San Francisco Chronicle Features Tera Melos
Tera Melos break the punk format
The members of the band Tera Melos - which was formed in 2004 out of the ashes of bassist Nathan Latona and guitarist Nick Reinhart’s previous band No Regard - say they knew they wanted to expand beyond the rigid format of the punk they’d been playing. Omnivorous in influence, the formerly instrumental band could be lumped in with other post-rock prog bands of the Sacramento region.
“Seeing Hella and other bands definitely helped us break out of the ‘punk’ thing,” Latona says via e-mail from a tour stop in Salt Lake City. “Bands like that showed me that you could still make interesting, aggressive, punk-inspired music without conforming to a lot of standard punk idioms.”
The stellar musicianship of the trio is evident within seconds of hearing the latest album, “Patagonian Rats.” Hammer-on guitar tapping and off-kilter time changes can be indulgent, but Tera Melos line their technical rock chops with a melodic buffer.
The band’s love of pop music is borne out on the 2009 cover EP “Idioms Vol. 1.” Songs by Weezer (“Blast Off”), the Clash (“Koka Kola”) and even the Beach Boys (“Meant for You”) are Tera-ized (or Melo’d out, if you prefer). The Beach Boys’ harmonies are an inevitable comparison for the “oohs” and “ahs” of “Patagonian Rats’ ” album opener, “So Occult.” Choosing to cover the Beach Boys is a reminder that California youth culture could be both bubblegum and avant-garde.
Reinhart is a songwriter who comes up with Tera Melos’ lyrics after a song is mostly composed.
“I’m not sure if there are conscious links between what I choose to write about and the music itself,” he says via e-mail. “A lot of time, to start off, I’ll associate a certain vocal sound or syllable with a particular piece of the music and then build off of that. The song ‘Aped’ is a pretty upbeat song, and by juxtaposing morbid/violent ideas up against happy sounding music you end up with something unique.”
That’s a snippet of reality transformed into an impressionistic take on the infamous case of a woman whose face and hand was torn off by a domestic chimpanzee. Other ominous scenarios occur throughout the record. Aging skinheads and football hooligans are called out in “Westham United.”
“Frozen Zoo” may be the album’s catchiest single. Reinhart assembled the beat as a studio experiment, using samples of John Clardy’s drumming, rather than bringing a fully formed song into the session. “Even though on the surface that’s a pretty basic song, it took me pretty far out of my comfort zone as far as writing goes, and I’m always interested in pushing myself in unexplored directions.
“That tune is a perfect example of building a rad song, not just crazy guitar parts or individual pieces.”
Their openness of format allows for a revolving door in the band. For their national tour they’ve added a fourth member, Evan Jewett from the Bay Area band Worker Bee, assisting on vocals, guitar and keys. Co-headliner Marnie Stern even shares the original Tera Melos drummer, Vince Rogers, who left in 2008. And touring with Melt Banana in 2009 led to the Japanese band contributing a remix to “Patagonian Rats.”
It’s all quite an accomplishment in seven years.
10 p.m. Fri. With Marnie Stern and Amaranth. $12. Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., S.F. (415) 621-4455. www.bottomofthehill.com.