Back to the well

Bay Area punks Terry Malts revisit their pop roots

Terry Malts: (from left) Nathan Sweatt, Phil Benson and Corey Cunningham.

Terry Malts: (from left) Nathan Sweatt, Phil Benson and Corey Cunningham.

Photo courtesy of Terry Malts

Terry Malts perform Saturday, Sept. 12, 9:30 p.m., at Duffy's Tavern. Severance Package and John Holmes open.

Duffy’s Tavern

On their first two albums, Bay Area-based Terry Malts sought to liberate itself from the shackles of jangly guitar pop. As three-fifths of San Francisco's Magic Bullets, the trio decided a dose of recklessness was required lest their various musical itches remain unscratched. With that new ethos in tow, the albums Killing Time (2012) and Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere (2013), along with a slew of EPs, featured a brisk pace that risked Ramones-like hero worship by way of buzzsaw punk with infectious melodies.

It’s perhaps not altogether surprising, then, for the band’s upcoming third (as-yet-untitled) album, that Terry Malts wanted to think outside the bun.

“We wanted to open up the playbook a bit,” explained guitarist Corey Cunningham during a recent interview. He was in the home stretch of a week-long stint in the studio working on the album. “When we started, we were a side project, and it was almost therapeutic for us because we needed to do something musically that wasn’t totally serious, that was totally cathartic and that was quick and easy. Those first two albums are totally built on that. But by the end of that second one, it kind of felt like we were sputtering out and needed to find a new way to write.”

As Cunningham explained, while the ethos of the jaded punk who’s still a romantic at heart remains at the core of Terry Malts, moods and muses have changed. Those who listen closely to the deep cuts on Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere might have heard the seeds of their transition being sown on the narcotic, droney track “Comfortably Dumb,” a happy accident of a tune that subconsciously paved a new aural avenue for Terry Malts.

“I think [that song] might have been the first little hint that we were going to break out of the same old Malts formula,” said Cunningham. “We’re putting ourselves in a place where we’re showing our three-dimensionality in a way the other albums weren’t able to do.”

One of the ways Cunningham, vocalist/bassist Phil Benson and drummer Nathan Sweatt were going to explore these new dimensions was an easy call: Get out of the house. Both previous albums were recorded with Cunningham in his home.

“Phil and I spent at least a year writing, sitting down and demoing and changing and adding stuff,” Cunningham explained. “We didn’t think that would translate well to one of my dumb home recordings.” Interestingly for the band members, their extra efforts meant fleshing out the music in ways they’d attempted to flee after the demise of Magic Bullets, and adding to the less-is-more aesthetic that established Terry Malts’ freewheelin’ reputation in the first place. The Malts and Magic are still two very different bands, but the apple may not have fallen that far from the tree.

“We’ve always existed in this weird space where people think we’re a punk band, or an indie-pop band, or like a garage-rock band,” Cunningham said. “We’ve never fit into any of those templates or molds. Now we’re making a big pop album that shows all these different influences, and each song has a little segment of all these pieces of music that we’re fans of.”

Armed with a fresh game plan and a year’s worth of wood-shedded songs, the band pulled such a 180 for the new recordings that even their engineer/mixer Monte Vallier was surprised.

“When we got there, Monte said, ‘You guys showed up with notes and no beer? This is not like you!’”