An interview with Ariel Pink is not like other interviews. When we meet in the Ace Hotel’s Hoi Polloi restaurant for a chat, Pink immediately drags me outside so he can smoke. The smoking, it turns out, is in part a ruse to escape the gang of PR and label people that are chaperoning Pink today.
“I just don’t like the idea of them putting me somewhere in a seat in the corner, they want to control my movements,” Pink says. “They’re trying to make sure I don’t walk away because they just don’t trust me.”
You can hardly blame them for wanting to keep an eye on Pink when you consider that during the promotion of his last record – 2013’s Pom Pom – he managed to talk his way into a bunch of controversies that earned him the title of pop’s foremost contrarian. It all started when Pink told a story about being “maced by a feminist,” got worse when he said he was writing songs to help Madonna get out of a career “downward slide” and culminated in Grimes labeling him a misogynist.
As you can see, Ariel Pink is undeniably a chaotic and problematic anti-hero.
Talking to Pink is high adrenaline, like a car with no brakes, but it’s impossible to dislike him since for every off the rails thing he comes out with, he says something equally smart or funny. What’s undeniable is that Pink’s work has made him a legendary underground figure that many hail a lo-fi pop God. New album Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is packed with signature Ariel Pink woozy pop including instant classics like ‘Feels Like Heaven’ and ‘Another Weekend’. The Bobby Jameson of the album’s title was a real life rock n roller with a tragic nearly made it career story that ended with Jameson bitter, broke and blogging his life story.
These are the first interviews Pink has done in three years. He talks at length about fame, about disillusionment, about journalists flipping on him, about people still not getting him. “I think it’s ridiculous that I make such little progress with my audience or the general public,” Pink bemoans, “It’s like they don’t get it and it’s sort of stuck at this crossroads where they’re still trying to figure out which is Ariel Pink and which is Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.” He seems genuinely exhausted by it all, but here he is, talking a million miles an hour.
“My appeal is not in my control,” he concludes. “if people like what I do they see it from a totally different point of view that I don’t. The veil’s been lifted a thousand times and shown me to be a fucking twerp you know. When I started I took it for granted that nobody knew who I was, that it was anonymous, so I would take a picture of somebody who didn’t look like me and use that as a cover, I’d make voices and bring the whole circus and be totally make believe – what kind of impression am I making? That’s what I was always wondering, what does this come across as? Then the wizard of Oz is revealed. If there’s an appeal over time maybe it’s a different one. It’s frustrating to not have any control what so ever.”
It’s frustrating because to an extent Pink does have control, control of the music he makes, control over the things he says on the record in interviews that get put out into the world as a reflection of himself. He seems to be caught in a conflict between not giving a fuck and caring too damn much.
All I can say is that interviewing Ariel Pink might be a real wtf moment but it sure is a pure pleasure.
Ariel Pink: Did I smoke a cigarette already?
You did. Do you smoke a lot of cigarettes?
Yes I do.
Have you read every post on Bobby Jameson’s blog? What did you learn?
Yeh. I was just transported. He’s one of those writers who like, he’s not a writer but he’s writing a book. It’s like when someone makes a record and they’ve no business making a record. You feel like you’re privileged, you’re lucky because this is the real thing. This guy is grabbing me by the throat and he’s like, ‘Hey man I’m telling you what’s going on here, this is what happened that led to my life unraveling’. His memory is so vivid, he’s not trying to do a day in the life he talks about these specific points.
He does seem a bit manic though.
He’s totally manic, but he’s an old man and fastidious. It’s obviously born of frustration, not that it’s all warranted necessarily. Our generation is way too chill, he didn’t get the memo that people don’t pay for music any more. He’s going online to complain about how he never got paid. He felt like he was a rock star for so long, but without getting his due. I felt that way until I was 26 and I didn’t even realise, I was so consumed with my identity and my music. I was operating at a lack before. I wanted acknowledgement and a little bit of love for what I was doing, I thought I was being a creative responsible dude, making smoke signals trying to get people’s attention. That was a really chaotic place to be and I instantly deflated as soon as I got a little bit of attention.
I mean, the older you get the more your priorities change.
I had a longer adolescence than most people. Most people had already outgrown that stuff by the time. Twenty-six is not that old but it is kind of old for rock’n’roll dreams I guess.
Is growing up overrated?
Identity issues are for when you’re kids, as you grow up you should lose your identity a bit, it shouldn’t be so identity driven because it’s been chipped away at. Your identity is totally rock solid when you’re a teenager because it hasn’t had time to completely be shown to be a farce. That takes time.
How do you feel about the pop world?
I can dabble with it if people want me around, I can come and ruin their song, I’m perfectly happy doing that.
Do you think it’s an unhealthy environment?
No! I think it’s unhealthy to think it’s unhealthy. I live in LA and that’s the only trade we have, that’s the way it’s always been. I really appreciate people who are successful and who are doing stuff in the pop music idiom, those are the people I look up to. If they’re popular they’re doing something right. People are really down on success, they don’t like anyone that’s too successful.
My favourite colour is blue, I don’t like anything pink.
Why did you dedicate the record to Bobby Jameson?
I realise that I literally named the record what I did apropos of nothing other than that I wanted to have something else to focus on during these interviews. I can tell you about Bobby Jameson and talk about it all the time and we’d still be on the first question. That’s what’s some what redeeming about the whole thing to me, that he’s an example of an artist that, if he hadn’t written his blog nobody would know anything about this life. He’s an artist that wrote his history, we know it only from his mouth, there’s no other expert on it.
Did you meet Bobby?
No. He’s dead, he died two years ago. I found out about him too late. My friend was really good friends with him and she introduced me to him and I was like ah man how could I not know about this?
Do you feel an affinity with Bobby?
I do. Luckily I don’t feel I’m destined to have the same fate as him, but I know the frustration of what that feels like. I’ve got friends that think of me as being famous and stuff like that and I’m just like whatever that means, I don’t feel famous, I just feel ok.
I guess the level of fame you have isn’t intrusive.
That’s right. Only if I’m there saying ‘hey listen to what I have to say’. People are very dismissive of my thing too. Sometimes there’s deep stuff but I’m the last one to hear about it.
In terms of re-imagining pop music do you feel like that’s something you’ve achieved? Or is it an ongoing process?
There’s still 99.9% of the population of the world that don’t know my work. Whenever I meet a fan or someone like that I’m like ‘ok get away from me, I got more people to meet’, you know what I’m saying? I’m always making a new impression to what I assume to be new listeners. People that come to the show I assume are people that heard about me three weeks ago, they’re not diehards that come every year, maybe some of them are but at least more than half of the audience are brand new, they’ve just been turned on more or less. That’s how I do it. Die hard fans that have been there since the beginning or whatever, you just constantly fail them, they’re like, ‘the only good record he really had was Doldrums’ and I’m like ‘I hate you,’ I’ll take all the tweeny Miley Cyrus fans over you.
Can’t you overthink this stuff?
I’m just saying those are the people I don’t deal with, anybody that’s fucking going to get on my case for doing a Miley Cyrus record.
There’s no such thing as selling out any more anyway.
I wanna sell out, I’m all for it. If I could sell out it’d be fucking rad. If you’re a fan of me, you should be happy if I sell out, I’m just trying to make it, what is your fucking problem? They only like me if I’m a tragic failure.
Do you think you’ve set that up though?
Yeah and now I’m doubling back. I’ve still got some angst in me, I’ve still got another fight in me. I want to rewrite everything and I see myself getting more conservative and more extreme.
If there was a simulated virtual reality utopia that you could upload your consciousness into would you want to do that?
I don’t even know what that means. Would I be here still?
I guess maybe you would be physically but your consciousness would definitely be in this other place. Like the Matrix.
Sounds like a fucking Philip K Dick novel man. It’s completely schizophrenic. I wouldn’t trust anybody that said they could upload my consciousness. These AI’s when they come around, they’re not going to be like hardware, what’s going to happen is that people are going to start renting out time in other people’s bodies. Literally, my body is going to be booked and it could be anyone. They’re booked to stay there and they enter my body and they get to be me and nobody knows, nobody’s going to know when it’s me or somebody else being me, they’re just going to think it’s Ariel being whacky.
Where will you be?
I’ll be in somebody else’s body traveling. I just want to be in everybody’s body. My bodies just fine right now, there’s a couple of things I’d change of course.
I’m disappointed that you don’t have pink hair still.
So fucking five years ago.
It’s such a good look though and you’re Ariel Pink!
That’s the problem, my favourite colour is blue, I don’t like anything pink.
What do you dream about? Do you remember your dreams?
Sometimes, very rarely. One of the songs on the record is a song I pulled out of a dream. ‘Death Patrol’, I heard that song in my dream, it was playing at the beginning of some sort of kung-fu exploitation movie over the opening credits. Then I woke up and I was like ‘Whoah man that song was bad ass’, then I was like oh wait i wrote that and I captured it and was able to drag it out, it was like dragging Freddy Kreuger out of the dream world into the real world.
What do you think happens when we die?
I don’t know. People are way too realistic or practical about it.
I guess we can only imagine what might happen within the constraints of our own experience. What could happen when we die might actually be out of our realm of imagination.
Maybe it is all imagination, maybe nothing ends. We don’t have any scientific evidence that anything ends so that’s why I think that it’s not an irrelevant thing to just do away with god. That’s shooting yourself in the foot, if you think you just die and that’s it there’s nothing else, then maybe that’s what’s going to happen. God is at least something that tells you that if you continue on there’s a heaven, that’s supposed to basically reassure because it’s supposed to be what you would hope, but people don’t even want to go that far at all. You’re probably going to settle for being dirt in the ground, then you’re definitely going to be that, you didn’t even bother, you’re just laying down to die because you don’t believe in god. Go ahead. If you’re going to hate on it then come up with something better.
Do you believe in god? Are you a religious person?
More of less. I’m a good Western style Christian. I was raised Jewish so I have my own beliefs about that, everybody is Jewish essentially, by blood not by faith. That’s just my theory.
I read somewhere that you wanted your funeral to be the saddest funeral ever. We should probably plan that and official put in writing right now what you’re expecting.
There would have to be a serious of unfortunate events that happen at the funeral… I mean how would you direct a movie and make it the saddest funeral that ever happened? I think the ending to My Girl is fucking very very very sad. I just don’t want a party , i don’t want my friends being like ‘Raaaah, let’s have a rager’. I just don’t want that, I want it to be like listening to ‘Faith’ by The Cure.
And no pink, because I think you’re going to end up with a pink coffin if you don’t say otherwise.
Dude, they’re going to turn it into fucking Johnny Rockets and it’s going to be like chrome and look like it’s a 1950s diner and there’s going to be me with a pompadour in a pink suit and i hate pink. The only person that’s going to be crying is me. i mean I”m going to be incinerated.
Where do you want your ashes to go?
Shoot me into space. Shoot me to Jupiter, I want to go and take a trip. I’m sure the sky changes the further up you go. I know a lot about astronomy, you can only see half the universe pretty much from any hemisphere. When you go up into outer space it sort of flattens out, I want to see. It’s one room, you can pretty much see into all corners of the room. It’s fascinating to me.
I loved the Myths 002 EP you recorded with Weyes Blood, she is an incredible human being.
She’s incredible. Josh Tilmans already took her on tour. Lana Del Rey’s a huge fan of her. She’s gonna go far. Now let’s just hope she doesn’t turn into a retard. You just have to always hope. I’m always going to end up being where I’m at, I’ll always be in my like… I’m not going to be advancing much more I’ve pretty much peaked and that’s fine with me but some people, well everybody surpasses me, I’m not even in the race any more.
Will you be 70 and still making records?
I hope so. I hope it really is just me making records and not touring and that kind of stuff. But if it’s not that then it’ll be because I don’t need to do that and I’ll be stoked.
But you’d still be making music?
I don’t think I would need to. I barely do anymore.
In my head you either put it all into a record or you write a song a day like Prince supposedly used to.
I used to do that a lot, whether it was a good day or a bad day I’d be like ‘gotta record’, Nowadays I don’t really need to release anything, I’ve already got way to many records, give somebody else a chance you know. But I’m not the one who is releasing them it’s the label, I’m just basically taking their money and they think that I’m worth something. I’m playing live occasionally and doing this stuff as a concession to them, it’s the least I could do. It’s just a job really, the magic has been drained.
Do you think you can get it back?
My job is to get it back. I have to get back in touch periodically with what got me into it. I have to muster that, trick myself into thinking no Ariel remember you’ve got to be your fantastic misanthropic self from high school and channel it again. You can do whatever you want. I had it when I was totally secure back in the days I used to be so confident and now I’m not like that any more. Back then I didn’t care at all and that’s what made me good. I kind of care and i kind of don’t care, as long as I’m myself. I also notice that I only make music when I’m happy emotionally. Misery doesn’t inspire me at all. If I’m going to write the saddest song you’ve ever heard I have to be totally fucking happy or if I’m actually that miserable I wont write it. It’s the worst thing for me to be depressed because I can’t do anything.