Or wigs out. In the past two years, Reynolds, with his stipend from a job at Music Exchange, has recorded four albums of cloudy instrumentals. The first two discs used an organ; the next pair, including his new Pleasure Island, relies on acoustic guitar. The songs are distinct from one another by title more than sound, with Reynolds' blunt playing captured primitively, like a caveman learning to use tools. The series is admittedly an indulgence, one that Reynolds recognizes may be lost even on those who recognize him on the street. His two upcoming appearances -- a show at The Hurricane and a release party at Recycled Sounds -- will nevertheless showcase such songs as the aptly titled "Ghostship" and "Waiting in the Rain."
"I think the common thread in my music and playing is the vibe, the mood of the music," Reynolds says from his Kansas City home. "The main commonality among these four albums I've put together is the trance or droney quality. It's a style of playing that goes back even to the Pedaljets."
That band, a loud near-parody of two-chord metal, was typical of Reynolds' brushes with success; like Grither would in the next decade, the late-'80s model Pedaljets Reynolds joined for a year might have been ahead of its time: The band would be at home on the radio alongside such one-trick ponies as Korn. Indeed, maybe the only lesson Reynolds has left to learn is when to trust that he's operating a step ahead of the trend. So if his instincts tell him to switch to guitar and release sketches of his inner Can, who is he to argue?
"Can is a huge influence," Reynolds says of the German '70s group that stands as a minimalist, instrumentally adroit bridge between the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth. "I think a lot of rock is actually that way. Rock is into hooks, but even the hooks are very repetitive, a kind of drone line. For some reason, it's something I aspire to." For Reynolds, whether it's one note, one chord or one four-line chorus, his antennae are tuned to the way music's V-hold knob swings out of whack. He hears it everywhere, even in the reggae and techno currently crowding his listening pile.
"When I made the two electronic CDs, I had just got a keyboard. The first [CD] was called A Nice New Toy, which isn't a very cryptic title," Reynolds says. His voice is self-effacing and soft, like Emo Philips on lithium. "I was sick of playing bass and sick of alternative rock. I was listening to electronic composers like Lamont Young and Phillip Glass. I wanted to make something like that, something that pleased me. But I don't think it pleased other people all that much. I like music that you put on and space out to. There are fascinating pieces that are repetitive and droning.
"Sometimes a song starts with a title or theme," Reynolds continues. "I'm big into sci-fi and UFOs. Cryptic or mysterious stuff fascinates me. The push and pull of what's real versus what people won't accept as real fascinates me. I don't want to be gimmicky, but I want to bring that to my songs." So it is that Pleasure Island contains "Apparition" and "Solaris," even though the cover is a doctored illustration for a children's record. The one-legged pirate glaring from under the title looks eerily like Dan Quayle after a season on Survivor, a mystery all by itself.
With Pleasure Island, Reynolds pioneered a new low-fi, low-cost recording technology: an old Camcorder. "Videotape is wider, so the sound is actually better," he says. "The people who mastered it did some things to it. People have reached positively when they find out how it was recorded. I wouldn't want it to sound like crap. I did use a tripod. I just wanted spontaneity and intimacy." Reynolds also videotaped his sessions, making a picture track to his album rather than a soundtrack to his home video.
"If you have a music teacher, he encourages you to play on your own. It's that mentality (with Pleasure Island)," Reynolds says. "If you make a recording now, people think you have to have all this stuff. Like, you have to use a drum machine. I'm opposed to that. I was looking for the skeleton of the song."
Reynolds points out that at a time when platinum-selling acts are lauded as risk-takers each time they stray from their signature sounds, he is actually taking chances. "People like Metallica aren't taking risks just because they hire an orchestra," Reynolds says. "Taking a risk for them would be going back to their old ballpark. I think they're being led around. I don't think they're playing what they want to play. I think they should go back and make speed-metal records. They're drifting when they should be pleasing their fans.
"I try to stay optimistic or naïve about things, though," he continues. "I've seen how a label can steal the soul out of the music, the way record companies latch onto things, then discard them." For Reynolds, the latter happened during his stint in Grither. MCA funded an EP that saw release and an album that didn't until the label sold it to a smaller distributor ill-equipped to promote it. When he sensed danger, Reynolds left the band, but not before putting his parts on tape. When you're being bled and starved not in Los Angeles but in Hoboken, New Jersey, you know things are bad. "But I think anybody who gets the opportunity should do it, because it may only happen once," he says. Within Reynolds' definition of opportunity, his door has rarely been silent. Now that Metallica is in need of a bass player, why not Reynolds?