Ariel Pink vs. Slowdive | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Ariel Pink vs. Slowdive

Moving Sideways: A Conversation Between Ariel Pink and Neil Halstead

Sep 15, 2017 Ariel Pink Photography by Ariel Pink photos by Koury Angelo | Slowdive photos by Wendy Lynch Redfern Bookmark and Share

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A conversation between Ariel Pink (full name Ariel Marcus Rosenberg) and Neil Halstead, vocalist/guitarist of Slowdive, is seemingly incongruous at first blush, considering their vastly different methodologies. Ariel Pink has released music at a rapid pace, in a cut-up manner, evolving from his early 4-track days onto newer adventures in hi-fi such as 2014’s terrific Pom pom. Halstead’s work has largely been languid, and epicurean-most renowned with Slowdive, one of the seminal British shoegaze bands, who also include members Rachel Goswell on vocals and guitar, Christian Savill on guitar, Nick Chaplin on bass, and Simon Scott on drums. They broke up in 1995 after pioneering the aforementioned early ‘90s shoegaze scene alongside the likes of Lush and Ride while signed to the iconic Creation label, but their superb self-titled album was recently released on Dead Oceans, their first in 22 years after a successful reunion tour. In that interim Halstead released albums solo and with Mojave 3, the more pastoral addendum to Slowdive alongside Goswell, more than worthy of just a footnote.

Yet Halstead and Pink’s conversation clicked, perhaps attributable to the fact that they both flat-out love music. The generation gap is evident at times, but their devotion to the craft is their adamantine thread. The conversation does get a bit pedantic at times, but serves to illustrate just how ensconced they are in their respective places in the music scene-Ariel Pink as a near veteran now after well over a decade of releasing critically acclaimed albums, and Halstead nearly deified by the modern indie community, with Slowdive in particular held up as an influence by countless newer artists. Both were amiable throughout this transcontinental conversation, Ariel Pink in Los Angeles where he’s based, and Halstead in the U.K. It was obviously a nice break from the staid interviews Halstead has been doing in support of Slowdive’s album, and the first one in awhile for Ariel Pink, who revealed that he’s releasing his new album this fall on Mexican Summer, titled Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, which is purportedly a direct reference to a real life LA musician, at one time thought to have long since deceased, who resurfaced online after 35 years to pen his autobiography and tragic life story in a series of blogs and YouTube tirades. His book and life resonated with Ariel to such a degree that he felt the need to dedicate his latest record to him.

Neil Halstead: Ariel?

Ariel Pink: Yeah, it’s me. How are you, Neil?

Neil: There’s like a three second delay or something on this call! But I’m good. How are you doing, mate?

Ariel: I’m doing good, man. I’m really busy, but I’m sure you are too.

Neil: We just had a couple of weeks at home, which was really nice, and then we’re coming out to America in a few days which should be interesting, doing some shows on the East Coast.

Ariel: How many shows do you have?

Neil: I think we have like 10 shows, and then we’re going to South America, which will be really cool, because we’ve never been there before. Really looking forward to it.

Ariel: That’s really exciting.

Neil: It is. I also had all my laundry stolen today, which was really annoying. I did a big wash yesterday, and had it in the garden to dry, and underwear got stolen. [Laughs]

Ariel: No!

Neil: So I’ll be on tour with no clothes. What are you up to, Ariel?

Ariel: I just actually finished my record this week. I mastered it. I’m working on it now.

Neil: Ah, did you do it with Chris Coady?

Ariel: I didn’t do it with Chris Coady. I did it alone, well not alone, but with my crew and with Dave Cooley, and produced it myself.

Neil: Is it coming out on 4AD?

Ariel: I’m on Mexican Summer now. The three record contract was up with 4AD and I chose not to renew it, so I went with Mexican Summer. Not counting that EP you heard, Mering & Rosenberg [Myths 002 EP]. It was with Weyes Blood, Natalie Mering. Rosenberg, my real last name. [Laughs]

Neil: Natalie Mering, right? She’s great. I liked the song and video for “Tears on Fire.” It had a Monty Python feel to it. I listened to it with a Tim Buckley tune in the background the other day. “The Earth is Broken,” off the live album Dream Lover. It synced up with the track you did nicely.

Ariel: You should mash it. [Laughs]

Neil: Yeah, if I have time I’ll do it and send it to you. [Laughs]

Ariel: Yeah, make it, make it! [Laughs]

Neil: So, is the new record a progression from Pom pom? Where are you going? Moving forward?

Ariel: More moving sideways. I’m sort of crab crawling, you know? It’s hard for me to say. I’m so self-effacing. What I’ve always been doing. It’s the same formula. I don’t know if I progress a lot. It’s still within the same sonic realm at Pom pom and probably sounds like a greatest hits smattering.

John Everhart (Under the Radar): Did you hear the new Slowdive, Ariel?

Ariel: I did. I like it a lot. I want it on a real format, though. There’s one song I love. The riff on the second or third to last song’s amazing.

Neil: So you got the download? “Go Get It” is the song, maybe?

Ariel: Yeah, I think so.

Neil: It’s a difficult album.

Ariel: No, not at all. I need to hear it on a proper format, though. When are you guys gonna be out in LA? I want to see you live.

Neil: I think September or October. No, we’re doing FYF festival. I’m looking forward to that. Will you be around then?

Ariel: I will be around in August. Not in September. I’ll be there for sure.

Neil: We did the Ace last time and didn’t enjoy it. It was a seated audience. We didn’t realize until we got there the first night. We had to do two nights. It didn’t feel like a proper show. Different energy. The audience were cool, though. But it’s a different energy.

Ariel: I saw feeds from friends who were there, and I thought it was intentionally that way. The vibe onstage was so futuristic and minimal. There were no amps or anything. It looked like an art project. It was so elegant.

Neil: Yeah, our lights engineer was having fun on that tour. He made all these screens. We couldn’t afford a bunch, so he made these mini-screens that he stuck all over the stage. They got wonkier as the shows went on, and the angles got weird. I don’t know if we’ll do that again. But looking at the pictures, it was slightly off. It’s a beautiful theatre, but the sit down thing is a completely different vibe.

Ariel: I had that experience years ago and will never do it again. Learned my lesson. [Laughs]

Neil: The Tyde played though, who were amazing.

Ariel: How do you feel about your new record and the band getting together?

Neil: Making the record was great fun. It could’ve been weird, but it wasn’t. It felt like it was relevant, you know? We decided not to hook up with a label until we got something that we were happy with. It meant that we could walk away from it and pretend it hadn’t happened if we didn’t like it. We finished it in November last year. I did it with Chris Coady. It was in LA. I didn’t know if you were around then.

Ariel: I was there.

Neil: Chris was saying he might be working with you, which is why I brought it up.

Ariel: There was a moment there where I was entertaining the idea of having different mixers. He did a great job on Beach House and Geneva Jacuzzi and I thought he could do something. But I got the feeling that he was really booked and it would’ve been a tight kind of thing. It would’ve felt forced. I thought I needed to mix it as I went.

Neil: You’re happy with that decision?

Ariel: If it’s not good, at least I’m to blame. I don’t like putting the power into too many people’s hands. I’m open to the idea. I feel like people don’t know the sessions as well as I do. I have to be over their shoulder or whatever and I feel like I’m telling them what to do, which kind of sucks.

Neil: Chris is brilliant, but he went a little green around the gills when I sat at the desk and went up to the faders. He’s definitely a hands on guy who wants you to sit back.

Ariel: When you weren’t around would he revisit it?

Neil: It took awhile for us to figure out how it would work, and I’m very hands on as well, so I’d tell him what I liked and what I didn’t like in the mixes, which is unusual for me because I’m used to doing stuff by myself as well. He’s a very technical guy, so if I’m talking about something being middle-y, or bass-y, he’ll bring up charts with frequencies. It’s a different way of working.

Ariel: Do you normally demo songs at home?

Neil: No, we never used to demo with Slowdive. I guess we did with Soulvaki. The first album [Just for a Day] we went into the studio for six weeks and made it. Pygmalion was demos, essentially. It’s easier now because you can take your laptop with you.

Ariel: So, what have you been doing over the past few years, when you aren’t doing music?

Neil: I don’t know. I read a book. [Laughs] I’m not sure, dude. Just life. I have three children.

John: I’m interested in how you heard each other’s music, if you’d like to discuss that.

Neil: Mutual friends were telling me about Ariel’s music for awhile, and I think we met in 2003 or 2004.

Ariel: It might’ve been earlier than that. 2001.

Neil: You were holed up, doing your stuff. My friend and I wanted to put out your record. Shady Lane Records. It was 2003, actually. We were bamboozled by how much stuff. We were trying to figure out what we could put out. You sent us House Arrest. You had more serious offers, which was much better for your career, but that’s how we met, and I suppose it was through mutual friends.

Ariel: I heard Slowdive years prior to that as a kid in high school. I might’ve even heard Slowdive on MTV or something like that. I don’t know how I even heard things back in those days. A video comp maybe or something like that. It was during my coming out of metal phase and into sort of discovering My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive. I discovered all of those bands at the same time. I bought a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin album.

Neil: Amazing! Grebo, dude. Gaye Bykers On Acid [a 1980s British band, one of the founders of the Grebo music scene]. Was there an equivalent American scene?

Ariel: There was. Tripping Daisy, or maybe The Lemonheads. But that was out of sight for me. There were no magazines covering that stuff. The U.K. had all the magazines that covered you guys.

Neil: Well, yeah. NME and Melody Maker. Select and Q.

Ariel: We had Borders books or just a regular bookshop, so I’d buy magazines on any bands I liked. I was a valued customer. I ate up that stuff. It was talking to me. And it just sort of… I didn’t follow the trajectory, I didn’t follow the trajectory or make the connection between Slowdive and Mercury Rev, or is it Mojave 3? [Laughter]

Neil: Ha! Mojave 3. Yerself Is Steam by Mercury Rev is a great album, though.

Ariel: Mercury Rev is Galaxie 500 guys, right?

John: No, but Dean Wareham of Galaxie was on the first record, Yerself is Steam. He sang on “Car Wash Hair.”

Neil: Really? I didn’t know that. It’s brilliant. I love Galaxie 500, especially On Fire.

Ariel: But with Mojave 3, I never made the connection. And there might’ve even been a show you did closer to the time I met you.

John: You toured with Lush way back in ‘96 I remember, Neil. With Mojave 3.

Neil: Yeah, the Shaving the Pavement tour.

Ariel: Lush is back again, right?

Neil: Well, they were back and now they’re not back. I don’t understand why.

Ariel: Oh, alright. That’s what you were trying to avoid with Slowdive.

Neil: Not really. We didn’t have a real plan.

John: Ride’s back, too. A new album’s coming.

Neil: It’s brilliant timing.

John: It’s nice to see all these bands getting their due because they really didn’t back in the day. They’re playing much larger venues now and are more critically acclaimed.

Ariel: It’s interesting for you to say that, because I felt like the music, the people in these magazines were in this fantasy world that I wanted to take part in, but I wasn’t the right age.

Neil: I was the same way when I was 14, 15. Anyone in Melody Maker or NME or John Peel had made it. Even Sarah Records stuff. I still kind of look at music that way. [Laughs]

Ariel: It’s not the same with Pitchfork. I feel a little bit jaded I guess, maybe. But I guess that’s natural. I feel like I don’t listen to enough stuff out there anymore.

Neil: I feel the same way. I feel like there’s so much stuff out there, it impels you not to. You’re overwhelmed before you start. I look at the Piccadilly [record store] website staff picks to figure out what I might listen to. But I liked it when I was a kid when there were smaller sources for getting musical information.

Ariel: It was highly wrapped up in my identity at the time. It really defined me. And now I find that I know so many people who are bigger fans to me. I gave up. I’m not a collector.

John: You worked at a record store, right Ariel?

Ariel: I worked at a record store. I loved records, but it was all about having the thing no friend would ever have at their house. But that game is really played out, and I pity the fool who rested their identity on that single thing that is played out.

Neil: I think it’s sort of…I was like that when I was younger. You want to find that thing that’s your own piece of music that isn’t in the mainstream. Something you can introduce your friends to.

Ariel: I’m still sort of like that. I have a few records that you won’t find on YouTube.

Neil: Do you still have a bunch of unreleased music from your own archive?

Ariel: I do, but I don’t want to release it. I find it increasingly unappealing.

Neil: The well hasn’t [gone] dry. But you’re not in the well. [Laughs]

Ariel: The well is…I’m not in a well. I’m out of the well and on top of these tapes that are buried underneath. I’ve attempted to engage with the world. I used to be like, ‘there’s not enough time to do that,’ but that was when I was Waldo searching for any kind of attention. Now I release records.

Neil: I think Pom pom really engages with the world in a way.

Ariel: It engages because it’s stuff I did more or less currently or when people knew I was around. Since 2004, that’s when I came onto the scene I feel like. When people knew about me. And it was about six people who knew about me. But I felt like I was making a first impression prior to that, and then after that I took it for granted that it wasn’t a first impression, and now I think I’m making a first impression every time, again. I’m constantly making new fans, people who have been turned on to something a few weeks ago. I don’t have the diehard fans anymore. They move on and call me a traitor.

Neil: They’re fickle. Very fickle, Ariel. [Laughs]

Ariel: I just see them and pat them on the back and say, “Bye, see you later.”

Neil: I saw you at festivals in 2014, and they were proper rock and roll shows. They were amazing. Thinking back to the one man shows with a beat box.

Ariel: I’ve done the karaoke thing, but the live music thing is good if you’re doing it right. There’s something to be said for live music being presented.

Neil: You were doing it right. I loved it.

Ariel: I don’t know. I’m not fishing for compliments, but I felt like we aimed high but we overshot the mark or something like that. It was a little too Road House for me. Too bar band. I need it to exist in an otherworldly place. I need to create that. I’d prefer it.

Neil: You’ve gotta reign in the pyrotechnics.

Ariel: Reign in the lead guitarist.

Neil: Bust out the karaoke machine, again.

Ariel: We’re gonna do half beat box, half band. But I want to use Marshall Stacks and make it loud.

Neil: Loud is always good.

Ariel: Well, I’m protected by my monitors. My monitor bubble.

Neil: Yeah, absolutely.

Ariel: Well, I’m very honored you talked to me. And I’ll see you when you’re out here.

Neil: Great catching up, mate. When is the new record coming out?

Ariel: It’s coming out in September. But that’s off the radar.

Neil: Well, that’s quick work. I’ve got to see you off as well. I’m going to a pub quiz. It’s what I do in a fishing village on a Tuesday night. [Laughs]

Ariel: Is it like musical Jeopardy?

Neil: It’s all encompassing trivia actually. You should come sometime when you’re in the U.K.

Ariel: Well, bring me out there. Is it out near Bristol?

Neil: It’s Cornish technically. It’s basically as far south and west in the U.K. as you can go.

Ariel: Okay, I’ve got you. I’ll make it out there.

Neil: Will do mate. Well, lovely to talk to you.

Ariel: Take care, Neil.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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