Posted by: Necci – Jun 07, 2011
Drying out by the second, my eyes stay fixed on Chun Li’s movements, manipulated by incoherent button mashing and jolting the joystick around as if I were a five-year-old attempting a Commodore 64 F-16 flight simulator. As I finish off another nameless Capcom vs. SNK 2 character, a distorted rumble builds from the stage to my left. I know this song. Immediately, the levels are peaking, and the cymbal crashes are careening past the scattered patrons that dot the bar next to me. The few existing beyond the bar meander around with mugs of tea and coffee, seemingly unbothered by the chaos thundering from the nearby speakers. I break stride, straying from the game, as my ears followed by my head drift towards the peak load of reverb and sludge that hits me, screaming, “I got a favorite one.” That’s the Prince of San Francisco Psychedelic Rock, Ty Segall, and his band, going absolutely apeshit on the song “Lovely One.” Pleasantly bewildered at the ferocity of their warmup, I return to my Japanese fight fantasy, nodding my head, mumbling the words, and mashing and jolting the controls of the console in time with the mucky floor-stomping beats flourishing in the background.
Following soundcheck and subsequent dinner, Segall joined me for a conversation in the alley behind Strange Matter. It’s been almost a year since I last interviewed him, and almost a year since the release of his most diverse and bizarrely accessible album to date, Melted. Since our last conversation, Segall has released his fifth LP in three years, Live In Aisle 5, on South Paw Records, in addition to a limited 12" of T. Rex covers, appropriately titled Ty Rex, for Record Store Day. He has played festivals and toured extensively around the states and Europe--complete with a gig in the Bermuda Triangle, thanks to the Bruise Cruise. If that's not enough Ty for you in 2011, don't fret, his fourth proper album, Goodbye Bread, drops this summer.
Beyond Strange Matter’s vintage arcade, through back doors fit with a taped piece of computer paper reading “Employees Only Beyond This Point,” we discussed coming to terms with his eponymous band name, his burgeoning catalogue of tunes, touring with his main squeeze, “the dream,” and of course, Richmond, VA. Segall’s played Richmond before, but not with his band.
Sporting a drab sports jacket (leather elbow patches included), a stretched out grey cardigan, and a Thee Oh Sees t-shirt, Segall swipes his wavy blonde locks to the side with his fingers, tattooed with green ink. He trails as though he’s warming up his memory for a long car ride, condensed breath drifting through the gazing glow of the flood light overhead. “I came here [with] The Traditional Fools, like, three years ago; maybe more than that. It was awesome.” It’s not like he’s been avoiding the East Coast or anything; just Virginia. Since last summer, Segall and his gang of fuzz studs have hit DC twice. Once at DC 9; once at Comet Ping Pong in North West. On his current tour, Segall says he’s “really happy to stop in places” his band has skipped over. “We don’t really know what to expect in places we haven’t played, so it’s awesome that anyone comes.”
Segall has contributed drums, guitar, and vocals to a number of California projects that waver somewhere between psychedelic rock and punk, including Orange County’s Epsilons and San Francisco’s Traditional Fools, Party Fowl, Sic Alps, and The Perverts. The main difference between those groups and the ensemble he brings to Strange Matter now is that this is his band. He has hatched cerebral manifestations from the kaleidoscope of surfscapes and social tales an adolescent encounters while becoming a man on the the coast of California. This perlustration of his adolescent experience is aided by his knack for nostalgia; foregoing the new for the old, channeling the psychedelic sounds of the 60s and the fuzzier punk stylings of the 70s. The psychedelia comes compliments of his affinity for the echoplex, and for airy, reverberated fuzz balladry. These elements make up Segall's unmistakable new vintage sound. Throughout the interview, he references albums such as Alice Cooper’s Pretties For You and Bob Seger’s Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man, saying “Forever Changes is one of the best albums ever,” about Love’s 1967 classic. Love’s Arthur Lee is a no-brainer, but who knew the author of “Night Moves” would influence modern punk psychedelia? I guess I need to listen to his early stuff.
Despite years of experience as a member of various bands, it wasn’t until 2008, when Segall decided to play a rather serendipitous solo show exposing material he developed in his bedroom, that his solo career truly began. “I’ve always recorded in my bedroom, most of which won’t ever see the light of day. I just recorded a tape and gave it to [KUSF, the University Of San Francisco’s student-run radio station, now defunct] and some other places. And they liked it a lot. I thought maybe I could play these songs live. The Traditional Fools got asked to play with this band the Nodzzz, and we couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to back out of the show because I love that band. So, I told them that if they wanted, I could play a few songs by myself. And that’s the first show I ever played. I just played kick drum (and guitar) and that’s how it started,” he avers.
The cassette, Horn The Unicorn, was recorded at his residence, Wizard Mountain, which doubles as a tape label. It featured a handful of songs that would resurface on Ty Segall, released on Castle Face Records later that year. He continued to play by himself, only adding a high-hat and tambourine to enhance his solo dynamic of reverb-drenched garage rock. Having recorded all of his material up to that time by his lonesome, Segall didn’t consider forming a band until after recording his third LP and first for Goner Records, Lemons. “Doing a one man band thing is kind of limiting,” he says. “I felt like I did the one man band record [on Ty Segall]. I kind of don’t like doing the same record twice if I can help it. So I felt like I might as well do a full band record next, because I don’t know how I could really match that one without it sounding like the same thing.”
Considering the diversified vision he had for Lemons, it’s clear that the album was an expansion upon the lo-fi primal rock constituting his semi-debut (Horn The Unicorn) and true debut (Ty Segall). Those albums featured nothing too drastic or complicated. Although he did record Lemons solo, he draws a distinction between his first two efforts beyond the interchange of recording mediums from a digital eight-track to reel-to-reel tape. While the songs on his self-titled album were songs that could be executed alone, the tunes on Lemons could only be enacted live with the support of a band. “It’s a way less stressful thing to play with a band instead of by yourself,” he says. “The main difference for me is being freed up. Being able to solo; being able to get off time; getting a little weirder and having fun with it.” He pauses and collects his thoughts. “Because if I play by myself it’s kind of super-intense. I’m definitely enjoying playing it aloof.”
Ultimately, Segall’s main gig is under his name, regardless of backing band support. “For some reason I’ve always felt that ‘Johnny Something and The Somethings’ is a little tacky,” he says. “There’s that notion in my brain that you’re putting a label on this band, and not acknowledging them as people, too.” He adjusts himself on the cement steps. “The only reason I haven’t [developed a band name] is because one of the main purposes for this project is that I like to make recordings where I play everything. Which is a totally selfish thing to do. It’s kind of how I write. I guess I started things accidentally under my name. But I really started playing under my name because I didn’t have a choice. I had all these songs and said, ‘I’m going to play; I’m not going to wait around.’ Now, we’re kind of stuck with it. It’s weird. I think about it a lot. It is a trip. I don’t like being in the spotlight either. I just like making tunes. But now I’m the number one dude in the spotlight in this band, which can be a stressful thing. It’s the price you pay for wanting to have freedom on the recordings. It makes it a limitless thing, which is nice, you know?”
His monogamous studio efforts are the soul of his creations, but the polygamy of his live sets is a means of drawing forth the mad psychedelic grit-rock visions that propagate in his cerebrum. His current live support comes from the people who care the most: lovers, man. This amorous menagerie consists of Segall’s girlfriend, Denee Petracek, on bass, and hand-holders Emily Rose Epstein on drums and Charles Moothart on guitar. Why miss her, or him for that matter, when you can bring ‘em on tour? “I was super-stoked because when you’re on tour all the time and you’re away from your girlfriend it’s not fun,” says Segall. “I have been friends with Charlie for a long time; since high school. Charlie started dating Emily like a year ago, so I said, ‘Let’s do this thing.’ Then we became a two-couples band. It’s pretty funny.” Pretty fucking romantic, if you ask me.
Segall asserts that, in addition to absolving his duties as both maestro and orchestra, his stage coterie permits him to be “louder. I want to get as loud as possible. People seem to like the one man band as a spectacle thing. I don’t think I’m a spectacle by any means. To walk up there with four people and just try to melt their faces--that’s another way of trying to make a spectacle of something, too,” assures Segall. And ain’t that the truth. There’s no room for casual rock n’ roll fans. Segall’s latest touring troupe evokes the freak flag in us all, sonically suggesting that you let your rockabilly quiff drift downward as your shoulders convulse to the pulse of the bass drum and the shrill of the treble. Think Egon Spengler in a worn black leather jacket, cracked out on cheap bourbon and Marlboro Reds, taking a subcultural respite from his rogue Rebel Without A Cause motorcycle status to get some kicks at a local dive. The modern shit that makes Dick Dale, Glenn Danzig, and Quentin Tarantino’s panties wet. What makes it so memorable is that there’s a true essence of pop underneath the epidermis of reverb, distortion, and throat.
Thanks to Segall’s work ethic, there’s a lot of his work out there. “When I first started out it was like, ‘Go, go, go, go, go--the more you can do, the better’,” he says. “Now, I want to do the best stuff I can possibly do. I’d rather put out one single and one record this year and have it be the best stuff I’ve ever done, than have the songs suffer [just] to put out more.” It seems as though his new ethos begets a new beginning. Segall’s forthcoming album, Goodbye Bread, slated for release June 21, will be his first for Drag City Records. “I’ve been a fan of Drag City,” proclaims Segall. “I love Royal Trux, Magik Markers, Michael Yonkers, stuff like the Scene Creamers... It is just an awesome label.” He’s taking a similar approach on the new record as he has in the past, in that he’s at the helm; playing everything on the recording. He makes the exciting declaration that Goodbye Bread will be “weirder” than his past albums. Considering the title track off of Melted, I don’t know how much weirder he can get. “Definitely slower, moodier,” he assures. “More psych-y than harsh. Less garage-y harsh, kind of distorted. It’s definitely different... not as concept-y.” Whatever that means.
Hours later, following a mind-fuck of a set by Richmond’s Bermuda Triangles, and a surf-danceable spree by The Super Vacations, Ty Segall and company stand atop the Strange Matter stage, ready to barrage the crowd with their version of deafening San Francisco psychedelic rock. I’m not sure if the show reached capacity, but my shoulders never left my neighbors’ throughout the headline set. Strange Matter wants it, but isn’t ready to let its guard down. Heads begin to timidly bob, and bodies start to oscillate like tops during the opening number, “Standing At The Station.” The speakers shake enough to make the debris on the floor move. Petracek’s bass thudding, guitar crunches echoing through the arcade and back, Epstein controls the chaos with a perimeter of cymbal, snare, bass and kick drum. Moshing will have to wait its turn. After all, you can’t look like you’re having too good of time in front of other people, right? Finally, the closing, encore numbers “It #1” and “Pretty Baby (You’re So Ugly)” get Richmonders in the pit. Inhibitions aside and bar tabs well fed, the crowd absorbs the cavity before the stage as Segall’s screaming blonde mop envelopes the microphone. Following the sweaty performance, attendee Kaley Morris yells, “I can’t hear shit right now!” as if she were trying to convey a message across a ravine. Jen Lawhren expresses that she feels “the California love in the ugly, disgusting, cold city of Richmond,” as post-show zombies shuffle toward the vinyl available for purchase next to the Ms. Pacman machine.
Segall, at 23 years old, is more precocious than most at this point in life. While selling merchandise, his smile never fades; the road fatigue never shows. He has a dream beyond the now; beyond whiskey-cocked aspirations. His dream of existence is based on the reality of Trouble In Mind Records heads Bill and Lisa Roe, whose label is the purveyor of both the supreme Segall single “My Sunshine,” and his creepier, grittier-than-thou cover of Bob Seger’s “2+2=?” “Bottom line: They are the sweetest people,” Segall says of the Roes. “It gives me hope. They’re doing everything I want to do. Have a rad daughter, play in a rad band [CoCoComa], have a rad label, be super happy people. That’s the dream,” the Prince of San Francisco Psych conveys with an assuring look. It gives me hope, too, Ty. Punk isn't dead, and neither is the future.
Words by Mark Craig Images by Joseph Talman