All the World's a Couch: A Conversation with Nick Reinhart
Nick Reinhart gives us an educational crash course of the indie industry while talking about his new record.
“It’s not even a particularly nice couch, but it is very comfortable,”
Nick says, after detailing a story about his couch that ended in dog piss and migraine-inducing permanent stains. I shared a similar story about the couch I was sitting on during the interview, then thought about all the couches I’ve been surrounded with for the past twenty years of my life. All of them had the same rustic, aging, messy, yet extremely comforting feeling that I could never get in my room or at any part of the house. At some point in our lives, we’ve all wept, screamed, slept, and whispered our deepest, darkest secrets beneath the cushions of a couch.
It’s difficult to introduce someone like Nick Reinhart to the general public, considering his lengthy and fruitful career as a guitarist in a myriad of bands and projects (Tera Melos, Bygones, Acid Fab, and Big Walnuts Yonder to name a few off the top of my head). A younger audience may know of him through his work with Death Grips and Zach Hill, while avid gearheads may have stumbled upon him through rig rundowns on YouTube. Some may even see him through a pug lover’s Instagram account or a music meme page.
I think the easiest way for me to describe Nick is by comparing his likeness to that of a couch—a wholesome, comforting figure that hides a lot of depth and history once you start to dig deeper. In a way, it also makes the most sense to me that someone like Nick would release Into the Couch, a record under his solo project that neatly wraps up a ubiquitously solicitous experience that everyone should begin to appreciate more often.
Whenever I personally try to introduce you to my peers, I don’t really know where to start since you’ve done a lot of things throughout your career. Do you have a specific way you introduce yourself to first-timers?
It’s funny because I feel the same way about my career. I look at my music and any acknowledgment of it like a “secret handshake”—which bummed me out for a long time since I’ve done this for so many years now. I guess I’m more accepting of that now? It is what it is, you know.
I met Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth once with my buddy at his show. He introduced me to Thurston since he was friends with him, so we hung out backstage, and was like “oh yeah, he plays in that band Tera Melos! And Bygones!” or Death Grips or whatever, like he kept pulling out more stuff. By that point, Thurston just had a look on his face that went “I’ve never heard of any of that stuff” and I went “euuuugh let’s stop! Sorry, no…”
So, yeah. A lot of times, I sort of just clam up and think of it as an “if you know, you know” kinda thing.
Over the last ten years, my whole existence as an artist expanded into different things. Tera Melos is my band that I’ve worked on for many years, and that was like, in my early twenties when I started a band and wanted to go all in on it. I would say that’s sort of like a proggy, punk, technical, kinda weird thing and all the above—and then through that, I started branching out and doing these different things where I’m basically playing with my favorite musicians. Then, all of a sudden, there’s “the guy that’s showing up in the pedal videos.” Like, there are people who are aware of me and my whole thing through that—like a Fender guitar video—and then from there, they’d check my stuff out.
I haven’t really considered where I would point people to or how I would present myself, but say, if I redid the Thurstan Moore introduction, I’d probably just say “oh yeah, I play guitar.” That might not be the right thing, but you know? I don’t really know how to describe my career arc other than what I’ve said, right? It’s sort of like a cool, secret handshake.
In terms of your identity as a musician, a lot of newcomers since COVID has gotten to know you through your social media presence (Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc.). For example, one of my friends got to know you through your “Kaylor and Me” video on Instagram, and I had to tell him that you’re not really an internet personality, you’re this big guitarist in the math rock scene. How do you feel about that?
That’s really funny. I started doing a lot of that stuff during COVID, and I am into other things like comedy, being weird in general, and making visual media via video or whatever. I like doing all that stuff, and it’s kind of like what I said about people being aware of me because of pedals and guitar videos and checking me out through that. It’s equally cool to me that someone could come across a goofy video and go “wait, yeah, that’s a guy! That’s a really cool musician!” and I’m happy that it translates that way.
Maybe that’s what I mean by zooming out to bigger-picture stuff and being okay about my career trajectory and embracing that. I don’t think I’m ever gonna have a record that will suddenly have way more eyes upon it than what my direct audience I’ve built and cultivated for fifteen years. I respect and understand that that’s who I’m playing to, and it’s not like I’ll make a song and all of a sudden there’s an extra ten thousand people that care about me as an artist; it’s always been a slow build.
A tangible example would be someone reaching out to me, and it’s clear that they’re not a music or guitar person and they clearly don’t follow Tera Melos or Death Grips or whatever—this is a person that’s clearly into pugs, and that’s pretty cool. As far as people discovering my personality through those different paths goes, I think that’s really cool and I understand that that’s how my career will continue, and not through some big explosion of a hit song or a record that’s doing really well. It’s always been a slow burn throughout the whole thing.
Did COVID-19 impact your sound? I’ve been following you for a while, and I’ve kind of realized that Disheveled Cuss (Nick’s solo project)—both the 2020 release and Into the Couch—has a more laid-back, mellow approach compared to, say, Tera Melos or the anger I hear from other projects such as Bygones or Undo K From Hot.
Well, the way that you would feel listening to the first Disheveled Cuss record is not COVID-related at all because I made that before COVID. I mean, I think my record was supposed to come out in April? Or something? I don’t remember the exact timeline, but the pandemic fully messed up the launch of my entire thing. I’d put all this time and effort into figuring out how I want to show this new part of me, this new thing that’s not just a project, but a real thing that people respect and look the same way Tera Melos is as far as my dedication to it. Then COVID happened, and all the touring, the things I was supposed to do with that disappeared, so it kind of just turned into a record I put out during COVID.
The second one, Into the Couch, was directly related to quarantine; being really bored and watching movies all day, like literally sitting on the couch for a long time with nothing to do. The heaviness of the world and everything fully relates to the music that was written and made into that record.
I was also following the promotional stuff of Into the Couch before its release, and I found out that this record wasn’t done with a record label—it’s a completely DIY project and you did it all on your own. What was that like? Was it stressful?
It was really stressful and bizarre. I haven’t done something like this, and I’m trying to think if I’ve ever released a record fully DIY.
The first Tera Melos record technically came out on a label, and like, my whole existence is DIY—even if it’s with a record label. Figuring out artwork, ordering merch, and buying a van for tour or whatever—like, everything’s been very hands-on. My entire world’s always been that way, but there’s just some logistical things that, let’s say, a record label or a manager does. So, I’m very used to feeling like I’m on my own on an island even if I work with record labels.
This was different because it was just having to learn all the boring, behind-the-scenes, logistical things—which I’m not good at. Like, it’s really hard for me to dedicate focus to stuff like that. Let’s say, answering emails, or even figuring out how to upload music to all the streaming platforms—which I still didn’t really figure out how to do perfectly. There were a couple of misses on my part, but in the end, it was very satisfying. My record (I think…) has recouped, so all the money I’ve spent on it like recording it, making my little tape things and shirts—all the bucks I’ve made back, so that was really cool.
I don’t know if you know, but the way an indie label works most of the time? I don’t know if this is common anymore but fifteen years ago, it was a big deal because indie labels gave you a 50/50 split. They’ll pay for your recording, and once the record recoups, we split it down the middle, and everyone’s happy. That was a big deal in the early 2000s because it was like, “Woah, major record label deals don’t do that, and they take tons of money, and it sucks!” It’s a whole complicated web, and so, during COVID, it just occurred to me like, is 50% even a good deal? Is someone giving me a loan that I have to pay back to go record this music, and there’s a 50% interest on that loan? I mean, I could be missing something, but having done it long enough and seeing how COVID fucked things up, I would not like to give away half of the future earnings for this thing that I’m gonna make, so maybe it’s worth it to learn how to do all the boring, behind-the-scenes stuff, you know?
For a newer generation of artists that have gone DIY, they really do it all by themselves. Say, having the Spotify streams directly linked to their personal bank account. I personally don’t know how all of that works, but I feel like with the development of technology it’s gotten a lot easier to get a greater share of how much you earn with either streams or merch sales.
No, that’s absolutely right! Like, with things like Bandcamp and Bandcamp Day where they don’t take a fee or whatever. It’s gotten way easier to do that. The problem is, how do you get anyone to pay attention to your music? Because you can take full ownership and figure out how to do everything yourself, but a record label is like joining a “cool club,” right? And there are people that care about that cool club and pay attention to who is joining the cool club. Without that, well, fuck, I’m kind of starting my own club—how do I get everyone to know about this?
That is different to me because I have spent fifteen years in some kind of cool club where people are aware of me, but followers, likes, or whatever social media metrics do not translate to selling records or people even listening to your music. I knew that would be difficult, but at least I have a small version of the audience that I’ve built where if I did the math correctly, I think I’d be able to do this without the help of anyone and not completely getting fucked over. I think enough people will listen and care about this enough for me to do something like this correctly, and I’m satisfied with the way it turned out—like, I think I did mostly everything correctly in the end.
Yeah! I think you did really well, especially with how unique the presentation of the USB cassette tape was. I thought that was really cool.
Thank you! Stuff like this is part of this thing called “album campaigns.” Say, when you’re a band, you organize this campaign through music videos, touring, getting press, interviews, features, and all that. And I just knew that this wouldn’t be a normal album campaign. First of all, I’m not going on tour right now. I’m working this weird Halloween job simultaneously and I’m making funny videos. Again, this was just me taking control and thinking, “well, what could I do differently?”.
I don’t know, it’s all very me, and it’s very on-brand to present a record in this way. Like, it’s not on an actual cassette, it’s not on vinyl, it’s on this weird USB drive with all these fun, cool, bonus things. It was a very different approach to trying to release something with an album campaign that’s a little unconventional. I had fun with it, I am having fun with it, and I think the people that are paying attention to it are picking up on that. There may not be new eyes on what I’m presenting, but I’m okay with that. I like that the “real ones” who’ve been paying attention for a while care about that, and I think that’s pretty cool.
When I listened to Into the Couch for the first time, I really felt the importance of creativity in a time of crisis—such as a pandemic, for example. Music, in a way, is one of the many outlets one could use to cope with uncomfortable or unknown circumstances that are going on in life. Is that one of the messages in Into the Couch?
I wouldn’t say there are a whole lot of messages that I wanted to convey—it’s more about how I feel about certain things, but I feel the way that you just described. That is how I felt making it, and if people pick up on that or interpret it that way, then that’s all the better.
There was obviously a lot of adversity to overcome globally, personally, over the last couple of years, and to make a quiet-sounding, nuanced, intricate record was the best way to present those feelings to me—which I haven’t really done before. I’ve never really made something that sounded like that, and I guess I have on my own time, but I’ve never presented it in a packaged form of like, “this is my art that I want other people to check out.”
There was an incredible guest list featured in the newest record. How did it feel like working with people like Jimmy Chamberlin (drummer for the Smashing Pumpkins), and Josh Klinghoffer (former RHCP guitarist), and how did working with them go? Especially in a DIY, virtual setting?
If I remember correctly, the way this happened was I wrote a bunch of songs, and I thought “I’m gonna make an acoustic record, that would be weird and different.” Then, I thought “shoot, I guess it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some bass and drums,” so I reached out to my friend Eric Gardner and Billy Mohler. They got back to me and were enthusiastic about it, then the ball started rolling in my head. I don’t remember what came together after that, but it might’ve been Billy since he plays with Jimmy Chamberlin in his band, Jimmy Chamberlain Complex—which is sort of like a jazzy, proggy, side project. At some point, Billy had mentioned to Jimmy that he was recording bass for my record, and then Jimmy says to Billy, “well hey, does he need any drums? I’m down to play drums if he needs anything.”
So, after Billy and Eric were on board, and all of a sudden I’m getting word that Jimmy’s interested in playing, I go “fuck, alright, well maybe I should turn this into a collaboration type record.”
Then, I just came up with a list of who’s available and around—they’re all my friends. Logistically, how it worked was that I’d demo songs here, in this room (his home studio), or maybe I’d start recording stuff in an actual studio up in Sacramento—let’s say, guitar or vocals—and then send those files to all of the musicians. Then, they all recorded stuff on their own. I believe everything that was given to me by the featured guests was home recordings, which I thought was pretty cool too. They would send me their ideas, and I’d be on my computer, pull them up, and drag them into my little recording program. I was constantly having my mind blown, like, “oh my god, I would’ve never thought about this!” or “this is such a neat idea!” and fully transform the songs into what they ended up being.
That’s also interesting to me on the level of me doing it all myself, sans record label. It would be pretty badass and funny to have this lowkey release have all these people in or whoever I can get behind it. That was a fun angle for me to get at.
Did working with a huge guest list of these heavy hitters give you inspiration and influenced your thought process?
Not literally in that sense, but for instance, let’s say, I have an acoustic guitar and vocals recorded with maybe an auxiliary keyboard sound. Then, I’d send that off to Jimmy Chamberlin, who adds his thing, then I get that back and go “oh man, I wouldn’t have thought about it that way,” or he’s coming at it from an entirely different perspective. Now, the song is gonna evolve into something else—so, in that way, it was fully influential where they changed how the song sounded.
Something I could think of off the top of my head is Lisa Papineau singing some vocals on the song “Bye for Now.” I told her what she wanted and she got back to me with all the harmonies. I loved what she did but maybe that was a little less guiding from me than, say, some of the drum or bass parts. They all influenced the outcome on some level to different degrees.
Was there a favorite track that you worked on off the record? If so, why was that your favorite?
I guess that sort of changes from day to day. Right now, I feel like “Remote Viewer” is all-encompassing of what I was trying to convey with the record. It has features and acoustic guitar with pretty happening drums and a neat upright bass part, then all of a sudden once I had all these things in place, there’s an electric guitar. At some point, while making it I thought “I guess I’ll have electric guitar like, who cares? What’s the difference? There’s no rules to this.” So, when I started adding fuzzy leads to it, I was like “wow,” you know? The contrast of the way I play electric guitar with my acoustic playing is sonically really interesting and it hits differently than like, me playing noise/weird rock guitar. When you sprinkle some of those weird, noisy elements in, suddenly and thoughtfully over acoustic guitar, it sort of has a different kind of impact. In “Remote Viewer,” it’s the first time it occurred to me that I realized it was a really neat sound that I can achieve through something I’ve never tried before.
Is there a proper way and order to listen to the songs in the album? Say, you were giving this record to someone. Would you want them to listen to the album chronologically, or point to specific songs that define the album?
It’s definitely an album that’s meant to be played front to back. Whereas, say, the first Disheveled Cuss record was a bunch of songs where I was trying new things. I always put a lot of care and attention into sequencing the record—which always takes way longer than I think it’s gonna take. For the first record, you can pretty much pick a song off there and understand what I was going for, whereas with Into the Couch, even though it’s not like I wrote it in some sort of sequential order or thought about it in terms of storytelling back-to-back, it was more so retroactively piecing the songs together in a way that makes sense.
I was actually thinking the other day, where the first song was “Creep a Little Closer,” and the third line or something was “sunk into the couch.” That was the first song referencing the couch and being fucking weird and in your head there, and the last song, “Into the Couch,” completes that thought.
Another thing I’ve considered is that it’s a pretty long record, like about 50 minutes—which, for me, it’s a lot. I know there’s no way a record label would’ve been down for it to be that long because you can’t really print vinyl—like, that necessitates a double LP, which is very expensive and heavy and a pain in the ass. Had I been working with a label, we would’ve fought and bickered and I would’ve been forced to make it a single LP and chop a bunch of stuff down.
I’ve personally considered doing that because with a 54-minute record, I could’ve done two more songs and squeezed two records off of that, right? I could have two half-hour records, but in the end, I was like “fuck that.”
Financially, it could make sense. Let’s say I release Record A now, and then two months later, I release its companion, which is the second half of it. That would’ve been interesting to me and I probably could’ve done a lot of neat things with that concept. But, to me, it’s one complete piece, and to break it up into two different things would lose the point and concept of the record. Even though it might make more sense, I really wanted it to be looked at and considered as one piece. I’d prefer it if someone would listen to the record in its entirety, but say, if I show this to someone who hasn’t heard this record but has heard of my stuff—say, a fan—I guess I’d point them to the song “Remote Viewer.”
This is a bonus question, but what does the couch mean to you?
The couch honestly just feels like a safe space. You know, I spent a lot of time in my living room doing stuff on the couch: watching things, being on my computer, farting out on the phone, napping with my dog—you know, it really feels like my safe space, and I feel like everyone needs a really comfy couch to have those experiences on. Something about COVID and spending so much time in my living room started occurring to me, where these things started to make sense and matter a lot more. I really felt like the couch was my sanctuary out here.
It’s funny because even recently, like, I need a new couch. I got my current one off of Craigslist in 2014 in Ventura, California, and I remember having to drive the band van out to pick it up. It wasn’t expensive—like, I got a good deal. Maybe some dudes were moving or something, but I got a brand new couch for probably about $150 or $200. I was living at my dad’s house at the time with my girlfriend, and I got the couch home to my dad’s. It was a massive pain in the ass because it barely fit in the van, and I was doing it by myself. My girlfriend wasn’t home yet, so I thought to do this cutesy, funny thing where I set the couch up in the driveway, and I’m gonna sit on it when she gets home. I did that, and as soon as she pulled up, one of my dad’s dogs jumped up on the couch and pissed on it. Like, it was in the driveway, I just unloaded it off the van, and the dog pissed on it. And I was like “oh my fucking god… ugh… I was trying to do this really nice and thoughtful thing and this fucking dog just pissed all over it… this little tiny, yapper dog.” I remember immediately getting a mobile couch upholstery cleaner to come out, and it was this massive headache because this guy couldn’t get the piss stains out. He tried his best, and even after he did everything, I kept trying and mostly got everything out.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that this couch that I’ve had for a while doesn't really have a good history to it, you know? It’s not a good couch, and I could use a new one. A friend was getting rid of a brand new, nice, mid-century style couch, and she offered it to me, but I was like “no, I’m good.” I couldn’t explain my weird, sentimental connection to that particular couch and it’s gonna be a thing when I have to get rid of it. Like, I know I have to get rid of it at some point, but when I do get rid of it, I’m gonna be really specific with how I wanna replace it.
So, anyways, that’s what the couch is to me, and it’s just funny because it’s not even a particularly nice couch, but it is very comfortable that’s for sure.
What can we expect in the future? Will there be more Disheveled Cuss? Are you going to revive older projects? What can we look forward to?
The next thing that I would’ve liked to make is another Disheveled Cuss record—which, I have been simultaneously writing and demoing while trying to complete Into the Couch. I actually tweeted about this yesterday, where I said that the last record was a “long hair” record and the next one’s a “short hair” record, you know what I mean? So that’s the indication of what it would sound like. The direct next thing that I would like to do is finish writing that, and then go record and figure out how to release it. That would be the closest thing that I would like to accomplish next, but I haven’t really thought of anything else because I’m still in the “campaign phase” for Into the Couch. My brain hasn’t really started going towards other things, and it seems like the way that it happens in my world is like, all of a sudden something will pop up and I’m making a record with Zach Hill or like someone who went “hey, wanna go do this or that?” It just suddenly explodes and it could happen at any point. But as far as I have planned, I would like to do another Disheveled Cuss record sooner than later.
That’s really exciting! Will Dot make a feature in the next record? A barking sample or something along those lines?
Yeah! I’ll bet some way or another, I can probably work that in. I’m sure it’d be impossible not to have a dog reference in the lyrics or something like that. She has an upset tummy today, but yeah, she’ll make an appearance.
A personal request from Nick that I got before leaving the interview and thanking each other was to uncover the identity of a street rapper that goes around the neighborhood of Little Italy (specifically in the area where the Axis Club, formerly known as Mod Club, is located) with his own bizarre rendition of lyrical poetry. I've personally never heard of him, but Nick is pretty sure he's a local celebrity or a somewhat notorious figure in the area. If any demo readers are aware of his existence, do let me know and I'll get back to Nick about it.
Other than that, check out the music video for "Creep a Little Closer":