Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Aug 17, 2012
Photography by David Studarus Web Exclusive
Ariel Pink can talk a blue streak. He's gregarious and garrulous, gamely willing to discuss just about anything, belying his self-deprecatingly admitted petulant tendencies. But these feel like gross exaggerations while in the throes of a discussion with a man who has grown by leaps and bounds artistically without compromising his integrity, a difficult feat for any musician. Much like his music, our conversation often flutters into bizarre, seemingly extemporaneous digressions, but it makes sense in the surreal world of Pink's music. Under the Radar caught up with Pink over the phone in London ostensibly to address his crowning achievement to date, the rather sardonically titled Mature Themes LP, and ended up being led down some unexpected and idiosyncratic roads that made for a tremendously entertaining conversation.
There's an article on Ariel Pink in the print version of our forthcoming Summer Issue of Under the Radar. These are extra portions of our interview, quotes that didn't make it into our main print issue article on Pink. And then our digital/iPad version of the issue includes an extended version of this Q&A. Both versions include more frames from our photo shoot with Pink at his home in Los Angeles. So be sure to check out both the print and digital versions of our forthcoming Summer Issue for much more from our interview and shoot with Ariel Pink.
John Everhart (Under the Radar): So let's talk about your record. I think it's your best, and a great progression, and I like that you haven't shied away from production.
Ariel Pink: I'm happy with it too. I'm happier with it than the last one.
How did you approach it differently?
Well, [Before Today] was very, very difficult. But I think we're the better for it. And now I know that the band [Haunted Graffiti] is what I want. That's my country. That's what I want to nurture and bring up. I feel like it's a real blessing to have a tight group of guys that you can count on and be there for you. I feel good that I've been able to cultivate things with a group of people over time. There have been harsh feelings, times when people have had to step back and leave the band for a while. I'm still the president of this corporation, but I feel very fortunate to forge relationships with people who feel like they can work with me.
It was odd to me that you picked the cover song, Joe and Donnie Emerson's "Baby," as the first single [from Mature Themes]. What was the impetus for that?
I didn't pick it. It was the label who picked it. Light in the Attic suggested the collaboration, and they said that they'd really like to hear a version of "Baby" with you and Dām-Funk, and I was like, "Really, have you asked Dām-Funk?" And they said, "No we don't know him," and I was like, "Well, I just happen to be friends with him, so I'll ask him." And yeah, it just fell together really smoothly. And once we recorded it, we played it for them and they loved it. So they're gonna put it on an end-of-the-year compilation, and 4AD insisted that it was such a good song that it shouldn't wait for December, when we'll be well into this touring cycle. They thought that it should be on the record, so we added it on, and we wanted to put it out as a single, and it made a lot more sense in that Donnie and Joe's record [Dreamin' Wild] was reissued right around the same time. It's good promotion for all of us, including Dām-Funk, because his record's gonna come out around the same time as ours. So it's one of those wonderful, just serendipitous things that rarely happens between three different parties and artists. It's never that smooth. There's usually backstabbing, but there was nothing but good will and kindness from everyone involved.
The song speaks for itself.
The song is what kind of begs the good vibes from everybody. I actually wrote a letter to the Light in the Attic people, and I spoke to Donnie too, and he's such a pure soul, and it's really great that there's an emotional uplift with the release of the record, which was doomed to be never noticed, let alone forgotten.
I was kind of surprised that "Only in My Dreams" wasn't the first single. It's my favorite right now, and it has some kind of R.E.M.-ish and Byrds sort of vibes.
Yeah, it totally has that early R.E.M. thing. It's a departure in that I have lots of songs in my mind. I don't hear things as being lo-fi or hi-fi. I've got an earlier version of that song that went into different parts, but I've heard the song for a while in my head, and I'd never been able to realize it. So it was cool that we were able to realize it. That song, and most of the songs on the record, we discovered this whole process of using my mouth drums. On this record we used my mouth drums as the source drum track.
Your what drums?
Well, it's difficult to talk about. My mouth drums. I beat-boxed it...literally, in real time, into a closed mic, things that are supposed to be rock and roll drums. [Imitates ticking noises.] It's really kind of specific, and there's a specific drum pattern and style, and it's difficult to communicate to drummers. It's difficult if they don't understand the arrangement yet. They have to get in my mind. But rather than translate it, I played with the band on headphones, my mouth drums. It moved together very smoothly, and we replaced each beat of my mouth drum with corresponding drum samples. It had to sound like a real kit. It wasn't a drum machine, it's not even programming. It's painstakingly changing velocities, changing the sound of every beat if it's gonna have any natural component or quality to it. That's the first time we ever did that, so that's what makes the record so unique. It's a crystallization of what I had in mind with all my old records. It's my patented groove, and I do have that beyond being a lo-fi artist. There's a patented Ariel Pink style beneath my mattress. I hear a variety of music in my head. Not everything has to fall into a trash aesthetic, or a synth-pop aesthetic. I like pop music and experimental music and metal, and I look forward to delving into more musical styles.
Another song that stuck out to me that I love is "Nostradamus & Me."
Yeah, for that one I had a video planned out in my head, just hanging out in some idyllic Bob Ross type painting in a cabin out in the woods, and me and Nostradamus are in this cabin, we're just roommates, and we can have R. Stevie Moore, and he can play Nostradamus or whatever. But we have two beds, and we're just hanging out day after day just playing ping pong or chess, but we kind of talk about things, we cook, we take walks along the lake, we look at the stars. It's kind of like Fishing with John. It's just day after day of this sort of thing. It's like a dream.
It's definitely one of my favorites now, but I've found that as I explore records further, I often have different favorites, so another 20 listens in, it might be completely different.
Well, that's good, man. If it has three good songs, that makes it a record of the year, right? [Laughs.] But with this record, I was just psyched to have fun with the guys. We booked our studio with the guys. There was a window separating one room from the other, and we had a one-year lease, and we used the rest of the advance for beer, going to IKEA to get furniture, buying an Xbox. It was a good way for us to use the money. Instead of hiring a producer, we were able to make a record in a great setting, and it allowed us to make music. There was a lot of stuff on the periphery of the record, and you'd get songs that would never come out of studio records, with that kind of risk. There were all kinds of experiments, and that's the joy of it, not feeling that you're under the gun. That was the first time I'd been able to feel that. It was hard before, and we were up against the same hurdles, but it worked out great this time.
All right, we're running out of time, but on a more somber note, I was wondering if you were a fan of The Frogs. I know you played with them at the All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Animal Collective. Dennis Flemion from the band passed away yesterday, if you hadn't heard. Really sad.
Wow, I hadn't heard about that. I never got into The Frogs, but I saw them a couple times live and they were amazing. What happened?
Well apparently he was out swimming in a lake a few days ago and they just found his body, as he'd disappeared and was presumed dead.
Oh my god. That's awful. If only if he were a real frog. Well, I'm so glad I saw him at ATP. They played their classic record [It's Only Right and Natural]. It was great. I'm gonna delve into their back catalog now. It sounds trite to say. But I'd always wanted to do that. Other people in my band are huge fans, and I'd seen them put on great shows before. Wow, that's just awful.
Yeah, I'll be investigating their back catalog as well. Always dug the random songs I'd heard. So with that piece of bad news, I guess we'll have to wrap it up. Thanks for your time.
Well, thank you for doing this. I'm really excited about this record. And thanks to you guys [Under the Radar] for all your support over the years. It means a lot.