For anyone who’s seen Tera Melos live, there are a few things that are immediately apparent. One of them is Nick Reinhart’s extreme fluency with his pedal board. There are moments where you even question whether he’s playing a guitar through pedals, or whether he’s playing pedals through a guitar. One memorable instance (among many) of these moments is when he’ll throw in some wacky lines at the end of ‘Trident Tail’, from their Patagonian Rats album. After a while you get the feeling that most spaces could be filled with some wacky crazy improvisation. And when you look to the crowd you see nothing but grinning faces, brimming with some kind of “who is this crazy genius?” expression.
Although there are plenty of videos out there for you pedal nerds, (like this series where Nick systematically explains every single pedal on his board) when I went to see them recently in Leeds, with Tom from rad local band, Bearfoot Beware, we still had a few questions about the pedal boards…
Kat: So you were saying earlier that what you used on stage tonight isn’t all the pedals you have?
Nick: Well… both of us usually have 2 boards that size at home. It’s probably about like 20 pedals or something. 10 on each board. But we’ve gotten into trouble when we have too much gear on the planes. Basically to have another whole box, depending on the airlines, it could be anywhere from $100 to $300. The first time we came over we had an extra guitar player, so between the three of us, we each had two pedal boards, and we ended up literally spending like $1500 extra, just for the pedals.
Nathan: It was a lesson learned.
Tom: Do you bring them so you can sound as much like the record as possible?
Nick: It’s not to sound like the record, it’s to sound like the way we sound like live, because at home that’s the way we tour and that’s the way we practice. So basically just we need to just reconfigure how we’re gonna play the set. And you guys probably wouldn’t know the difference because it just sounds so crazy and there’s loads of stuff happening. But to us there are a lot of times where I’ll go “Oh man, I wish I had that one pedal right now, but oh well, I’ll turn this other one on instead”.
Tom: Do you prefer it that way? Having a separate live sound to what’s on the record as well?
Nathan: Yeah, I think it’s kind of fun to naturally be in that mindset… you know, we’re not trying to just go out and play the record. Part of the fun of the music and the songs we have is being able to recreate them in in their own unique way live
Tom: It sounds like you’re improvising a lot on stage.
Nick: There’s never been a tangible amount of improvising going down that we’d know of but…
Tom: It just happens…
Nick: Yeah a lot of things happen either in the spur of the moment or something that one of us does the night before and we think “oh yeah, that’s cool, we should do that again”.
Kat: So how did you end up with that many pedals in the first place? Is there such a thing as too many options?
Nick: Well you (@Nathan), probably have more interest in this than me because, he didn’t used to like playing pedals. When we first started the band, I used to have to be like “No dude, don’t you want that? It’s cool!”. Because we had another guitar player when we first started and he and I [had] small little pedal boards with probably four or five on them, and maybe you (@Nathan) started with a delay and a distortion?
Nathan: Well, I started with nothing, not even a tuner, because I remember I had a rack mount tuner at a certain point… I think when I really started getting interested in it was when Jeff quit, because it freed up more room…you know? But it started with… maybe I had a fuzz and then graduated to a delay [laughs].
Nick: But do you like pedals now?
Nathan: Yeah… I do…
Nick: The other thing about where everything came from is, up until six months ago, no company had ever given us anything before. For the first nine years, it was just collecting them through pawn shops or Craigslist, and we would trade. We had a barter system, so if you can’t afford to get into a show, and you have an old fuzz pedal or delay pedal or something, people would trade those with us to get onto our guest list. So we just amassed a whole bunch of things, and for years we were just using kind of junk…. And now, we still have some junk… [But] now these really neat companies kind of acknowledge us, and thought what we were doing was cool, and have sent us stuff… Because the fact is, people come up [to the stage] and they want to see everything, and they go “Woah, that’s cool! What is that? Oh ok! Maybe I’ll grab one”, and that was always weird for us because we’re not repping the company… we just play it because we like the sound of it. We’re not like (puts on funny voice) “’Sup, ‘Sup! We like this company, ‘sup!” But now it’s cool because a few of the really cool ones have actually acknowledged, “oh, this band is actually doing something for us, so it would be nice to return the favor”.
Kat: So I guess as you were accumulating pedals, it wasn’t like “Oh, I want my guitar to sound like this”, it was more organic, and you just got a bunch and played with it until you found something you liked.
Nick: Yeah, there’s a few things we sought out but there are a lot of things we just ended up with.
Kat: Was it a difficult thing for you to transition into doing so much footwork? Because I know some guitarists end up getting systems where things are triggered by themselves (like this midi triggering system used by St. Vincent)… Is that an issue for you?
Nick: So is that like when you have an effects loop built in to where you can link multiple pedals up to one thing, so for instance if you’re in the middle of a song, and you know there’s a part coming up later, you can turn on five pedals at once, and click this one pedal they’re all linked to and that will turn them all on at the same time (eg. pedal board looper). I guess that’s kind of what you mean, but…
Nathan: I didn’t know that was something you could do… [laughs]
Nick: I actually have one of those, but I’ve never used it before. I just think it’s more fun to have all of them right there, not that it’s cheating to use that, but… I have more fun doing it [this] way.
Nathan: There’s a bit of danger involved sometimes, if you need to reach something and you can’t get to it but there’s a certain time when it needs to go off…
Nick: I mean if you’re playing in U2 or something, or a massive band, yeah you don’t want to be stumbling and miss it… A perfect example would be if you’re coming up to a part in a song where there needs to be a distortion on and a delay on at the same time, and let’s say, ok you’re coming up to that part and you turn on the delay and then the distortion is kinda late or something, that would sound really shitty in a U2 song [laughs].
Nick: Well I mean I do do that sometimes, I do have to use both feet… But in our band that’s fine.
Kat: It seems pretty natural for you.
Nick: Well that’s the other thing too; it was natural because I started off little, it was gradual, you know, from three pedals to four, then maybe… oh I came up with another three, so there’s seven, then ten, and it was a gradual learning process. Not just “here’s [everything] figured out”; that never happened.
Keep an eye out for Part II of this interview, where we talk song writing with the guys. In the mean time, you can check out their Tumblr, Facebook or Bandcamp.
Tera Melos will be playing at ArcTanGent festival in Bristol (28th to 30th August).
Click here for details.