Ariel Pink

Past, Present and Future: A Conversation with Ariel Pink

Illustration by Aisha Davidson
Illustration by Aisha Davidson

Ariel Pink – Round And Round

Discorder: First of all, how’s your day going, Ariel?

Ariel Pink: The day? Yeah, it’s going good. We’re about a week into our tour and we’re heading off for mainland Europe tomorrow. So we’ve got two weeks left. And, yeah, things are going good.

D: It’s eight days until your 32nd birthday. Actually, I’m 32 as well and I’ve found that, more and more, these early thirties are very significant years for young men in our demographic. For many it’s when we come to accept that our twenties are finally behind us and maybe it’s time to ask ourselves if we really are or should be adults. Do you feel like an adult yet, Ariel?

AP: Absolutely, I feel like an adult. I also feel like a child. And I feel like we’re all children, forever. [Laughs.] Everyone in their twenties has all this twenties mania and they kind of live as if it’s the beginning and end of the world. They screw up their lives in all sorts of ways, maybe. The teens are like a false start kind of thing, and the thirties, I don’t know how it is for you, but I feel like I’m mellowing out with age or something.

D: Yeah, I find that too. The reason I bring it up is because I’ve always found your music very nostalgic. It kind of reminds me of the melodies I’d make up with my sisters when we were kids. And probably partly because it’s very ’80s infused and full of emotion. There’s also an interesting kind of duality to your music. On many levels it’s very familiar and melodic and on other levels it’s bizarre and kind of skewed. Can you talk a little about your creative process in terms of that duality and how it’s evolved over the years?

AP: Well, you know the duality is not really a duality, it’s linear. It’s not cyclical. The ’80s are not just another decade. We’re not just any other generation, I suppose. But I think that whatever my condition is or whatever it is at the heart of what I’m doing obviously speaks to people of our generation, and maybe a generation younger for other reasons. I could go on at length about it. It’s definitely, you know, memories, and the whole nature of recording, and the whole nature of recording the past, and the nature of the past—they’re all things that are now at the forefront and have to be dealt with in some form or another in order to consolidate whatever the future’s gonna be.

D: You started recording over two decades ago and I noticed you also went to Beverly Hills High School. Can you tell me a little bit about your high school experience and how it might have influenced those musical beginnings?

AP: I think I pretty much traveled through the musical jungle in those years. It started before then of course. Starting with me liking [an] … itching heavy metal, which was in my seventh grade year, I reached a plateau with heaviness, with death metal and even black metal a little bit. But then when I started high school I discovered death rock. It was kind of a downgrade in volume, but like an upgrade in, kind of, more dark entries…I don’t know. I think I’ve always been drawn to the darkness of music. So I pursued that through high school. I wasn’t exactly a goth by any means, but I was definitely attracted to the netherworlds of music.

D: What about two decades from now? We’re gonna be fifty-two pretty soon. What kind of crazy-ass shit do you think you’re gonna be recording in 2030?

AP: Well, I don’t know if I’ll be recording by then. I hope that it’s not just up to me. I hope that there’s plenty of younger artists that I can glean some real inspiration from as opposed to just foraging my imaginary dad’s record collection.

D: The album Before Today—released earlier this month by 4AD records—certainly holds onto the integrity of your earlier music, even surpasses it, but it does mark a departure in your recording style—it’s not as muddy and self-reflexive, not as playful in terms of the medium of recording. Were you looking to make it more accessible?

AP: Yeah, I mean it’s not that much of a leap to make it more accessible. I suppose I could’ve made my other stuff more accessible, too. In fact, I think about that often, just like remastering all the stuff that I did. I was so in a rush back then, you know—the crazy twenties! But I was never satisfied one way or the other with what I did in the past and nor am I satisfied now. I try to keep my sights on just getting something to where I can listen to it and that’s the kind of minimum. I mean if I had to think to myself, “Oh, bring up that guitar,” or like fucking, “Take all the subs out of those drums.” If I have to go [through] that thought process when I hear something objectively—I mean I generally just tend to produce things my way. I’ll get people CDs and I’ll store the new iTunes graphic EQ settings, you know, make my own mix, audio hijacking, whatever. I’m sure I probably would like the record more—I listened to the record being fed through an amp the other day by total circumstance and it sounded great. I’m like, okay, well now we can take the record and dub it about fifty-five millions times and then we’ll have an Ariel Pink record.

D: I read that you struggled with live performances earlier on in your career and I’d imagine it has something to do with your recording methods being part of your craftsmanship. How has your live act evolved recently?

AP: Well, it’s pretty much been my sole focus since I came out in 2004. And then releasing music all through that time has been essentially a means of creating merchandise for my table and not much of an opportunity to really pursue the music exactly, you know? Ever since I started playing live I got myself into the cycle of paying my own bills and stuff like that—making music, and making music the sole vocation—but it’s been hard to get a moment free. So, I’ve pursued playing live and I am kind of discovering not being in that comfort zone for the first time in a long time. And doing that from the ground up has taken a while for me. But I feel it’s kind of been towards a similar aim since the beginning. It’s all just towards being able to get to the point where I can sustain myself making the music. And probably by the time I actually figure it out there won’t be any music left to put down. But I hope not. I look forward to the day when I’ve got free time and have to just clear my mind of all sorts of other distraction.

D: I also noticed that your videos are often very self-reflexive and seem to incorporate elements of your personal life. How does that tie into your overall credo or philosophy within your craft?

AP: I think the visuals are important. It’s another thing that I have to always deal with in a semi-incompetent way, (with a live setting. It remains kind of a low-budget enterprise like the records. If I’m at the controls directing what I do and telling people what to do, it’s really a pretty simple instruction. It’s just, let me sing the song and I’ll stand there for you and mouth it and you don’t have to worry to hard about concepts or themes or anything like that. It’s really the notion that things translate pretty simply, and in a very direct way that they don’t anymore. Maybe they used to when video was the new technology. But everybody gets too hung up on the producers, everybody gets too hung up on the directors, everybody gets too hung up on the musicians and all the other minutia. I like the effect of something raw and unpolished, just kinda speaking for itself—not necessarily raw and unpolished, mind you, just something speaking for itself.

D: How are you enjoying Europe? Do you have a favourite city or a favourite venue?

AP: No. I think it’s starting to just blend in. It’s about time that I find some other place to tour. Europe lost its novelty for me. Florida! Now that’s exotic.

D: Yeah, well now it’s gonna get even more exotic, right, with the oil spill.

AP: [Laughs.] Exactly.

D: Well, we look forward to seeing you in July, Ariel.

AP: Yeah, I don’t know if it’s been announced yet, but we’re gonna be in Canada again—I don’t know what parts yet, it’s starting in Winnipeg—but we’re gonna be doing the Flaming Lips tour in September. So, yeah, good things afoot in the next year.