Sean Reinert: Prog's Secret Weapon
Not half an hour before our scheduled interview, Sean Reinert cancelled on us. We weren’t mad but for this seasoned professional it seemed a bit, well, random.
Turns out the Cynic drummer spaced a doctor’s visit for surgery on a torn meniscus in the left knee – never a good thing for a trigger-hating double-bass wizard in the run-up to what may be the most important record of his band’s career. But his worries – and ours – were premature. Like a kid with a bowl of ice cream after a tonsillectomy, Reinert is geeking on the fact that the procedure was done right there in the doc’s office, no stitches or anything “They just cut a piece of cartilage out, so that’s where I was this morning,” he says. “I should be back playing by early next week.”
With a new album and a tour on the horizon, plus loads of other drum activities, the knee situation cuts too close for the drummer’s comfort. But who could have foreseen a secondary injury? A torn Achilles heel from over a year ago forced him to wear a full ankle boot for several months. The boot was a clunky thing that rode a few inches higher than the other leg, and so the drummer’s theory is that during that time he favored the other knee to compensate for the height difference, which caused the extra stress. “There was no fall or accident. All of a sudden I’m having knee pain. The x-ray was negative, but the MRI was positive for the tear.”
In the high-stakes game of prog-metal drumming, you have to be a little bit more conscientious than the average rock basher. Fortunately, Reinert is taking it all in stride. “It’s been a couple years of surgery here on my vital organs: knees and feet. [laughs] So that’s definitely been interesting.”
The Reluctant Metaller
Sean Reinert has done a lot in his 42 years on earth. The Florida native was only 16 when he co-formed Cynic with guitarist Paul Masvidal in 1987. That’s a tender age to forge one of most influential technical death-metal albums of the late 20th century: 1993 debut Focus brought jazz sensibilities and sophisticated arrangements into a genre known for the backbeat of hair metal or the blastbeats of the metal underground. Far from the scruffy effort of kids, Focus came off like the work of virtuosi. “I was listening to Allan Holdsworth and Chick Corea,” he says. “I wanted to put fusion ideas into the metal stuff.”
Reinert has been trying to dumb himself down ever since. Only problem is that forward-thinking metal fans won’t let him. “It was a blessing for me when Cynic broke up,” he says “I kind of wanted to be a new kind
of drummer, a session guy, and kind of leave this death metal legacy behind. But wherever I went somebody would always be, ’Oh, my god you’re Sean from Death and Cynic.’ I’m like, ’Damn it, I’m trying to be the session guy. Not just known for metal.’ I wanted to be Anton Fig or the guy drumming on Saturday Night Live, not the double bass death-metal monster. But then it was pretty awesome to have all these drummers still to this day talking about Human [by Death]. They’re still freaking out over that record, so it’s a great honor.”
Along with Cynic, Death is the cornerstone of the tech-death pantheon. Lead by the late guitar shredder Chuck Schuldiner, Death was a fairly pedestrian metal band until the guitarist hooked up with Reinert, whose academic sensibilities forged it into the technical beast it would become with seminal release Human, the one and only release Reinert recorded with the band.
As these things usually turn out, Reinert didn’t feel the love until it was almost too late. Cynic may be appreciated these days, but when the band was forging its cerebral tech-death style in the early ’90s, the metal community wasn’t down with it. “People didn’t understand when [Focus] first came out because it was all over the place,” he says. “There were so many things mixed into it. So I think that left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. For me it wasn’t a midlife crisis, it was a pre-life crises. I’m 26 and I’m already washed up.”
Reinert’s reputation as a chopsmeister would precede him, and the the musical options post-Death and Cynic only pulled him deeper into the world of instrumental prog. Gordion Knot, a project of Cynic bassist Paul Malone, features Reinert on drums on the self-titled debut album from 1999. For the second Gordion Knot release, 2003’s Emergent, Reinert contributed V-Drums and percussion with the acoustic drums split between him and Bill Bruford. He also tracked drums on another Paul Malone project, the criminally underrated Cortlandt featuring some of Reinert’s sickest fusion chops ever.
So if the music gods had predetermined that Reinert’s drum talents were to be yoked to a band, it might as well be in a broadly accessible one, and Æon Spoke seemed to fit the bill in the mid ’90s when shoe-gaze, grunge, pop, and other subgenres were getting blurred. “Æon Spoke couldn’t have been further from Cynic,” he says. “It was like Radiohead/Travis heart-on-your-sleeve sad-ballad alt-rock. But still the people that were coming into shows were Cynic fans and jazz fans. Like ’What?!’ [laughs] I guess you can’t run from what you are.”
Fast forward to 2007, a friend of the band’s with connections at a booking agency put out feelers about a Cynic reunion show. The interest from promoters abroad took the band by surprise, so Reinert, Masvidal, and a bassist-for-hire regrouped and went for it. Mind you Cynic was not writing new music, just doing a one-off summer festival tour. “We actually did one new tune, ’Evolutionary Sleeper.’ And people just loved it.”
After Cynic got back from that tour the band couldn’t believe the overwhelmingly positive response. They shopped around a three-song demo to see what was out there and got quite a few offers before signing with the small but super-selective French label Season Of Mist.
You might characterize Focus’ proper follow-up, 2008’s Traced In Air, as a sophomore effort that was 15 years late. That album was followed by 2012 EP Carbon-Based Anatomy, featuring various rhythm ideas from Reinert including some Indian tabla percussion that he programmed, a curious development that threw some fans for a loop. “We had some material that we were tossing around, but it all didn’t make it onto [Traced In Air]. So we decided to do this hybrid EP with multiple ambient tracks in between before we made a larger statement,” he explains. “Because when we get into it, we really get into it.”