Words by David C. Obenour
Well known as the singer and meticulous guitarist for celebrated math rock band Tera Melos, Nick Reinhart has created something entirely new for Disheveled Cuss. But it may be more new to us than it is to him.
Taking inspiration from the songs he taped off the radio and played over and over on his Walkman, Disheveled Cuss is a celebration of straight ahead pop rock. While the songs on his self-titled debut undoubtedly belong in the modern era, their evolution starts from the golden era of 90s alternative classics that came just after grunge.
In a time when everything seems entirely too complicated to deal with, Disheveled Cuss is comfortingly familiar. And a lot of fun.
Off Shelf: How are you holding up? Are you all based in Los Angeles these days?
Nick Reinhart: Yeah. I live in Los Angeles, in a cozy neighborhood, with my dog. I’m hangin in there. First few months of coronavirus were manageable and kind of fun, but recently I’ve started to feel a bit mentally fried out. The isolation on top of the daily onslaught of American political insanity and growing social unrest is starting to feel post-apocalyptic. But anywho…
OS: A lot of the press around the record reference this as your “90s rock” project. Does that feel at all overly simplistic to you? Is that how you see it?
NR: It does feel simplistic, but I don’t mind that, especially just based on what I’m used to dealing with as far as my music being misunderstood or people just completely getting all the references wrong in the past. A lot of rock music from that decade informed the way I hear stuff and shaped the way I would evolve to play music. It’s not like it’s supposed to be gimmick or anything. I guess when I decided to write simpler sounding songs that’s just the way they naturally came out.
OS: What inspires you about pop rock from that time? Being around the same age as you, there’s the formative elements, but if you can try to think about it objectively – what else resonates?
NR: Yeah, so I was between 9 and 11 when I discovered Metallica, Nirvana, Green Day and Weezer and also a ton of punk stuff. That’s the age where you have a Walkman with mixtapes and you listen to your favorite songs that you taped off the radio over and over again. It’s just magical. Sitting around watching MTV after school hoping the “Black Hole Sun” video will come on. Just all of that stuff. The sounds that really resonated – distortion, vocal harmonies, crashing drums, falsetto, punk energy, fuzzy fender guitar solos. Also aesthetically it’s the most interesting looking decade to me and pretty much all my favorite movies came from then. Fashion style, lighting, skateboarding, shoes, cars… there’s so much. I don’t think it’s just chasing nostalgia. That’s part of it, of course, but I still think of all those things and they just feel right to me.
OS: Knowing of your previous work, was it hard to leave some of these more straight ahead “pop-rock” songs as finished? Was there any urge to get in there and mess around more with them?
NR: It felt really natural and comfortable to not have to worry about that stuff. Band practice for Tera Melos is playing the same song over and over again, for hours, figuring out all the nuances and getting every last measure right, and then repeating that for 10 days in a row. There’s barely any of that in a band like this. You know the image of like a baseball batter on-deck swinging 5 baseball bats while warming up and then when they get on the mound they’re all super primed to swing just one bat? That’s kind of what this feels like. I’ve been swinging like 100 bats over the last 15 years and now it’s like “oh god, I can drop 99 bats and I only have to fuck with one?”
I also think “messing with stuff” is in my musical DNA at this point so sometimes it’s impossible to avoid. I’m thinking of the chorus section of “She Don’t Want.” I guess that’s not a super ‘“normal” sounding guitar riff. Seems like I probably messed with it a bit.
OS: A specific reference I started seeing and definitely heard in my listening was Teenage Fanclub. Though they didn’t get the same level of media attention as other 90s British Invasion – were they a band that caught your attention growing up?
NR: Definitely didn’t hear that band growing up, alongside all those other bands. I stumbled upon them maybe ten years ago. They’re so good. I wish I’d found them sooner. My friend Cormac is from Ireland. He’s about ten years older than me and he grew up listening and obsessing over Teenage Fanclub. He often compares Disheveled Cuss to them and it’s the highest compliment coming from him.
OS: The second reference thrown around for this project is Weezer, and as a fellow thirty-something, I have to ask the ubiquitous question: what are your feelings on post-Pinkerton?
NR: Rivers Cuomo remains one of music’s biggest mysteries in my opinion. I’m buds with Scott Shriner. He invited me to a Weezer/Pixies show awhile ago. After Weezer played I walked backstage, or whatever you call it at an arena. I was standing in a corridor by myself and Rivers walked by, solo. and I remember thinking, “whoa, that is pure Rivers – no mystery, no meme-ing, not playing any character – just the guy that wrote all those songs, walking by himself.”
But anyways, post-Pinkerton – definitely a part of that mystery. I wish they’d make a record that wasn’t overproduced. One the the biggest draws to those first two records was the charm and magic. I think a lot of that came from the production and attitude and sonic characteristics. Didn’t Metallica do the thing with one of their recent records where they pulled out all the old recording notes from And Justice for All and tried and recreate that sonic atmosphere? I don’t recall them succeeding, but I thought that was such a cool idea. I don’t know, I just want a more honest, “real” Weezer record. I feel like the songs are there. And when did Pat Wilson stop putting his cymbal crashes on the upbeat? I miss that. Next Disheveled Cuss record is gonna have those.
OS: What is the audio recording you used in “Fawn”? What made you want to include it?
NR: It’s a voicemail my grandpa left me. He died in 2016. Awhile after that I found an old phone and was able to recover tons of messages from him, my grandma too. It doesn’t really relate to the song, it’s just a tender message I thought to include. I guess he was watching tv and saw a guitar player he thought I’d like so he wanted to call and tell me about it.
OS: Sequencing always interests me and there’s a really great flow to this album. Did you approach it any differently than you would in putting together the songs and order for a Tera Melos album?
NR: I’m really happy to hear that you liked the sequence. That’s always a very underrated stress of completing a record. You approach sequencing different with every record. There’s so many things to factor in. It’s like a big puzzle that you’re trying to solve, but there isn’t a finite solution, so you’re also trying to figure out what it the finished puzzle even looks, or sounds like. “This song ends on this note, and that song also ends on this note, so maybe those should go next to each other? Hmm, but that one is kinda long for a second song. Shit, but maybe it does sound like a ‘second song…’” it’s a process for sure.
One example is “She’s odd” into “Fawn.” Firstly, the way that the last chord of She’d Odd – A flat – relates to the first chord of Fawn – B – is harmonically interesting to me. They’re sort of sister chords because A flat is the relative minor to B major. Not that that matters to anyone, but it’s a familiar sound you’d recognize. The main guitar riff in the opening song, “Generic Song About You,” alternates between a major chord and it’s relative minor. So there’s stuff like that that I like to take into account. Also the space you put in between songs plays such an unassuming role as well. She’s Odd into Fawn – it’s timed to sound like it’s a part of the same song, almost like an extension of She’s Odd. If that doesn’t make any sense just listen to the end of She’s Odd going into Fawn and you’ll see what I mean. Pixies do this on the Trompe le Monde record – for awhile I didn’t realize Palace of the Brine and Letter to Memphis were two different songs.
So anyways you add that on top of the chord thing and there’s a definitive piece of the puzzle. Also, my friend Bobb told me he thought “Sunland” should really be on the front half of the record, just because he liked it so much. But I’d already put so much energy into the sequence that I couldn’t stand the thought of undoing all that work.
OS: Asking for another comparison, was there anything that stood out to you from the recording and production of this album as opposed to your previous work?
NR: The ease of recording is a nice break for me. Usually, when doing the other wacky/tech-y sounding stuff, there’s so much hyper attention to getting everything “correct.” Like if there’s a super complicated drum pattern happening, well then the bass needs to be absolutely in the right zone with that and if the guitar is doing a polyrhythm over the top well then we gotta make sure that every note is syncopated just the way we want it. With the Disheveled Cuss stuff it’s like, “hm that guitar note sounds a little wonky, but whatever it’s cool.”
OS: Is Disheveled Cuss a project you see continuing? What sort of evolution might you imagine for a follow up album?
NR: Definitely continuing. The record came out during coronavirus, so it never really had a chance to fully exist and get the album cycle treatment. Obviously, as evidenced by my other answers, I really enjoy writing/playing this kind of music and I feel it comes easy to me. I’ve actually got some studio time booked for September to start working on some stuff. I’ve been playing a lot of acoustic guitar on the couch lately, so we’ll see if that translates to anything.