All By Himself
Freak Folky Ariel Pink on self-love and home recording
In the video for "I Wait for Kate," pop-genius Ariel Pink spends a romantic evening at home — by himself. While the diminutive, shaggy Pink fidgets in musical estrus beside a roaring fire, a second cross-dressing Pink transforms himself into one of his idols, singer Kate Bush.
That romantic evening has lasted for years. For the better part of a decade, the pop scholar has produced dozens of eight-track albums that intentionally emulate the demos of his typically obscure heroes: The Silver Apples, Can, and the "father of home recording" R. Stevie Moore. The name of his latest album, Worn Copy, says it all: the music's thrill is intentionally archaeological, like finding a lost B-side of your favorite late-'70s band at a garage sale. Pink admits that the shabby production isn't so much about closing the distance between artist and listener (in contrast to most lo-fi artists), but widening it.
Nevertheless, when New York psych-folk darlings Animal Collective discovered Pink two years ago, they forced him on an eight-month tour of North America. Nerve recently caught up with Pink at a Thai restaurant in the Silverlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, where he discoursed on self-love, his popularity in Estonia, and the virtues of porn. — Justin Clark
Worn Copy was recently voted the favorite album of 2005 in Estonia's largest weekly newspaper, Eesti Ekspress. What the fuck? I've never been there, and I've been trying to figure it out myself. I read on some Estonian website that the typical Estonian has a dry sense of humor, it's hard to make them laugh, and they laugh at the plight of others.
The typical Ariel Pink fan.
Yeah. I'm thinking the next album is going to be called Estonian Treasure.
Here in the States, you're usually lumped in with a group of artists known as New Weird America — a renaissance of music critic Greil Marcus' freak folk of the Sixties.
It gets brought up constantly, and I'm like the C.E.O., along with Devendra Banhart.
It's a little like one obscure movement paying homage to another. Devendra Banhart got people interested in ['70s folk singer] Vashti Bunyan. You're trying to do the same thing for another obscure artist, R. Stevie Moore.
I'm dedicating my career to him. I wouldn't be touting him if he were just the first home-recording artist, or the first of a process. He happens to be one of the best songwriters that ever was. It's shocking that he escaped the critical eye. Now they're digging up everybody else's grave. People who had one album for two months in '67 can go on a reunion tour. It feels like a conspiracy, why he isn't better known. He's equally perplexed. Maybe it was because he never toured.
You just finished an eight-month tour. How were the groupies?
They're great — on Myspace. On tour I think the groupie thing hadn't gestated yet.
It must be strange to have spent six years locked in your bedroom, making albums on your eight-track, and then suddenly having the world discover them.
I don't want to be in a band. I don't want to have to perform for people. That's not the art. What I'm good at is not being thespian-like. It's the audio experience that matters. It's what I experienced underneath my headphones, twelve at night, after being with my friends smoking a joint. That's when I was loving the art form. Plus, historically, the way home recording artists are sold, is that their lo-fi production is supposed to cooperate with the idea that someone is being themselves and naked. It gives the impression of something being sincere, which is totally antithetical to sincerity. In my case, I put something much more flamboyant in the recording.
A little like one of your influences, David Bowie. I think Bowie was revolutionary because he brought pretentiousness into a new light. He made it work. Everybody knew he was being completely fake, yet that was the key. It worked for him for several years, then the world caught on. It wasn't long before nobody knew the difference between what was real and what wasn't anyway. But until then he stayed human because music was a product of his uncertainty with his craft, which is really human.
Most of your influences seem to be a couple of decades old. Don't you like anything new?
Nostalgia is where we are now — it has a lot to do with political factors. It also has to do with the recording medium. There was a certain point in the '90s when CDs caught up with everything being released on another format. The record companies finally got done transferring over the current artists — so where do you go from there? You can't just fill the demand by getting new artists. So the labels have been reissuing things from the past, things that weren't supposed to see the light of day, even back when they were issued. I became a victim of that consumption pathology. I was convinced when I was in high school I was the only one who listened to [seventies experimental rock group] Can. I read that Can was the most underground band in a magazine and I bought what the magazine was saying.
Has rock been de-sexed?
There aren't many sexy rockers. There's something sexy about Gwen Stefani getting into rap. There certainly aren't enough Axel Roses. The thing is rappers have it down. What is the dream? "I want money and I want pussy." So how do you ensure you get that? You make an album, a hit song, and say, "I want to park my car in your garage. I want to take you to the candy shop." So that's why rappers get all the pussy, they're explaining exactly what they want from their groupies, so of course they're going to get it. White indie boys are way more confused. They actually want that, but they don't know how to get it. They think by whining, "I don't understand myself, and she left me," they're going to get it. What they get is a bunch of shy non-assertive girls. They're not doing it for the sex — so then for what, some kind of legacy? That's so pansy.
We've talked enough about musical influences, what about your sexual influences? What about porn? Porn is a musical influence. I steal so much shit from porn — there's the secret recipe. It's a perfect art form, the way it operates with its own laws. It's what every art fag wishes they could achieve, the transcendence of medium. What I like about it is — it's free, it's for everyone. The music you hear in porn is all free. Anybody can take it, it's taken from anything, it's meant to ape. It's like taking in the sounds of what's going on, and that's what it's based on. It's based on copying without wanting the credit, not bringing attention to itself. It's un-copyrightable, a world unto itself, and plus it serves the purpose at hand, which is just to arouse. That's what it comes down to. I'd love to make music for porn. I'd like to be in porn.
© 2006 Justin Clark and Nerve.com.