Interview Ari Spool
Photography Marcelo Gomes
Ty Segall’s newest full-length record Melted [Goner, 2010] has on its cover a blondish, shaggy, fanged face in a lipless grin on an orange background. The skull is uneven and it’s hard to tell if the image is a photograph or a painting. The seventh track is called “Imaginary Person” and even though there is also a song called “Melted” I have decided that “Imaginary Person” must be the actual title track because there is no way that this face can not be what you absorb when you first view this cover (the cover does not have the title printed on it). I have thought more about this cover than I have about any record cover in recent memory.
Ty Segall makes blondish (surfy), shaggy (fuzzy), fanged (heavy) songs on this record with three additional bandmates who declined to be interviewed. The songs are mirrors of the face on the cover. The guitars hang low with feedback. Ty himself is amiable, friendly, and San Franciscan to the bone. Live, he is known for his quick humor. I saw him play twice, once at the Cake Shop in the Lower East Side and once at Death By Audio in Williamsburg, both sold the fuck out and thick with human humidity. At DBA, Ty noticed a person had lost their shoe in the mosh area, and when someone else found it and tossed it to him, he caught it by one shoelace. He is really cute.
So there are both things on this record: songs one octave below the register of pop, with repetitive creep-o-tone commands like “DRINK COCA COLA” that chill you in the subway and songs with lilting flute and piano solos that play only the top keys (“Caesar”, a jaunty little beach party followed by “Girlfriend”, all moaning and open-mouthed with crash-rides aplenty). You can have it all with Segall.
We spoke while wondering around the Lower East Side. He got lost but I knew where we were.
Ty: I’ve been watching TV shows lately. I’m really into this show Breaking Bad.
What’s up with that show?
It’s on AMC. It’s with—I don’t remember the actor’s name, he played the dad on Malcolm in the Middle? He’s this high school chemistry teacher that becomes terminally ill and worries about his family’s safety and decides to become a meth maker, and starts selling it so he can make sure his family has enough money when he passes away. I’m not going to say what happens, but it starts getting into Twin Peaks territory by the third season. It’s awesome. Twin Peaks is my favorite show ever. Ever! We’re on like the fourth episode of the third season. I think there’s like ten episodes in that season, and it sucks because we don’t have cable! So we’re not going to be able to watch the fourth season when it comes on. Maybe on the Internet. I don’t know. But it’s really amazing.
What kind of Twin Peaks characteristics does it have? Does it have cherry pie and a nice cup of coffee?
No, it’s not aesthetically like a Lynch thing, but there are crazy occurrences that would never happen in real life of them getting away with things. I don’t know. It hasn’t gotten full-blow Twin Peaks yet. There’s just hints of it.
Hints that it’s going to turn screwy.
Yeah, hints that it’s going to get weirder. I’m pretty into it.
Do you like the entire oeuvre of David Lynch, or just Twin Peaks?
Oh yeah, I like everything. I haven’t really watched Inland Empire. I tried to watch it twice, but I fell asleep because it was really, really late at night.
I fell asleep during that movie, too.
It’s kind of bizarre, and it’s hard to pay attention if you’re really tired.
Did you fall asleep and just sleep through the rest, or did you wake up?
I didn’t wake up. I woke up near the end, so I just went to bed.
I saw that movie when it was in theaters, at a midnight showing, and I fell asleep and when I woke up to Laura Dern screaming about something, and then a crazy bunny head and I didn’t know what was going on and I completely lost all touch with reality for a minute and had no idea where I was or what was going on.
The weird bunny heads in that movie kind of remind me of the mask on the cover of your record.
Really? Awesome. That rules.
Are you into masks a lot?
A lot of reasons. A: They look awesome. Halloween’s my favorite holiday. Ever! I love candy. So much that my teeth are really messed up now, probably. I’m a Sour Patch Kids addict. It’s messed up. But also, when you think about masks, the whole idea of masking your identity is really intriguing to me. Putting on a different personality. That’s really interesting to me.
Have you ever heard of the Internet phenomenon called Masking?
No, what is that all about?
It’s this thing where people make incredibly detailed and form-fitting latex masks and then film themselves on YouTube putting them on and taking them off and stuff.
That’s awesome! I would like to see a video of someone with them on and then taking it off, so as to fool the audience into thinking that all of a sudden they are ripping their face off, which is cool.
That’s kind of what it’s like, except the masks don’t look human.
Oh! I have seen this. It’s really bizarre faces and stuff, like a deer?
Or just, like a nothing. Like an alien.
I’ve seen something of like a dancing deer head. A blue deer dancing. It was really frightening! It was so real looking. Maybe we’re not talking about the same thing.
I don’t know. The Internet is a wild and inspired place.
What would you listen to if you had your skateboard and your iPod and you could go to the skate park under the Brooklyn Bridge that doesn’t exist anymore?
Whoa, what would I listen to? I feel weird riding and listening, personally. Because I’m really prone to falling. Extremely prone. So I just know I’m going to fall.
Even on a bike?
Yeah! I’m the kind of guy who would go ‘La, la, la, la’ and all of a sudden I’m in the middle of the road staring at trees and there’s a car honking at me and I can’t tell because my headphones are on. Plus my headphones are huge! So I can’t hear anything besides the music. Plus my ears are all messed up, so the music has to be really, really loud.
Why are your ears messed up?
Just years of blowing them out with stuff. Music, and recording. I did some stupid noise experiments with my buds when I was in high school. That severely messed my hearing up, I think.
What were they?
We did some weird closed-circuit thing with a keyboard and a PA in my buddy’s basement. So imagine a huge PA in this tiny, tiny cement room, with a keyboard, and everything up to 10. Like, a PA that you would use in the Cake Shop, or something bigger. And we got this given to us for free from my buddy’s uncle. And the cool point of the story is that we were filming it, and all we did was hit one note. The loop basically went out, into the PA, and back into the keyboard. It builds this feedback, which isn’t breaking any ground or anything, but we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, we were young kids. We didn’t know it would have this effect. It was the most insane, painful feeling in our ears. We watched the video later, and that note made the screen flutter. It was such a pitch that it made it flutter all weird. Which is really strange, I don’t know what it is.
There’s this kid named Dan Fishkin, and he does experiments with sound and light. I recently saw a video he made. He built a machine that turns light waves into sound waves, and then he took it to Times Square, and hooked it into a video camera so anywhere he pointed the camera you would hear the noise that the lights of Times Square were making.
Wow! That’s awesome! That’s really cool.
It’s on Vimeo [Ed. note: View it here] I mean, you kind of get the point after a little bit.
Yeah, but that sounds awesome! I’ve always thought about that kind of stuff.
Or, you think about weird stuff to, like ‘Is the way I see green, is that someone else’s green, or is that their red?’ That kind of stuff is really cool. I’d like to look more into it. Or, like, is my pitch of going ‘Aaaaaaaah,’ is that interpreted as exactly what I hear? Or maybe that’s interpreted as ‘Uuuuuuuh,’ or maybe you would have to repeat ‘Uuuuuuuh’ to make my ‘Aaaaaaaah,’ to make them the same. I’m sounding crazy!
No, I understand exactly what you mean! They say a lot more Chinese people have perfect pitch because Mandarin Chinese uses so many more differences in tone to indicate meaning, so their ears are a lot more sensitive. So it is possible to train yourself to recognize tone, well obviously it’s possible, but it can be extremely unconscious.
Interpretations of the mind! (Laughs) Weird!
Do you ever think about that kind of thing in terms of when people are listening to your stuff? Like, ‘I wonder if this is going to sound weird to other people.’
Yeah, totally. But I don’t think about that anymore. I kind of just do what I want to do. But when I was younger I thought about that stuff.
Did it change the way you did anything?
Yeah, you know, you take less chances if you have those kinds of thoughts. I think it’s fun to get weird. It’s a challenge for me because my ear just immediately goes straight to a simple melody, so it’s fun to make it as weird as I can. But I don’t think I could make it too weird, although I am trying to.
But it would have to still be pop, to a certain extent.
Yeah, totally. I like finding the balance between the weird and the pop.