted to make it into a new band. i said yes, of course. he asked what i thought of the name and i didn’t recall seeing a name on the folder, just some letters and random words. and he was like, “that’s the name!” when i realized that i really liked how unusual and different it sounded. he kind of explained to me what it meant at that point but i honestly don’t remember. i’d just had my brain scrambled by listening to the record and then started a new band right there on the spot, it was a lot to process.
FB: As much as you’re associated with math rock and prog, your name comes up just as often in the adjacent world of guitar pedals. As someone who plays guitar regularly, but seemingly hell bent on pushing their sound to its limits, what are your thoughts on the guitar mantra that is “the tone is in the player?”
Nick: well that’s true, for sure. you also hear about the tone being in the hands, and with some people that’s also absolutely true. nels cline and jon brion come to mind. but yea, you can have tons of pedals and cool gear but you might not know what to do with it all. so in that sense that particular saying about the tone being “in the player,” to me, specifically means the tone is in the player’s mind.
FB: It’s been kind of a crazy couple of years for guitar pedals. Have you seen any recently that blew your mind?
Nick: yea, the new meris lvx is really cool. was exciting to see that crew do something so big and beyond what they’d already been doing. hologram electronics microcosm was great. red panda always hits hard with everything they put out. the boss sy-1000 was very neat but seemed to go a bit under the radar, probably just because it’s like a whole guitar synth system to wrap your head around, and it was pricy.
FB: In the book Stompbox, your segment on the Digitech XP-200 Modulator was one of our favorite sections. I’ll probably never shell out for one, but I was a fan of the Space Station in the same series. Considering Digitech has been sold, if say, the new bosses wanted to reissue the Modulator, what kind of changes or updates would you make?
Nick: ya know i think there was some sort of miscommunication with my section in that book. my pedal was supposed to be written about as the shell of an xp-200 that had been modified to be an xp-300 aka the space station. but anywho, i’d love to see an exact reissue with better switches and standard power. that’s all i’d change! back when tom cram was running digitech and dod we had these secret side conversations where he was starting to believe he could get the higher ups at the parent company, harman, to agree to a proper reissue. never happened, but would have been really cool.
FB: Obviously, the world absolutely rejoiced when the iconic Juan Alderete awoke from his coma and made so much progress through recovery. Have you guys ever thought about bringing back some form of Pedals and Effects? Or working together on anything else together?
Nick: we’ve talked a little bit about it. he’s not quite at a point in his recovery where i think we’d be able to do it to the level we were operating on, but maybe at some point we’ll go there. i’m not super interested in being a pedal demo-er right now. we’re guys in bands that have these full musical worlds outside of making pedal videos and it was becoming clear to us how competitive that world is now with all these young people that have super nice equipment and the time and energy to put into making these videos. and that ends up sort of affecting our thing in indirect ways that made it less fun and more job-like.
FB: Beyond guitar pedals, we’ve also seen you messing around a ton with drum machines, synthesizers, etc. Do your experiments with these other instruments ever render guitar playing less exciting for you? Or more?
Nick: it’s just a different world. if i’m in a mood where i wanna set up drum machines and sequencers and just rave out for the night then being in that zone definitely makes strumming a guitar a little boring. but then if i’m sitting on my couch strumming some chords on a guitar and suddenly have an idea for a song then there’s nothing more exciting than that. i really like being able to seamlessly float between all of these different genres of music, even if it’s just on my own time, for fun.
FB: When you were collaborating with Death Grips, were you surprised that the other members also played guitar?
Nick: hm, i’m not sure i’ve ever thought about that. i know zach has played guitar on records before, like some of his early solo stuff and probably some death grips. and sometimes with dg i’d be playing something that was previously suggested by a preexisting guitar part. for instance the big chords in “centuries of damn” and “on gp” were already in the song as placeholders, and then i redid them and added my own stuff. so i suppose someone had to play those parts at some point. although zach writes a lot of compositions through his v-drums that are loaded with samples. so in theory he could be “playing guitar” through a drum set.
FB: There’s actually a fair amount of debate on social media as to what DG sessions you had a hand in. Was “Runway H” the first song you guys worked on together?
Nick: well, Runaway H(2) is the first song released that featured my guitar playing, but technically we worked on the jenny death stuff prior to that song being recorded. but for the record, the albums i’m on are Fashion Week, Jenny Death and Bottomless Pit… as far as i know.
FB: Honestly, I can barely fathom what it might be like to play with Mike Watt ( Minutemen), Nels Cline (Wilco), and Greg Saunier (Deerhoof). That’s a hell of a lot of talent in one room. Did you learn any important lessons when working with them on the Big Walnuts Yonder sessions? Was there a lot of improvisation involved with that project or were the songs mapped out before you got to the studio?
Nick: with that record, i hadn’t recorded fully “live” since i was a teenager playing in punk bands. there are very few overdubs on the Big Walnuts Yonder record- as in, 99% of the music on that record, aside from vocals, was the 4 of us playing in a room together. that may sound silly or obvious, but in my head that’s pretty crazy. it’s a fairly technical record- as far as the instrumentation goes. so to nail those songs within a few takes was very exciting for me. there’s a lesson somewhere in there. prior to getting to the studio mike watt and i had sorted our parts. i know we’d sent the demos to nels and greg, just so they had an idea of what they were walking into, but the songs really came together probably 30 minutes before hitting record. we’d jam them and nels and greg would come up with their parts on the spot. it was a magical thing to witness.
FB: How does it feel to see Drugs to Dear Youth immortalized in Minecraft?
Nick: i don’t think i’ve seen that. i don’t know how minecraft works. someone tag me in a drugs to the dear youth minecraft thing please.
FB: Sometimes, being in a band is less about playing music, and more about maintaining your relationships. This can be a pretty bitter pill for casual fans that just want to hear new tunes, but anyone that’s experienced knows that some practices are better spent catching up with your buds. These days, how often do you talk to Nate and John?
Nick: both those guys live in europe now, so staying in touch isn’t quite as easy as it used to be. john and i facetime often and keep pretty caught up. i don’t hear from nate too much. he has a family and a whole other world going on. the thing is- when you’re younger it’s pretty easy to stay on the same page. the world is yours and you can create your own path and improvise along the way. as you get older people tend to add entirely different chapters to their book of life and it’s a little harder to stay on the same page as one another.
FB: Dot, your beloved pug, is one of the brightest stars on my social media feed. As a prospective dog owner, I have to ask: when and how did you get her? Do you ever rely on her for feedback in the writing process? Does she have any pet peeves?
Nick: i got her 6-ish years ago with a significant other. we broke up shortly thereafter and i ended up with the little nugget. she cares not about music, at all. i shared a previous pug, lois, that loved lying on cables and using pedals as chin rests. dot- not so much. she’s annoyed when i’m not paying attention to her. if i’m at my desk working on music she’ll be constantly trying to jump into my lap.
FB: What is it about Del Taco’s assortment of hot sauces that makes it superior to the Bell’s?
Nick: it’s been years since i’ve had any of taco bell’s “hot” sauces. i’d have to a/b test them to really know. so at this moment i have no opinion, but i’m guessing del’s stuff is superior just by default, since del taco trumps taco bell in just about every other category.
To be frank, I don’t know about that last part: the last time I went to Del Taco I payed nine dollars for a wet tortilla with some lettuce in it. Regardless, hope you enjoyed the interview and learned something valuable! Oh, and full disclosure, we’re the guy we mentioned earlier that brings up the math rock. We’re the cheeky bastard. Coming up, we’ve got an insanely packed Tuesday Music Dump and features on June of 44, Forrest Rice, Dot Hacker, and more. For more on Nick Reinhart, you’ll just have to google him – but if you’d like to keep our nerves jittering and our writing super fast, send us a coffee over here. Thanks for reading!