Bucking the system 

Guitar maestro Tim Reynolds finds the way–his way

Fact: Guitarist Tim Reynolds has played on all but one Dave Matthews Band record ever released. Fact: Reynolds gained serious popular acclaim in 1999, when the Matthews/Reynolds duet album Live at Luther College was released. Fact: Reynolds’ most popular song is “Stream,” a blistering solo number from the Luther College album. Fact: Tim Reynolds and Dave Matthews are good buddies. Fact: Tim Reynolds will not play any DMB songs at his show on Saturday, nor will he play “Stream.” Opinion: Tim Reynolds is something of a wacko maverick genius.

All drivel about the road less traveled aside, you’ve got to be at least intrigued by a guy who stares fame, fortune, and the adoration of countless young girls straight in the face and then turns away. That is, in effect, what Reynolds has done by eschewing the glittering path of luxury forged by his alliance with Matthews, whom Reynolds met in his hometown at the time of Charlottesville, Va., where Matthews tended bar at a joint that featured a regular Reynolds weekly solo gig.

A decade later, Matthews leads a multi-platinum-selling band and is a pinup idol. Reynolds, well, Reynolds registers under his own name at hotels and peppers his interviews with gleeful profanity and rants against The Establishment.

Listening to a number of the tracks from Reynolds’ latest album, Nomadic Wavelength, brings to mind the solo acoustic guitar virtuosity of Leo Kottke and, to a lesser extent, Michael Hedges—not exactly what you’d expect from a guy who cites metal bands like the Deftones and Mudvayne as current listening favorites. “I’ve got two listening modes,” says Reynolds, “one for pure sonic satisfaction, like the bands I named, and one that feeds my work. But the sounds that influence my music aren’t necessarily music, even. Ambient noise from everyday life figures in pretty strongly to what I do.”

Reynolds must have spent time in a militant insect colony, if his theory of musical sources holds true. “Repeat the Question,” a five-and-a-half minute cut from the album, begins with a deep bass rumble and then is layered, piece by piece, with a series of repeated effects that results in a cacophony resembling nothing so much as a twisted ant death march. It’s songs like “Question,” and “Long Distance Caller”—a series of industrial electronic effects stacked atop a simple percussive beat and punctuated by vaguely phone-button-sounding tones—that give a glimpse into the peculiar aural aesthetic possessed by Reynolds.

“I try to stay away from meandering folk-music type stuff,” says Reynolds of his songs, “and that new-agey crap makes me barf.” To that end, Reynolds now comes equipped to his solo shows with an electric guitar, a baritone 12-string electric, and a sampler alongside the acoustic six- and 12-strings that form the backbone of his material. Still, he admits it’s a fine line between “meandering folk music” and his unconventional sensibility when it comes down to the one-man, one-guitar dynamic. “I try not to get too self-involved and stand there looking at my shoes,” he says. “But I don’t jump around and go apeshit like I do with TR3 [his once and perhaps future power-rock trio].”

There will be times during the show, Reynolds claims, that “it’ll sound like a full metal band up there.” He cites one song in his current live repertoire that features three of his guitars playing concurrently, an accomplishment made possible by the treasured delay pedals at his feet. Much of Reynolds’ accompaniment onstage is brought via sampler from home, where he records the loops and percussion that anchor sections of his live material. And where he used to rely on a good deal of improvisational playing—many of his older songs were written serially, onstage—Reynolds has lately emphasized a firmer structure in his songs. “As a listener, I like songs to have a beginning and an ending,” he says. “So my music is becoming more and more like songs in the conventional sense.”

Still, he takes the freedom to mess around with his stuff as the show progresses: “Actually, having more of a structure to the songs sets them up better for improvisational opportunities.”

Asked about the titles to his tunes—how do you name a song with no words?—Reynolds is typically contradictory. “In the studio, the music comes first, and then I name it depending on the feel of the song,” he says. “Unless I’m thinking strongly about something when I write the melody, and then I’ll name it after that.” OK, what about “Los Alamos is Burning”? “Man, that whole town was burning. I came home [to Santa Fe] after being on the road, and the fires were 30 miles away but you could see them without binoculars. I wrote that song that evening, literally out of sadness,” he says. “High in the West”? “Well, it’s a lesson in Buddhism that was originally titled “Heaven is in the Heart, Hell is in the Head, Tibetan Book of the Dead,” he says, “but that was too clumsy so I shortened it. I guess now it’s just somebody being high.”

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