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Ariel Pink

by Gary Canino

Chaotic performances, live recordings, and Generation Tween.


Ariel Pink. Photo by Sasha Eisenman.

Ariel Pink’s unpredictable career continues to go down the rabbit hole. This time around, if he’s not under attack (again) for statements mocking Madonna and Grimes, he’s appearing on Fox News, or collaborating with the controversial and questionable Azealia Banks, and his recent “Tantalizing Tinsel Town Takeover” of LA featured nail painting, donuts, and limousines—all pink. In 2014, Pink is somewhere between the Fool card, Einstein, and Yahoo Serious.

Three quarters of the way through Ariel Pink’s overstuffed, sprawling, tasteless, and brilliant double album Pom Pom, there’s an already infamous skit about a grandfather taking his grandson to a strip club. Almost six minutes of Animotion meets The Human League meets Rodney Dangerfield give way to the crude skit interlude. It’s at the end of Side N (Sides P, I, N, and K, correlate to 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively), and it’s only relieved by the dreamier Side K, three longer dreamier songs that send off a classic double album. K contains the highlight “Picture Me Gone,” which manages to encapsulate the omnipotent feeling of FOMO while also mocking the times that have created the phrase. We discussed the ugly nature of performing, his method of creating an album, and how recording is a rip-off.

Gary Canino I caught your show at Baby’s All Right last week. I got there around 1:30 AM, and was surprised to see they were just shoeing in people regardless of whether or not they bought tickets!

Ariel Pink Oh my god man. Yeah ... it was a little too chaotic for my taste, but a good first start for the new members, that was our first Pom Pom show. We shut the place down! Baby’s All Right was no more. It was ridiculous. If you ask me, I don’t know who sort of decided to pull that prank on everybody but I’m sure it was some sort of attempt to garner some other kind of chaos, to cause trouble.

GC Everyone in the crowd was so drunk moshing to the songs, but nobody even knew what the songs because they were all new.

AP Yeah, including the members on stage! We were all very under rehearsed, but they wanted to fly us out there to set up a little drumroll for the coming months worth of PR. They’re trying to figure out what to do with me, how to have all of this stuff matter, how to create a dent in the sales department, come the week of release. Let’s see if this wonderful press can amount to anything more than that, but I’m not trying to poo poo it.

It was a little bit of rush job for that show, though. Getting everyone ready that week, and not even having members of the band in LA to rehearse. It was just a giant rehearsal that was kind of public. They didn’t know the music, and neither did we. I felt like kind of a lion tamer.

GC I guess the benefit of that is the audience doesn’t notice mistakes when they’re all new songs.

AP Yeah, except for me! I notice them. Well, there are no mistakes when the whole thing is a mistake like that. The person who is playing it right is making a mistake.

GC My high school band teacher would always discuss the two types of performances: We were either playing for a critical evaluation, or a concert for the parents. He would always tell us to never worry about the concert for the parents. “We play the worst concert of our lives, and guess what? They clap anyway.”

AP Right, but we’re not really playing for them are we? We’ll beat ourselves up if we don’t do it right. So even if it was a crowd of parents—but drunk parents with blue hair and glitter makeup moshing—we’re really just playing to the back of the room more than anything, the reserved people too scared to consider themselves fans and get close to the stage.

GC Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy said that his ultimate fantasy is to play to an empty room, to absolutely nobody, and still get paid.

AP To play for nobody? That sounds like not playing. He does that all the time, and he does get paid for it, essentially. I don’t get paid for making any of the music that I do. I get paid for showing up, and making good time for the sound check, by acting for the world. I’ve never made a cent playing for anybody. Playing music has never made me any money. It’s always been the more administrative office work that actually made me the money.

I think it’s the same with everybody, you go to the studio, and there’s an engineer. Here’s a giant list of all the gear they have. The more gear they have, the more expensive they are, because they have all this gear, they’re pro. But really, it’s just because they have to have something to charge you. You can’t really charge for the engineer’s ears. They just feel guilty. But that’s really all you need to know, it doesn’t matter what kind of gear they have, just listen to the results, listen to other records, and that’ll tell you what all that equipment amounts to. And yet, the quality of the studio is the price tag. “Uhh we just raised our rent, now we need storage space … ” God forbid you just charge for you! Because it’s you playing with everybody’s else’s equipment, so just charge for you! But that is everybody’s fantasy, that’s my fantasy too. And nobody would be there, you know, except for Bonnie.

GC The Basement Tapes is one of my favorite albums ever, and some accounts say it was recorded with only three microphones at once.

AP Yeah, it’s a recording. What do we like about it? Because it’s recorded live in a room. If he was playing for you right there, would it be better? No! Because he’d be there. Get out of my sight man, it’s not good enough. I need a record where I can press rewind and move the needle and start over again, I can’t do that with Bob Dylan five feet in front of me singing me a song. It’s a pale imitation.

GC Was this consciously made a double album from the start, or is there any relationship to Exile on Main Street? “Exile on Frog Street” is one of my favorite songs on the album.

AP With “Exile on Frog Street,” it’s just one of those things where it works well amidst a variety, and it sort of has its own album in it of itself. Every song is kind of like its own album, and links all the different songs, they’re all on their own island they’re living on.

My MO up until 2010 was to only make double albums. And that was more or less to fit as much music as I could on whatever format I was bouncing to, typically either cassette or CD, so usually easily around the seventy minute mark. So that’s as big as I like to have as much music as possible. I don’t like wasted space when I spend all that money. It’s kind of like a treat. This album can get deep, really deep, around Side C, or Side N in my case. It’s like, “Woah, this is deep, we’re deep in the heart of it!”

GC Like a Joseph Conrad thing.

AP Exactly, we’re like deep in the heart of the jungle, man, far downstream.

GC “Black Ballerina” has a darkness to it that seems to make sense halfway through the nightmare.

AP Yeah, exactly. Even on “Dinosaur Carebears,” you’re stuck in a deep trip and you can’t get out.

GC You have these funny skits or spoken word bits breaking up songs, like the dialogue in “Black Ballerina” or “Exile on Frog Street.”

AP Well, with those, I think it’s like an excuse for not repeating yourself, to not hammer the verses over and over and to do something different, to create something different that’s just as catchy, without having to say a phrase: “this is where the song turns into a cartoon and that makes it all the more memorable.”

GC I really enjoyed the “Picture Me Gone” video. Sean Connery’s grandson appeared in the video. Are you a fan of his work?

AP Yeah, Dash Connery plays me! He wears my mask, the one that’s made of my face.

Who doesn’t like Sean Connery? I don’t know what his grandkid does, but yeah I like Sean Connery in particular, I like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Hunt for Red October. La nom de la rose. The Spy Who Shagged Me. (laughter) Awesome [sic] Powers. Octopussy. Never Say Never. Goldfinger. He’s a very good looking man, and extremely sexy in every stage. He’s always the ideal man.

GC “Picture Me Gone” has lyrics about backing up photos on iCloud, references to iPhones, selfies, and so on. What is the subtext of those references?

AP It’s more of a commentary on having songs that have those things in them. You’re not engaged in the times enough unless you make some dated reference to something time sensitive, some topical thing that’s gonna stamp it in the past like something very tacky, it’s like any Bob Dylan song, or like “Turn On, Tune in, Drop Out.” You just gotta plug in man, hey Mr. Farmer Dude—“LOOK AT THIS INSTAGRAM!” “LOOK AT THIS PIECE OF PIE!”

The video itself has this great Nickelodeon, daytime television, TGIF-drama vibe. It just feels like the phrase “IRL.” There’s some sort of other sick sensibility with these Twitter trends and all that kinda stuff and it all seems to speak to people in that world, all these aged tweens. Everybody still thinks they’re a tween, but they’re not. They’re former tweens. Generation tweens. They’re old now. They’re seventeen now, they’re already way too old, they’ve been replaced by something else now and we don’t know what it is, then it's gonna hit the writers at Pitchfork and they're gonna need to write about it and let everyone know what it is, way too late, when the new twelve-year-olds pop up and usurp the former twelve-year-olds’ hegemony.

That's what I love about the music industry. It’s run by these kids. The children dictate what’s cool, and then everybody else just thinks that they’re a kid the rest of their lives. It’s retarded.

GC I’m twenty-four and I’m watching this wave of intense ’90s nostalgia ...

AP Twenty-four? “Oh you’re a baby. You’ve got plenty of time.” No. You’re ancient. When you were fourteen years old, how far ahead did you look? When you thought, “What year am I gonna grow up?” What year did you aim it at? You ever think about thirty?

GC I can’t imagine twenty-eight.

AP Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. And twenty-eight loses its sting once you get there, but you still think you’re way, way, way too young. I imagine the same thing happens by the time you’re forty. “I’m not fifty! I can still have kids!” You’re out of your mind. Stop dreaming. Get a job. Go back home. Stop working to the tweens, stop reading Pitchfork. Stop reading, period. Go out and join the army. (laughter)

GC Pavement seems to be the band to sound like these days.

AP You know, I don’t see that yet, from my point of view. I don’t see anyone that sounds like Pavement. I only see things that maybe want to sound like Creed or Nickelback. A lot of country stuff and hip hop. Everybody wants to be “ra ra!” Like Spice Girls mixed with the Ramones. It’s very fashionable now.

GC I was trying to trace where all those sickening Creed and Nickelback ballads came from, and started with Metallica’s “The Unforgiven.”

AP Yeah, but they were still a living entity then. Some Kind of Monster, there’s humor in that and Lulu. Justice for All: “I don’t mind stealing bread … ” It wasn’t so much like Smog or Palace Brothers or Mark Kozelek …

They call it the “Hunger Dunger Dang” aka “Ra Ma Na.” It started with Vedder, he was their God, you know, and Layne Staley. Just sounding like somebody was passing a gallstone. “I’m a man, and I’m in severe pain.” That kind of spitting, repressed emotion that refuses to come out, this macho man being forced to cry and deal with his pain.

One of the biggest inspirations was definitely Crash Test Dummies. But that was more of a parody, right? And they nailed it! It was the same thing with Stone Temple Pilots, the Staind-Creed-Bush-Gavin Rossdale thing: “Glycerine.” Hootie & the Blowfish.

GC To quote Hetfield, “My lifestyle determines my deathstyle.”

AP (laughter) I love the part where Hetfield is saying “The riff is too stock.”

GC Were there any moments like that recording Pom Pom? I also wanted to ask how the lyric writing process was this time around, you mentioned that during recording Mature Themes that the lyrics always come last.

AP No. There’s never any argument about anything, as far as artistic things go, they respect me on it.

As for the lyrics, it’s always the same. It’s always the last thing I do. I like to see everything in music, first and foremost, try to get all the gestures in, and then try to put in the words. But of course I can’t really think that hard at it, otherwise it comes out contrived, so I wait until the last moment so I don’t have a chance to chew at it. There are a few songs that started with vocals, and the whole stretch of the song was pre-designed around those vocals, and that was great to do. I know exactly how it’ll go—verses, choruses, instead of a maze. It was pre-working to be that way.

Tags:
music recording and production
youth culture
music industry
social media
rock music
underground music
experimental music
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