Friday, March 22, 2013

Interview - Tera Melos

After plenty of miscommunications about when exactly I should call Tera Melos' bassist Nathan Latona, I discovered time zones can dissolve even the firmest of plans. I maintained resolve, though, texting the musician to find out when he could have a chat. And when he asked me if ten o'clock worked, I sent him back a big thumbs-up.

The interview/conversation was a blast, and I hope you readers get as much out of it as I did. Nathan's clearly a great guy, and that fact makes me respect genre-benders Tera Melos even more.

My biggest question for you is exactly where Tera Melos is heading now. How would you describe the overall style of your upcoming album, X'ed Out?

When we presented the record to the label, we were hearing "Oh, it's really poppy,"-- even one comment said "it's kind of tamer!" They didn't mean it in a bad way. I don't think that's accurate, though-- if that's what you take from it, maybe you could get that from the first listen. But if you give it more listens, you can see all these layers: there's a lot of complex vocal melodies going on, and there's a lot of stuff that is really tricky that we play to not sound as tricky. if you really focus in, though, it's hard to figure out exactly what we're doing at certain places. The experimental elements that people look for when they think of our band-- they're there, but are used a lot more tastefully. But they're definitely there.

Is there any response that you're expecting from your fans? I know the process of writing and recording an album is exhausting.

For some reason, we always assume what we're going to do is going to be upsetting to people. *laughs* Even when nobody knew our band, we would think "we're going to make a bunch of noise during our show, and it's going to be funny because people aren't going to get it. They're going to leave." That isn't a goal, but it's just what we like to play. If people like it, then that's great, but we're not going to cater to what somebody wants out of us. If you set the bar that way, you get pleasant results when people like it.

But it's always nerve-wrecking when you've worked so hard on something, and it takes time for something to be presented. The two songs we've had premiered so far-- I wish I wasn't like this, but I remember being glued to the internet, seeing what the response would be. Since the process was so long, it's exciting to finally hear what people think of it. It's not about being nervous if people will like it, but rather just wanting people to finally hear it.

I definitely think this mindset has served Tera Melos well. It's a paradox of sorts - since you guys do your own thing, it seems that you acquire even more fans.

It's always interesting to me, the idea that people want you to limit yourself. I've seen it in a lot of different scenes of music and different genres. When Nick and I started this band, it began with us playing in a punk band. The scene in Sacramento felt stagnant  and if you were branching out - if you looked different, and were experimenting with different sound, then it wasn't punk. But punk is supposed to be anything, and without limits, yet it became very limiting. We started this band to rebel against that consistency that everyone else was accepting. In the end, I realized we were doing the most punk thing *laughs* by daring to be different. And it's funny because a lot of those bands are doing reunions now. We've grown even more from what we were initially settling out to do. If someone asks us what style we are, I tell them we're a punk band, because there's so much ground you can cover! All the true bands from punk don't exist in the same confines of all the same people playing in the scene. Minutemen never sounded like Black Flag, although they were working on the same label.

I just use punk as an example, since we came from that scene. I don't mean it to confine the punk genre, because you can hear music that doesn't at all resemble punk, and say "yeah, that's so punk." They're doing their own thing, and it doesn't matter, and it's for themselves.

How would you say the songwriting has changed with the inclusion of the vocals? I'm sure it's altered the way you write songs.

We used to write by sitting around in a room, trying to understand what was going on with the song we were making. Nick would have a riff, and couldn't explain what it was doing, and the rest of us were trying to figure out what to do. There was a lot of nonstop work, say, practicing for six hours, and you'd get 25 seconds of a song done! We don't have a practice room or practice spot, either-- it's always driving somewhere for practice, or to a friend's with a basement and time restrictions.

With all these restrictions you only get this small amount of music, and this defeatist attitude. John, our drummer, doesn't even live in the same state as us, so we've had to adapt our songwriting so that when we do practice, it doesn't end up being us playing in the same room for hours, trying to learn a part. Nick will make a scratch guitar track for something he's working on, and he'll send us that and we have time to let it seep into our subconscious. That way, we don't have to practice for a few hours to get it, but it might adapt based on what Sean and I are bringing to the table.

Essentially the song gets written in three different places, and it ends up working out! We've adapted to that formula of writing, because it worked really well when writing this record, X'ed Out. I definitely think writing this record was the most rewarding feeling. When we would walk away from practice, I felt was a really good use of time, instead of "we didn't get the part down, so it was a waste of six hours." There wasn't a lot of overthinking-- you can do that on your own time before you get here.

It has been difficult trying to find practice spots, but I've also kind of liked it. Different practice spots give you a different feel for the songs.  I can think back to where we were practicing before this tour, and it puts a stamp on the time. Like, "what room were these songs written in, as opposed to what room these songs were written in?" It's cool to have that change, and to be able to associate it with different moments in the band. There's always a positive spin you can put on your travels.

I definitely think environment has an affect on your mental state. If you're practicing in the mountains, your scenery is different than if you're practicing in a fenced-in practice unit. We've done both! It affects your mental outlook on things. I don't think that's bad, because being in a bad environment can be conducive to being really creative. You use it for fuel to a unique outcome.

There's certainly a different perspective that varied environments bring, and I'm sure it alters your music considerably. That being said, would you say Oxfordian math-rock group This Town Needs Guns has influenced your band's sound? I ask because Tera Melos and TTNG are set for touring soon, and so it wouldn't surprising to hear about the two bands being close.

We don't really know those guys, actually, but it's going to be fun, interesting and exciting. We played one show with them in Europe, and we'd never seen them before; I'm honestly not even too familiar with their output. They do have a pretty convoluted history, too, with major member change-ups, but I'm not too familiar with their discography.

But you get to know these bands personally and through their music, and notice these little things.
Maybe "they're going to play this part of this song that reminds me of this," and it becomes an inside joke between the band. You say things like "I really like this lyric," and you actually have it all wrong, but we all start singing it the wrong way. I'm just looking forward to all of that fun, the "getting to know you" stuff, because we're doing a US tour with the band.

It'll be interesting! The cool thing about is that they aren't from here, and they haven't played a lot of places. It'll be cool to have people be in a place they aren't familiar with, and seeing how it is. I know how I felt going over to Japan for the first time, and it's pretty overwhelming to see these places. I hope it's cool for them to play with these people for the first time.

It'll definitely be cool, and I'm thrilled to be at the show to witness it in person! Thanks a lot for the opportunity, Nate.

If you haven't yet realized that you need to check out Tera Melos' upcoming release X'ed Out, then here's my message to you: you need to check it out.

X'ed Out will be Out April 16th, 2013
You probably aren't as sold as I am, but that's why I'm leaving you with the two tracks Tera Melos has already released. Savor them, let them sink in and stay tuned, for X'ed Out is just around the corner.

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