Innerviews, music without borders

Andy Rinehart
Songs of irony and paradox
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2006 Anil Prasad. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives license.

Andy Rinehart

In order to function, I think cultures tend to revolve around a narrow interpretation of the reality of life and that tends to force us all into a certain sameness,” says singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andy Rinehart. “I think that is represented in a lot of popular songwriting. However, I don’t believe we really are that way. It’s our richness of diversity and the unique differences between each of us that I try to expose in my work.”

“There’s something about exploring the contrast between the ideal and the actual that brings me to a place where I feel really alive,” explains Rinehart. “For instance, the track ‘Buddha’s Pillbox’ features layered contrasts related to the main character, which is Buddha himself. He’s created a pillbox filled with pills of wisdom as a gift to help humanity. However, he’s very attached to the box, which is not particularly Buddha-like. The other irony is that he believes these thoughts are taking place within a dream that he wakes up from. In the end we learn he’s still asleep, which is a play on the Buddhist notion of awakening into enlightenment.”

Pillbox showcases those proclivities in abundance. The cinematic album is propelled by deep electronic and acoustic grooves, growling and preening guitars, and Rinehart’s lilting vocals. The disc is the follow-up to 1995’s Jason’s Chord, an equally adventurous album that features major contributions from guitarist David Torn and bassist Mick Karn. Both albums share Rinehart’s gift for writing songs infused with irony and paradox.

Pillbox’s mercurial soundscapes are shaped by Rinehart’s acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, keyboard, and bass contributions. He built his acoustic and electric axes during his former life as a luthier. Electric guitarists Matte Henderson and Walter Strauss also add textural work and searing solos to the mix. Rinehart’s dueling desires as an instrumentalist and a songwriter posed the biggest challenge when creating Pillbox.

“Sometimes the songwriter in me wants to write moving and catchy melodies, but the composer in me wants to go into crazy aggressive or atonal areas. With Pillbox, I gave up my addiction to writing pretty music and combined my lyrics with some of that darker sonic territory. ‘Berlin at this Train’ is a good example. The song wrestled me to the ground and forced me to explore all of my extremes as I was writing it. It’s quite chromatic, dissonant, and catchy all at the same time. Some of the coloring comes from the heavily distorted guitar I play on that track. Playing that stuff was really fun because it’s so out of the norm for me in that I typically favor a cleaner tone.”

Rinehart has written hundreds of songs but only released a handful across the three albums he has put out since 1989. That’s because his selection process is based on criteria that goes far beyond satisfying the requirements of craft.

“A song needs to feel like it’s open-hearted and making some sort of giving statement in order to make the cut,” says Rinehart. “I’ll sometimes completely finish a song or a recording and feel it’s just not achieving those goals and discard it. The songs that truly represent the place of passion they emanated from are the ones that have the best chance of seeing the light of day.”

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Andy Rinehart