Tera Melos may be the band least likely to succeed, but their latest album X’ed Out shows that their ceiling is extremely high
A band like Tera Melos may be stuck in a love it or hate it situation with most casual rock music fans. Their spastic brand of indie rock seems to tinker with the space-time continuum—at once pop-y and prog; enigmatically complex yet surprisingly hook-y. You’d think Tera Melos would be a niche market, and maybe they are, but that market is definitely expanding. When Submerge spoke with the band’s bass player Nathan Latona, Tera Melos was about to play a sold-out headlining gig at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory. Latona was happy to point out that the band had also sold out a previous show in Chicago, and that demand was so high in Philadelphia, they had to add a second date. It’s a nice surprise for Latona and company.
“I think we’re underdogs in our own mind,” Latona says. “We’re not writing for an audience. Since we wrote the first song, we’re always expecting people to hate it.”
But audiences are buying what Tera Melos is selling, and that should continue to be the case with the release of the band’s newest full-length album X’ed Out. Released April 16, 2013, it is Tera Melos’ second album with drummer John Clardy and reveals a confident and cohesive band.
Fans of the group will get the diversity they’ve come to expect from Tera Melos—that deft genre bending and musical acumen that has been the Sacramento-based group’s signature. However, those who may be uninitiated won’t be intimidated by the band’s intense musicianship. While X’ed Out is far from three-chord pop in 4/4 time, there is a psychedelic catchiness to many of the songs, such as “Tropic Lame,” which is a sugary piece of post-punk bubble gum, full of dirty hooks and squalling feedback. Later, the palpitating guitars and dizzying rhythmic stomp of “Until Lufthansa” keeps X’ed Out’s energy on the rise even as the album draws toward its close. The smooth and open feel of the songs could stem from the calm atmosphere in which the album was created.
“Instead of focusing on [the songs] so much, it was like, this is cool,” Latona says. “I’m not going to overanalyze it in the practice room. Let’s just roll with it.”
Latona took the time to speak with us about the new album and also the death of a metal legend in the following interview.
How does it feel to be selling out shows in big East Coast cities?
It’s great. It’s weird because this is the first little run where this has ever happened. I still expect…like, I’m still in this mindset of, like, I wonder if people are going to watch our band and hang out. But it’s like, oh yeah, they are. For the most part that’s why they’re here.
I saw on your Twitter feed today that you guys were posting shout outs to Jeff Hanneman of Slayer who’d just passed away.
I actually hadn’t even heard of that until just now. I think Nick [Reinhart, guitar/vocals] posted that.
I know it’s really different from the kind of music you guys play, but are you all Slayer fans?
Not really. I probably couldn’t name more than one or two Slayer songs. Even the other day, I heard a song and asked if it was Slayer or Metallica, because I’m not really into either band. But it’s cool. The stuff that I heard, I appreciate the musicianship, but I think it’s one of those bands, if you’re just a casual fan, you probably act like you’re more into the band than you actually are. I think Slayer probably only has diehard fans who know all the shit. Maybe I’ll go through a Slayer phase in a little bit, who knows?
I think everyone goes through a Slayer phase at some point. I did.
The song I was listening to the other day, I was like, if I could separate myself from knowing anything that I knew about Slayer…like, say I didn’t even know what metal was, that I could listen to the guitar work without any preconceived notions, it’s really cool.
I was listening to X’ed Out today. I’d seen something that Nick said in the bio, that you set out to make a simple record, but it didn’t turn out that way. Did you have a mission when you went into the studio this time around?
Not really a mission…mission sounds so predetermined. It was more of just, hey, let’s not beat ourselves up over a lot of this stuff. Let’s allow ourselves a little more leeway when writing a lot of these parts, like, let things be a little more open. There would be a lot of parts where we’d be like, I like what I’m playing, but maybe when we’re recording, I’ll do it this way or do something different. It wasn’t like, this is the way it is. I think we were all open to stuff we’d come up with being a little malleable if need be.
Did that come from more confidence in what you were doing, or in the past had you been hypercritical of your own music?
I think it’s a combination of the two. We didn’t want to write in the way we’d always written, just to keep it fresh. It’s a little bit that we’ve moved on. This is our second record with John, so there’s not all this pressure of what we’re going to do with this new record…The band is established as this lineup, so there’s a little more weight lifted off. It didn’t feel like there was as much importance or seriousness this time around. It was a lot more fun.
You’re growing into your skin a little bit, maybe? Do you feel like you’ve established your sound by now?
Yeah, exactly. It’s funny because you mentioned that we’d planned on doing something a little simpler. I think it’s not necessarily simple, but a lot of ideas are a little more refined with this release.
Where were you coming from with this album? What were the ideas you were looking to explore?
I don’t know. That one’s kind of difficult. We’ve been so busy, we haven’t had time to stop and think. The writing process was really cool. There weren’t times after practice where we were like, fuck, what are we doing? This is so draining. Because it was writing the last record.
What was it about the last record that was so draining? Was it just that you were breaking in a new drummer?
Yeah, it was breaking in a new drummer, and feeling like we had eyes and ears on us from people who did know us who wanted to see what would happen with a new drummer. Like I said earlier, the idea of trying to prove to people that even though we had a new lineup, we would still be an interesting band and write interesting music. I guess with the last record, I felt there was more something to prove than there was with X’ed Out.
As a bass player, how is your chemistry with John now that you’ve had more time to work together?
I’ve always kind of felt like that with him. That’s one of the reasons why we chose him. Being a bass player and part of the rhythm section, he knows how to play with other people, and he’s good to play along to, which is funny. You’d think with drummers that would be a natural thing, but I’ve played with people before, just for fun, and they really don’t know how to play with somebody.
You said before that you’d tried something different with the writing process this time around. What was the process like for X’ed Out?
Since we all live in different places—John still lives in Texas—Nick will send a guitar scratch track to just get an idea for it… when we do get into a room, we have a place to start from. Sometimes the vibe of what I came up with didn’t jive with the vibe of what John came up with or what Nick had envisioned for the song. Instead of being down about that this time around, it was cool. I was really down to edit and have more fun in the room—the feeling of anything is possible when we’re in the room and editing that down. I spent more time editing out my parts when I was on my own time. When I say editing, I do mean what can I take out and do differently? On the last record, I played this range or I would play this busier. Maybe I’m going to go outside my comfort zone. Maybe these two root notes are really cool; maybe I’ll just mash on these a little bit.
It sounds like this process taught you a lot about your own playing.
Definitely. It’s been a progression since the last record, where I started paying attention a lot more to what I was doing and how it fit with what Nick was doing. Like, I’m playing with guys who are really good. I need to do some useless noodling too. With the last two records, that’s become a lot less interesting to me. I don’t like a lot of crazy bass players. I grew up loving Primus, and I think that’s awesome, but I can’t do what Les Claypool does, and I’m cool with that. I can play stuff that I think is really cool and creative, that I feel like is outside the box, but Les Claypool is awesome because he’s Les Claypool. If everyone was able to do that, it wouldn’t be so astonishing to see it.
I’m not comparing anything I’ve done to Les Claypool in any way. I’m just saying the approach and focus for people who are into a band like ours is the playing and the technicality. But I like a lot of plain, complementary Pixies bass lines. I think a lot of that stuff is really awesome. I like the way it complements the songwriting. To me that’s a lot cooler and more impressive at this point.
Tera Melos’ X’ed Out is out now via Sargent House Records. You can see the band live in San Francisco at Bottom of the Hill on May 25, 2013 (TTNG and E V Kain will also perform). For more info about Tera Melos, look them up on the ol’ Facebook (Facebook.com/teramelosmusic).