ariel pink exposes his softer side
We caught up with the king of lo-fi in Florence's 16th Giardino Torrigiani to talk Los Angeles, Kim Fowley and his first solo album pom pom.
The sun is just beginning to set in Florence. It's the middle of Pitti Uomo, and hundreds of champagne-armed Italians are breezing through the immaculately kept bushes in the Giardino Torrigiani, a botanical garden dating back to the 1600s, where Michelangelo is said to have hung out. Set apart from the surrounding beauty, I'm sitting with the inimitable Ariel Pink, the 'king of lo-fi', behind some shrubs with his backing band, Haunted Graffiti, before they go on stage to perform songs off his latest double-album pom pom.
pom pom is already Pink's tenth album, but he's recorded hundreds of songs never released to the public, and has been writing songs since age 10. Music has always been a large part of his life; "My whole schtick is going back to that moment when I was five years old and hearing music for the first time on the radio, and not knowing what it was, but being enchanted," he recalls.
Enchanting is one way to describe Pink's music; although given the breadth of his work, it's hard to pin down a specific style, or even feeling. But one common thread always seems to weave its way through, though sometimes buried deep down; that childlike wonder he felt at five years old, hearing music for the first time. Songs like the superficially infantile Jell-O, the fairytale scenes of Exile On Frog Street, or the melancholic Picture Me Gone recall that moment.
A particular standout from the album, Picture Me Gone is a haunting lament in which a father (in "the near future") says goodbye to his child, realising there will be no physical evidence remaining of his existence. Riddled with hyper-contemporary language ("I backed up all my pictures on my iCloud" "I dedicate this selfie to the little guy") it's poignantly amusing. "I meant it as a dated and topical kind of thing," says Pink. "Just write a song in the language that is going to be obsolete in about two years. Kind of like writing a song about AOL." Life is ephemeral, and so is art.
The lyrics come last when Ariel is recording, perhaps as a coping method to his perfectionist tendencies. In a way, he says, they don't really mean anything at all; they are simply the face of his work, a slowly decaying veneer. "I almost try to make it as superfluous as possible," he says. "I just do this semi-quick and sincere performance of it. That's me unfiltered. Because I know I'm just going to try and cross out everything and re-edit it, it's going to be all mumbled and jumbled by the time I got to the cutting room. So it's just part of the process. I try not to think about them too hard."
Though pom pom was his first "solo" album, recorded without Haunted Graffiti, he calls it a collaborative effort. Several of the songs were co-written by the late Runaways manager Kim Fowley, from his hospital bed. "He's such a talent. He doesn't need anything to inspire him. He's just an inspiration in himself," he says, before launching into a full impression of Fowley singing Jell-O (inspired, perhaps, by his conditions in hospice). As his collaborators have changed, so has Pink's creative process. "I used to record every single day, no matter what mood I was in. I had good days and bad days and I would record anyway," he says. "I was like, possessed! But now I barely ever record. I never record. I've recorded plenty. I wait. I don't force myself to write. Everything happens in its time, in time."
Pink has been the subject of much debate in the past year, following a series of de-contextualised quotes that made it easy for the media and public to point fingers and throw out words like "misogynist", "ageist", "sexist", and more, at him. However, to speak to, he exposes a much softer side than is often reported, yet the risk of discrepancy is part and parcel of being an artist for him: "You have to have the confidence to act, and to not think so hard about the why and the ramifications of giving yourself up to something like making a song, and writing, and creating art," he says. "You risk embarrassing yourself. You're making yourself very vulnerable. You're stamping time with your effect. And people are going to walk away with impressions of it that you have to live down. But those are all just - that's all part of the thing. You really can't even care that much about what you do or what anyone thinks, because it's all bullshit."
And how do you stay authentic in the face of adversity? It's a question many of us face, with or without the haranguing press. For Pink, it's reminding himself of who he used to be. "I lived in LA all my life and I've never really had a past to shrug - literally facing the same shit that I always faced going around, which anchors me to my history. In a sense, I'm a small town boy," he says. "I never left home, and that happened to be the best town that ever was. That's how I feel."
The softer, more serious side of Pink has slowly seeped into his latest work, bringing with it a sense of exhaustion with music. "I make music to not have to do it anymore. It's supposed to be exorcizing my demons," he says, setting his sights on other mediums like film. "So eventually, when I don't need to record anymore, I'll be cured! It'll be the best thing ever if I don't have to record." The haunting final track on pom pom, "Dayzed Inn Daydreams", is almost an adieu:
"At last my work is done / The picture's gone / But the memory lingers on," he sings, drawing this chapter of his work to a close.
What may come next is anybody's guess.
Farewell / This one's for you."
Text Christina Cacouris
Photography Todd Cole
[The Back to the Future Issue, No. 310, Winter 10]