Ariel Pink is the stage name of Ariel Marcus Rosenberg, a Los Angeles based musician. His latest album, ‘Before Today’ has received critical acclamation across the world. Midday Procrastination caught up with him before his hectic tour schedule reaches Montréal.
Firstly, where did the names Ariel Pink and Haunted Graffiti come from?
Well Ariel comes from my parents, so the first bit was easy, but I’d always hated my second name, so being an artist just gave me an opportunity to change it and play with it. The Haunted Graffiti has just been the name of a project I’ve been working on at various times throughout my life.
It’s well known that you started out making hundreds of home recordings, which were all eventually released on Animal Collective’s record label ‘Paw Tracks’. How did that happen? What kind of experience was that for you?
It was a little bit strange, because the Animal Collective guys heard the music so many years after I’d first made it, and so when they helped release it, I was a little bit displaced artistically from where I was at the time. In hindsight, it wasn’t that much of a difference, maybe five years, but at the time it felt a lot longer.
And now you’ve jumped to 4AD and released an album that has got significant exposure at the same time as it was created, has that felt any different to you?
Fair enough! So, now you’re on tour as well. Did you always perform live, or is that something that came along with the recognition?
No, definitely not. When I started making music I didn’t really think about playing live at all. I started after The Doldrums came out in 2004, and it was mostly a promotional thing, trying to get people to prick up their ears to my sounds. I think a lot of the time I felt validated, and some times disappointed, but at that time it was weird, I didn’t really take playing live seriously, because it was such a new thing.
Musically, it seems you choose a great variety of different sounds, but united by an overriding feeling, I want to call it nostalgia, but the sounds are very particular, very 1980s. Would you agree with that? Did you have a particular desire to unite these different ideas with a coherent sound?
I think that’s just my musical sensibility cutting through everything. It’s not really thought out, I mean, I even think that within 1980s music there was a lot of nostalgia, y’know, those feelings of yearning and of winsomeness were quite prominent. I think it’s fair to say that my music sounds like 1980s music, because of the instruments and sounds, but that it has a different twist on the nostalgia, because I’m being nostalgic towards it!
What do you think about the prevalence of nostalgia within the contemporary indie scene?
Actually that might be my fault! When ‘The Doldrums’ came out in 2004, it was incredibly contradictory, because it didn’t exist in the world it was released into in some ways, because it had been recorded around 1999. And then that record itself harked back to another era, and was recorded on such shitty equipment, that it became this weird ‘current-nostalgia’ thing. I think people thought it was like a half-ironic mind experiment, sort of like I was trying to do something that wasn’t completely real or true, but as more people listened to those early recordings I think they just found that the songs struck a chord with them. They felt that they could be more vocal with their interests, and present their interest in nostalgia. Sometimes it’s just more natural to hark back and feel safe, especially in today’s society, and I’m happy to show that in my music.
And how do your lyrics and sounds come together when you write songs? I mean, for a song like ‘Fright Night’ you mention ‘Freddy’, alluding to those old ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ films, and you’ve got all this imagery that feels like it could have come straight out of the ‘Thriller’ video, and the music really fits this theme, with loads of ghostly reverb etc. Does the music come before the lyrics or do the lyrics match the feel of the song musically?
Oh that’s great, because with that song in particular I had real trouble with the lyrics. I had the sound down, and the music all finished, but it was the hardest song off the album to get lyrics to. I went through probably like four or five hundred rough drafts before I decided on them; it almost didn’t make the album. It was at the stage where I had the feel of the song down completely, so I could have just garbled some random lyrics and still had the same feel. No, the lyrics definitely need to fit in with the feel of the song musically.
Okay, and do you think some of your influences come out quite clearly in your songs? When I hear ‘L’estat’ it sounds like you’re trying to lead the reader on a story, somewhat in the manner of Paul McCartney, would that be fair?
Well Paul McCartney has been a great and long lasting reference point for me. I mean, just in terms of his execution and arrangements, I’m constantly looking up to him. He understood how to communicate with simplicity, and the idea of the reaching the lowest common denominator being a great thing to achieve in music – that there is no need to be fancy all the time. I think that’s a hard thing to do – it is difficult to create simplicity. Over and over again pop musicians have tried to do it. Think about it, every time a new pop record comes out we look for the same things, ‘innovation’, ‘genius’, and ‘melody’. Great pop musicians always manage to achieve those things, but maintain that ability to reach everyone.
Do you think it’s partly that combination of lowest common denominator pop melody with such over the top dramaticsm that attracts you to the Cure? On songs like ‘Little Wig’ you seem to lean that way, with the incredibly open and inviting upbeat tempo and melody, but lyrics that have that dramatically self-imposed ‘I don’t worry for no-one’ vibe.
Well, I think you’ve just summed up my never-ending devotion to the Cure. For me, they’re such a great reference point, and I want people to remember them for that kernel of truth they had back in the 1980s. Y’know, like, they were so faithful to this idea of writing great pop, but at the same time, such a shambles. Robert Smith was this bumbling drama queen, and they were always in various states of falling apart or fighting through various image crises, but they always had the great pop sensibility. It’s interesting, because they’ve come to be recognised as this great influence and Robert has became this sort of ‘god like’, but cartoony, figure. It’s funny to me that we see him through these new coloured glasses, but, really, he was obsessed with drama and smeared makeup, all the while really understanding the musical essence of new wave 1980s pop.
Ariel Pink plays with Os Mutantes, November 16th at Le National ($23.50).