Interview: Ariel Pink – ”It’s like no one should listen to what I say, because it’s full of shit”
THIS IS THE ENGLISH TRANSCRIPTION OF AN INTERVIEW IN SWEDISH ON BEHALF OF GAFFA.
Written by Tommy Juto.
When I get hold of Ariel Rosenberg at his London hotel room, I’m not sure what to expect. The past few days his form has been on a day-to-day basis, but he’s been talking. A lot. Some might say a little too much. His penchant for saying exactly what’s on his mind has put him in the line of fire more than once, the latest being that he didn’t think too much about Madonna‘s back catalogue, save for her first album, which led Canadian electronica producer Grimes to peg him as misogynist. And for every attempt to clear things up he digs himself deeper into it, by dropping one controversial comment after another, and himself feeling misunderstood, wearier with media by the hour. But let’s begin with the show he played in London the evening before our talk:
I understand that Jason Pierce played with you last night?
– Well, he was on the record on those two songs, and you know, since we were in town… It made sense and he was willing, so why would you turn that down?
Could you tell us a little about the work with your new album pom pom?
– It was recorded on various mediums, different programs at different times with different people. We sort of kept everybody in the dark about it, then connected it. I mean, it’s boring stuff, to explain every process would take ages. It’s great to have such wonderful musicians and good people working with you.
Kim Fowley contributed to the album as well. What did he do and how did that come to be?
– He helped out with some of the lyrics and melodies for some of the songs. He just called me up, you know, we’re both from L.A. I actually tried to contact him years ago, in 1999. They had a website that said he was for hire, but I never heard from him up until now. He’s a genius.
When you set out to make an album, do you have a clear idea of what you want it to sound like?
– No. As far as an album’s concerned I never know where it’ll end up. It’s really just a collection of songs. In a certain sense I know how every song goes from beginning to end, I have an idea of it since I came up with them. In that sense I know what all components of the album are, but I don’t have any overarching theme that I base songwriting on. There’s no idea for an album that I then write songs to, it’s just blank. The idea I might have is that it’s one giant collection of songs by different artists, it should be a survey of the different moods and musical tapestries that we have to offer.
Sounds to me like something along the veins of The Turtles present The Battle of the Bands?
– Yeah, or like The Dukes of Stratosphear or a Nuggets compilation.
At first listen, I detect a bit of The Who Sell Out on the album, would you agree on that?
– Yes, yes, yes, that’s good. A little bit of that, a little The Mothers Of Invention like We’re Only In It For The Money, Freak Out!, Absolutely Free. There’s a fair amount of The Cure’s Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, it has that kind of sprawling double album vibe. It’s got Todd Rundgren, it’s got so many things. Take your pick. They’re all the same, they’re all different. They’re all influenced by eachother too, I mean, one proceeds from the other. Frank Zappa’s obviously an underappreciated influence in the world. He was an influence on Can, what does that say about the influence they have on others? They created metronomic, trance-inducing music. Does that mean that there’s something trance-inducing about Frank Zappa? Yes, there is.
I read somewhere that you don’t like writing lyrics, is that true?
– That’s really overstating it, obviously I like writing lyrics ‘cause I write them, you know. I don’t write songs per se, I don’t sit down with an acoustic guitar, come up with words, come up with the melody, that’s not what I do. I’m a studio musician, I record what seem like they’re songs, and they’re not. They’re musical pieces. They have an attitude in the end, they have a face, and I provide them with a face in every instance for my project. I’m not gonna sit around with a song in my head and write the lyrics out. If I have a basic gest of what I want a song to sound like eventually, in my mind I keep that, rather than the lyrics. At the very end, once I have all the music perfect, then I quickly rush off some lyrics and lay down the vocals, because if I have them written before that whole process I’m just gonna rewrite them a million times over and over and it’ll just kill the song. I’m not a poet or anything, I’m just the singer in a band.
Has it ever crossed your mind to make an album of different tracks but having the same lyrics on each one of them?
– Well, I do that all the time. On this record there are lyrics from other songs of mine that have been previously released, and even melodies that are grabbed from already used chord structures. I do that all the time. The whole thing doesn’t have to be new all the time. I have a lot of parts, components, that can all basically be thrown together in different combinations and it almost always results in something acceptable.
Have you ever thought about pulling your music from Spotify the way Taylor Swift recently did?
– No, because I don’t get paid for these records, I don’t own them. It’s down to 4AD to take it off Spotify, I don’t get any money from it anyway. I don’t care. The label rapes me, so it’s them I should square my issues with, not Spotify.
I know you’re probably fed up with questions regarding the controversies of late, so I’m not going to bring all of it up. But why do you think this happens as soon as you open your mouth?
– It’s a good question. I think that journalists and writers are paying attention to what everybody says, and they’re also in charge of their own careers. It’s on them to make something that gives them some sort of notice in the office to their upper management or whatever. To be a distinguished writer you have to pick up on these things and you have to sensationalize. Maybe not sensationalize, but shining a light on certain things that don’t necessarily need to be shined on. The temptation to do so is overwhelming, it’s just like money laundering if you know what I mean, a money transaction. I understand completely why it works the way it works, I appreciate that. Except that the masses and the youth culture in particular, they believe that they know what’s going on. Just because they think something’s wrong they can have an opinion about it. They’re being lied to, fed freeways, every way, back and forth. They know that the media lies, and yet they eat from it every single day. Or it’s not they, it’s us, we’re all the same.
So people are reading what you say too literally, you mean?
– Well yeah, duh! They’re not reading me literally, they read somebody else’s transcription of me taken out of context with their headline and Madonna’s picture. Like how Walter Benjamin always talked about controlling the gays in the movies. How you can easily manipulate the viewer in so many ways, you control what the viewer sees, as opposed to back in Shakesperean times where big gestures and drama was what got your attention in the concert hall. That’s why everything’s so exaggerated in the fictional realm ‘cause they’re trying to get your attention, they didn’t have to do that so much in film. These are things that are clear to me, but they’re not necessarily clear to everyone. I don’t pander to the court of the public opinion, I don’t need to deny that I said any of those things, I don’t need to admit it either. If I ever get burnt on the stake, that should tell you. I mean, I know myself and anyone that knows me and my intentions, and knows me as a person, they won’t call me a misogynist. Stupid.
Yes, that was on display the other day as well?
– I know, because whatever’s on display shows people what to think. I give them most of their material, like I’ll say that I’m something, and then they spit it back at me saying “he’s that”. Like I’ll say I’m a misogynist, I’ll say I’m a racist, then they all of a sudden go “he’s a racist, fuck him!”. It’s like no one should listen to what I say, because it’s full of shit. I mean, obviously we’re not covering any real facts in talking to me, and I’m not clarifying any kind of questions that anybody has, because the same questions keep on coming up. Like, “can you elaborate on what you meant by that?”, it’s just a giant history of me trying to clarify what I said before, which I didn’t even remember saying in the first place, it didn’t even matter. There’s nothing to clarify, it was just talk. When you print something that somebody says, it affects the brain in a different way. And if you hurt somebody saying it, you can all scrutinize it and it feels almost criminal, the opinions that people have.
Have you ever felt “that’s it, I’ve had it, I’m not giving any more interviews”?
– Oh yeah, I think about it all the time. Unfortunately, I have to promote the record. Instead of doing interviews with my family members or other members of the band, everybody wants to get the facts straight from me. As if I’m a wellspring of real reliable information. Even if I did say things that I wanted to use as media antics… I’m just trying to roll with it, I can’t just repeat myself every single time with people, I’ve done this enough times now that I can anticipate the questions with every record before they even come to me. They’re taken from the byline. They read about Kim Fowley being on the record, so they ask if I can talk about Kim Fowley. There’s nothing to talk about, he’s on the record! It’s like, you have a list of who’s on the record, why do you wanna waste my time talking about who’s on the record? Like “you dropped part of the name for this record, why did you do that?”, well, you can read another interview where I answer that question. ‘Cause they all ask the same questions, and it’s only because we made them take notice of those topics. Nobody’s really interested in me, nobody is interested in me. If so, they would know more about my life and they don’t.
Maybe that’s a good thing too, to keep stuff about your life private?
– It is absolutely a good thing. That’s the reason why I do what I do and keep on doing it, and ultimately I can’t see feminism really getting to the point where I would be driven to suicide for any of the things I say or harassment. I can’t imagine anything making me that upset, that I would stop making music. Somebody may chop my arms off and I’d still be making music. You’d have to kill me, you really would. If they want me to commit suicide I’m very far from that, I’ve got a huge ego. I like to complain a lot, though.
Well, people in general do, so why should you be any different?
– Yeah, you know, it’s mano a mano. I’ll listen to you if you listen to me.
Do you even feel that you long back to the early days when you started out at home all by yourself without this attention?
– I don’t long for those days at all. I mean, they are very much with me, the home recording days when Haunted Graffiti took off. I was already working and supporting myself when I did all those things, I remember the life that I was leading and the work that I was doing, where I had to give myself completely to the art form. You know I ate it, I ate shit for at least six or seven years. It was age 26 before I had any sort of acknowledgement for what I did. The Animal Collective recommended that I play live, and I never stopped because that was my means of income. If I wanted to continue making music and not have a job I had to play live so I had to figure out how to make it work and enjoy it. It kept me living substandard existence while I was supporting the band. You know trying to make strides, and dispel any notion of any kind of degree of unreliability on my part to deliver results, and my professionalism. There’s all things that have probably preceded me in reputation, and I might not like that, but that’s the fact. I’m sure there’s gonna be more rumours that circulate about me because of the most recent stuff, but anybody in the know should know the difference. I’m a very professional and ethical person.
On the other hand, when good news travel fast they also subside very quickly?
– Yes, it does subside quickly, but there’s also truth to the adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. Really, I’m much more satisfied with having my name entering the lives of new fans rather than making all the old fans happy. I’m much more interested in the 99,9999 % of the population that have never heard of me.
Hopefully people are beginning to take notice now, not only because of controversies in media but also because of your music.
– More than 90% of what I do is actually not the music, although that is what it should be about ultimately. But being the good artist never did anything for that artist, you have to be a person and professional and responsible to yourself. The reason why you know about me is partly because of the music, but mostly because of me and who I am, my people skills and the way I do business. You know, it’s an active thing, it doesn’t ever stop, it doesn’t end, the way I relate to and love people. I don’t hide in my hole, I’m not a recluse or an idiot savant. Most of what I do is administrative, you know? So it’s boring and not very artistic at all, but I never said I was an artist. I mean I feel like an artist, but I wouldn’t be an artist at whatever the cost. Many people seem to be married to that tragic, romantic thing.
Maybe Pom Pom will make people more interested in your music, what I’ve read has been positive so far anyway, so good luck with everything. Thanks for taking your time, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
– Thank you, man, I hope you’re right. Take care.