One afternoon last summer, Nick Reinhart drove from New York City to Philadelphia with a special traveler: a plushy, anthropomorphic frankfurter.
“I had my mom make this hot dog man. It’s a stuffed, human hot dog man. It has pants, a shirt, a hot dog for a head and hands and feet and everything,” says the Tera Melos guitarist/vocalist, speaking to PW in early May before the Sacramento trio took the stage for two sold-out Philly shows. “There was people on the freeway taking pictures. Literally, there’s a big, giant, human hot dog sitting next to me right now, which is pretty surreal and weird. But it’s just kind of par for the course in this band now to have bizarre things happening.”
The sausage, initially a Halloween costume Reinhart bought at a thrift store for his basset hound, first showed up in the bizarre-Japanese-commercial-esque video for Tera Melos’ “Bite.” In the Behn Fannin-directed clip, the huggable hot dog makes its big appearance when it shoots into drummer John Clardy’s hands from stage right. Clardy then cradles the toy as if it were a baby. This is far from the video’s most inexplicable visual: Clardy, for instance, also wears a particularly unflattering bright blue ensemble—a garbage-bag-style dress, an awkward wig, ghastly makeup—as the wiener-infantilizing takes place. Elsewhere in the video, Reinhart and bassist Nathan Latona wear similar costumes in purple and reddish-orange, leaving the California trio looking like an uncomfortable twist on the already disturbing enough Powerpuff Girls.
Other images and sequences from “Bite”: Oversized eyes; giant sock panda head worship; overexcited Engrish captions (“BIG FUN TIME,” “HAPPY DOG!”); drumsticks sprouting out of nostrils; translucent pieces of cherry pie; the birth of an egg; bad 3-D; awkward synchronized dances; and, a close-up of Latona’s comely bulge. The whole mess captures the deeply weird and imaginative streaks that drive this group. “I feel like surreal moments occur so often now in the band,” Reinhart explains, “for better or for worse, that I’m kind of numb to it.”
In their early shows, the formerly instrumental band would toss and smash gear in spontaneous displays of passion, Latona’s enthusiasm once giving ex-member Jeff Worms a nasty head injury. Like the “Bite” visuals, Tera Melos’ merchandise designs are simultaneously creative and nightmarish. Heavily inspired by The Simpsons, Reinhart explains the trio’s work is “this limitless bizarro take on Earth.” With this in mind, Tera Melos has gleefully covered Polaris’ “Hey Sandy” (a.k.a. The Adventures of Pete and Pete theme) and the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” in the same tune. Their audio is a mad scramble of styles, blending and warping punk, noise rock, post-punk, bubblegum pop, jazz and math rock. (Avoid saying that last term around them, though.) The music for “Bite,” which appears on the April-released full-length album X’ed Out, is equal measures ominous and joyful, high-strung and carefree.
Illustrating the band’s sensibility, Reinhart brings up a past show at a bar in Busan, South Korea. Starting with a crowd of around 30, the number dwindled to around five by the middle of the performance. Eventually, by the set’s final song, the remaining people the guitarist remembers watching in the audience were “the bartender and maybe a promoter and one other person.” Because of this, the group turned their last number into “this 20-, 30-minute noise freakout” where, if memory serves Reinhart correct, Clardy simply stopped playing.
“We were just doing this thing where I had all these crazy effects and distortions on. I was just playing every single note on the guitar neck. From zero on the low string all the way to 24 and then the next string, zero all the way to 24, times six. Then, when I got to the very, very last note on the highest string, I just started over. So, it was just this really, really bizarre freakout thing we always reference and will remember,” he says. “The point being that I don’t know that I have a really, really specific memory I can pinpoint as being the highlight of wackiness that has occurred during our band. There’s always new, weird moments that happen.”
Fri., Nov. 1, 9pm. $15. With Fang Island + Zorch. First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St. r5productions.com
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