Pop music has become an increasingly effortless affair, but it doesn't have to be. Sacramento's Tera Melos started out playing schizophrenic math rock, a genre named after the careful counting required for its polyrhythmic sound. Recently the band has brought their love of unorthodox phrasing and time signature-jumping to a more pop context with last fall's Patagonian Rats, and the release last week of their cassette-only EP Zoo Weather continues the trend.
“Since we started the band it's been a goal to have releases in as many fun formats as we can,” said bassist Nate Latona. “Since a lot of people don't have cassettes now it's more of a conversation piece.”
Finding a way to stand out amidst the wash of indie bands floating through the internet requires innovation, tackled most recently by the band with their retrograde physical format paired with a download card. Latona explained the band goes to great lengths to be unique, employing their technical ability to cover sonic ground in new ways.
“Writing the last batch of songs was a big step out of the comfort zone for us, even though to the listener they may seem simpler,” said Latona. “It's not as much about technicality. It's still in there, but I think we try to use it more tastefully... I don't think technical ability alone is worthy of praise.”
The group has been known in the past for blistering technical ability and a high energy live show including flips and cartwheels from members. But recently, math rock and acrobatics take a back seat to a refined arrangement and a new-found affinity for adding vocals to their songs.
“You have to be able to write a progression that hits somebody in the right place, to get it stuck in their head,” said Latona. “I'm not into doing anything fake. We've toured with bands that do that, night by night it's the same show. We're one of those bands that feeds off the audience; if the audience is dwindling or sitting there with their arms folded we may not be that into it.”
The modus operandi for Tera Melos may have shifted, with Latona noting how his role in the band has changed. It's not the musical free-for-all their untitled debut was; now the band chooses to not pack their songs with the most possible notes per second.
“I was playing at first with three other guys going crazy with their parts; I had to hold things down,” said Latona. “Playing with John [Clardy] I feel more like my job is to serve the song. If there is a chorus with three notes I'm comfortable smashing on those, if it creates an effect for the other guys to work around.”
Clardy replaced former drummer Vince Rogers on the kit before the writing sessions for Patagonian Rats. While the member switch contributed to the band's new sound, the two original bandmates were itching to make things more catchy too.
“It was really refreshing because Nick and I already had in mind to make this record not all over the place technical,” said Latona. “[John]'s drumming is really rooted in rock while Vince is really rooted in jazz, so to have somebody come in who plays with a groove really made us realize how to take this in a different direction.”
Now Tera Melos have something like the best of both worlds, and will continue counselling their marriage of math rock and pop music. As for what we the listeners will get out of it, Latona just hopes we can form our own opinion on their art.
“I always want our music to represent the idea that there's more out there than what you're being told is cool,” said Latona. “It's easy to talk about Battles because they're doing something cool, so the same ten websites are going to essentially say the same thing about that band.”
“When it comes to us, I want people to understand that we are trying to do something that we feel is original,” he continued. “We certainly have musical influences but we never set out to echo them. It inspires us to do something on our own.”