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Solid Ground

Terrain writes from the heart, plays in the dirt

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"There is no compromise when it comes to my creative vision.” Indie-rock guitarist Randall Mentzos, who performs under the name Terrain, is deeply passionate about his work. Determined to bring something different to the table, Mentzos is not shy about letting his audience know about his DIY drive and singular vision.

It all started–where else?–in his youth. Mentzos grew up in a musical household. “Music has always been a part of my life,” he says. His parents filled the house with music, and he did a stint in the school band until, like many of us, he discovered rock-and-roll in his early teenage years.

As a Navy brat, he spent time in both Jacksonville and Baltimore. His interest in guitar music was kindled at age 13, watching local bands play at Jacksonville venues, and he later began performing himself in the Baltimore/D.C. area. After graduating from high school and spending a few years in college, however, Mentzos was at a crossroads. He enjoyed playing music, but was frustrated with the financial barriers he faced.

His return to Jacksonville was conscious, and he brought with him the lessons he’d learned up north. In Maryland, Metzos had noticed how important it was to other musicians to have an inner drive and an ability to hustle.

“The scene is what you make it,” he concluded. “You only get out what you put in.”

Upon his return, he noticed how people like Sunny Parker were curating great music in the area. He would like to see more musicians throughout the region take on that DIY spirit and bring larger events to Northeast Florida, often regarded as ‘small town’ for entertainment.

When you listen to Terrain, you can’t help but hear the dulcet tones of ’90s indie rock wending their ways through each tune. Mentzos points to the experimental guitar work of Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth as primary influences, but the atmospheric sounds of Death Cab for Cutie and the stark, personal songwriting of Elliot Smith are also clearly lodestars. Bands like Fugazi, Jawbreaker and Radiohead are also referenced during the conversation for good measure.

Influence, however, doesn’t mean imitation. “When you focus on your own voice and creativity, what you put in isn’t necessarily what you are going to get out,” says Mentzos, who has also received what he has said are surprising comparisons to emo-rock favorites At the Drive-In and American Football. While these comparisons might seem farfetched, put on some of those records and you’ll hear the same heart-wrenching honesty that Terrain strives to communicate.

While Terrain currently performs acoustic music on stage, Mentzos has not abandoned electricity entirely. He’s recording an album with Jared Jordan at J Sterling Studios, as well as working on his own electric recordings at home.

Jordan is a kindred spirit, with a similar DIY ethic. He set up a studio on his own and has been working alongside Terrain to help develop the sound. Mentzos says that Jordan challenges him and will not let him call it a day until the song has been perfected.

Mentzos likes to spend months honing his sonic creations in the studio, building songs piece by piece. Once the instrumental portions have been recorded, he listens to the mood of the song, letting the notes inform the lyrics.

“A song that is 98 percent done isn’t done,” he explains. “I can’t release it and let it go until I feel like I have exhausted every avenue of creativity possible.”

One thing that still needs clarifiction is why he named his project Terrain. According to the official bio, “Nature plays a key role in inspiring the band, and this goes deeper than the lyrical content.”

Mentzos explains: “When I’m trying to create, I will go on a long nature walk. I find nature very soothing and introspective. It puts me in a mindset where I am thinking about things differently.”

He connected with the name Terrain because he believes that environmental responsibility is an issue that affects everyone. Don’t misunderstand, though. He is not out there to make a “political” statement. Still, Mentzos believes that artists must do their part to raise awareness about issues that matter. Otherwise, it’s just escapism.

“Are you just partying and having fun,” he asked rhetorically, “or are you using your art to do something good? I want to feel like I am accomplishing something.”

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