Like his mentor and frequent collaborator R. Stevie Moore, Ariel Pink's music doesn't just defy categorization, it obliterates it. His songs, while distinctly rooted in pop structure, are coated with centuries of dust and grime like a creeping ooze bubbling up from a '70s AM radio swamp.
His back-story is equally confounding. When I sat down with the 27-year-old Los Angeles native, I came away more confused than enlightened. He was touring to support The Doldrums, an album originally recorded in the late '90s and reissued in 2004 on the Animal Collective's Paw Tracks imprint. Since that album, Pink has recorded four new albums (2001's Scared Famous, 2002's House Arrest and Loverboy on Ballbearings Pinatas , and 2003's Worn Copy on Rhystop records, none of which are getting a fraction of the press of the Doldrums.
I met Pink and his band at a cheap Middle Eastern restaurant in the Lower East Side before their NYC debut at Tonic. Dressed in knee-high moccasins, dark jeans, and a pink '70s ski-lodge sweater, Pink looked like a deranged hippie who'd just crawled up from his Technicolor sewer. As he dug into his shwarma, I got the tape recorder rolling.
I thought you were a one-man band. Who are these guys in your band?
I don't tour normally. This is my first tour. It's a total trial kinda thing.
How many dates are you playing?
Twenty-seven dates. This is the first time I've ever played outside of L.A.
I notice you recorded a song for R. Stevie Moore's last album (Conscientious Objector). How did that come about?
He's gonna be at my show tonight. I'm so happy you interviewed him. I'm lobbying for him, you understand.
Lobbying for him to...?
I'm trying to like, reverse time. I'm trying to get Todd Hyman to reissue him on Acute. Then it can get like, the David-Fricke-fuckin'-Rolling Stone treatment. It's about time. It's criminal that he's not well known. Especially in light of the fact that I'm getting attention. It's like, you guys aren't even doing your homework, man. Here's a list of like 30 different artists you guys should be checking out before you even say two words about me.
You'd think Rhino would have done an R. Stevie Moore retrospective by now.
Mojo has never even printed a word about him. Uncut, never a word. Since we're digging up everybody's corpse, give the guy one fuckin' word of print for once in his life. He's like the oldest running home recorder, man. Are you kidding me?
How did you discover him?
Like everybody else. I excavate, search around.
Do you listen to a lot of obscure, weird stuff?
Of course man. But a lot of popular stuff too.
How did you get involved with the Animal Collective?
I was at one of their gigs. We have a mutual acquaintance. I did just like I always do. I just pass it off, hand people music of mine. I didn't expect anything. I didn't even know they had a label. They got back to me a month afterwards and they were like, "We rocked your album on tour." And I was like, "Sweet, man." And they're like, "We wanna release it on our own label."
Let's talk about the recording of the album. The thing is just dripping with tape hiss, like the tapes have been rotting in your closet for years.
At the time I recorded it, it was just trial and error. I don't know anything about recording. It was all on 8-track cassette.
Would you record in a big studio if given the opportunity?
Yeah, if someone gave me money...I'd probably need some whiz kid to help me out. I've been in studio situations and recorded stuff digitally. But under the wrong hands it sounds like crap. So I just throw up my hands, like, "Fuck it, man," for better or for worse, I'm stickin' to my 8-track shit.
So it is an aesthetic decision to some degree.
It is. Because if most people got the crap sounds that I got, they'd probably put their instrument down and like, read a handbook or something. I just have low standards. I just wanted to make it sound okay. I don't know how to make things sound perfect.
Personally, I think songwriting is more important than anything else.
I don't think that's true. It's not about the songs. You cant' separate the production from songs. You can have a lackluster song but given proper production it's an amazing song, and vice versa. For me, producing is like, I learn right then and there recording it. I like singing these songs, but not in like a folk troubadour-kinda way, they kinda swim in my head for a while and I finally like turn on my 8-track and go, "Fine, I'm gonna hunker down and do this, and learn it on the instrument, put it down and forget about it." That's what made the cut you know, for better or for worse.
Are you guys playing new stuff on the road?
No. It's not new, but it's more current stuff than Doldrums.
Yeah, that album is practically a re-issue.
Originally, it was a self-released thing on CD-R. But that opened the doors for the next stuff. But those albums aren't getting any press at all. Nobody knows about them. It's like, "What is this guy doing in the year 2005 thinking he can pull this off?" I've learned my chops since then. But it's kinda cool cause I won't fall into the second record syndrome. I already did it. I've got like 10 records already in the bag.
Why do you play music?
I just wanna make a living, man. Maybe it's a pipe dream. I don't need to be rich and famous, but I haven't made any money off of my music yet. And I've been shell-shocked cause my sister got into a car accident so I've been laying low and just trying to get my life together. I'm trying to go back and exploit stuff I've done in the last 10 years. It's a great opportunity, but I wanna get back and record some new stuff really bad. But it's not easy anymore because there's just not enough time. I've got all these obligations now.
Touring, interviews, I don't have a car. I got money problems all the time so I have to scrounge to make money, odd jobs. I do art too, so like, that helps bring in money, but it's just been a really hard year, my whole family's shattered so I still have to take loans from Papa and all that stuff. He's helped hook me up with an apartment and stuff like that. But all of a sudden there's an opportunity to do something with my music.
Why kind of art do you do?
Do you have a website?
I have gallery shows. In fact, R. Stevie designed a site for me. I had an exhibition in LA with Jim Shaw and Ed Ruscha. All of a sudden they're embracing my drawings, which is really weird. I've been doing art much longer than music.
Before we go, let's talk about how '70s your album sounds. It's like a warped take on Hall and Oates' earlier stuff.
Yeah, I think they're really great. "She's Gone" is a great song. It's so impeccably produced.
Weren't they from L.A.?
Manhattan maybe. I think Daryl Hall might be from Canada actually. I've come to the conclusion that good music -- really original, great shit -- is isolated. It's everywhere, you just have to find it. There's stuff in Rotterdam. Have you heard Harry Mary?
This guy's increcible. He's a total pioneer genius to me. He's like 30. But you have to go to Rotterdam to find him.
Do you think isolation breeds creativity?
No, I just think really good things are always a rarity. I think the stuff that's touted as the next big thing is usually bullshit. I'm an oldies kind of guy. After 1983 they discovered those ridiculous reverb units. You don't need that man. When I got big into music I loved Michael Jackson. Eventually I got into metal in junior high. It was a way to mark your independence and I was also maladjusted.
What kind of metal?
Def Leppard was one of my first tapes. Metallica changed my life. Anthrax changed my life. Sepultura changed my life. Entombed changed my life. Morbid Angel. Deicide. All up until 1991 when I went to Mexico and got into Death Rock. That was like Bauhaus and the Cure. The Cure is probably my all time favorite band ever. I live in "Charlotte Sometimes."
March 14, 2005