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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Round and Round’ (2010)

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti produced some of the most important experimental rock records of the last decade.

Credited as the founder of Chillwave, Ariel Pink was also central to hauntology (it’s now often forgotten that much of the initial discussion of hauntology was prompted by Pink’s records) and he is the single most significant influence on hypnagogic pop, which seems to be similarly poised between FM rock, MTV and the avant-garde. In Ariel Pink’s music, the past is simultaneously invoked and obstructed: fragments of what seem to be familiar rock and pop jewels are tantalisingly veiled behind multiple layers of distortion and effects. The name “Haunted Graffiti” perfectly captures the appeal of Ariel Pink’s sound: it is psychedelic as well as spectral, spraypaint-vivid as well as ectosplasm-insubstantial.

While the early Ariel Pink releases were self-produced and released on small labels, the latest, Before Today, was recorded with a band – Tim Koh (bass), Kenny Gilmore (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals), Aaron Sperske (drums) – and released on 4AD. Also for the first time, this album was mostly recorded in a studio (House of Blues), and with a producer (Sunny Levine) and an engineer (Rik Pekkonen). Fittingly, the studio and these figures bring with them ghosts of LA music: House of Blues is the home studio of Tito Jackson; Sunny Levine is Quincy Jones’s grandson, while Pekkonen engineered for artists such as Bread and Bill Withers. FACT spoke to Ariel Pink via phone at this home in LA.

“This record is a combination of visions. A game of roulette.”

What was it like recording in a proper studio this time?

“It was very different. It wasn’t only about having a studio. It was also about  having a band and a producer. We spread out the recording according to schedules. It was fraught with limitations and time constraints. It’s not like I just fall out of bed and record a track like I did before. The whole thing was very counter-intuitive to me. It was more of embracing the challenge, and being diplomatic about different obstacles which came in the way. I had to rearrange my brain in the past couple of years, from being a solo artist to going into the live arena. I had to make the very firm decision to go with a stable line-up of musicians. I had to learn to deal with various people, with different minds.”

Was there an overall vision for this record?

“In the past, it was taken for granted that there would be a vision for a record. This record is a combination of visions. A game of roulette. If you work often enough, you create vision by default. It’s not exactly a moment in time, because records don’t happen in real time, but it’s a kind of gelling of many things that happened at a certain time. I might be able to say more when I get perspective on it, if we reconvene in a year…”

Your music seems to come out of a mixture of your own past and the past of rock ‘n’ roll…

“I think that my past and the past of rock n roll are the same past. It’s something we all have. The fact that I might be in some way part of that lineage is a perplexing thought.”

“Gender identity: I see myself as not being either male or female, you know? I’m not a very macho kind of guy.”

What about the influence of LA on the new record?

“I’m not objective about that. I’ve lived here all my life, so I can’t tell how it influences me. Ask me again when I’ve lived in Germany for a while! This record though I see as our East Coast record. I see it as our Broadway record, kind of Carnegie Hall. I don’t see it as very LA at all. I don’t hear any sunshine in it.”

The dream-like nature of your music partly comes from the textures, but it also comes from the lyrics. What comes first, the music or the lyrics?

“The music always comes first. The lyrics are the last thing, the very, very last thing. I can’t think about them for very long.”

Most of the songs on Before Today are typically delirial, but ‘Menopause Man’, with its anxieties about gender identity, has a clear theme. What inspired that song?

“Things that I think about on a daily basis. Gender identity: I see myself as not being either male or female, you know? I’m not a very macho kind of guy. There’s also a slight fear in me – a very misogynistic fear I’m sure – essentially that men are going to be extinct pretty soon. All it takes us for women to embrace each other, put their heads together, and then we’re done. It only takes one man to impregnate every woman on the planet. If they copped to that, if they weren’t so tortured… Women are the future. I don’t think if the tables were turned, there would be so much death and destruction.”

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Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – ‘Grey Sunset’ (2004)

“I was ready to live underneath the radar, and eke out some kind of existence doing it, but my plan got foiled…”

What do you think about being classified in terms of hauntology or hypnagogic pop?

“I love it, I love it. It beats lo-fi! I’m just happy to be doing it. After years of making music, I had resigned myself to thinking, it’s a dream, you’re not going to be discovered. I taught art at the elementary school that I attended. I’d stay up all night recording, go to a job and then continue. I had girlfriends who thought I was having an affair with my eight-track! I was ready to live underneath the radar, and eke out some kind of existence doing it, but my plan got foiled…”

By success?

“I appreciate my following. I know it’s a finite thing. It’s not going to last forever – there isn’t much future for me because I’m a man (laughs). At this point, I’m 32, and I don’t have any skills to start a new career.”

What was  it that drew you into music in the first place?

“I realised since my early youth that I had an affinity for it, that it had an odd effect on me, something akin to learning about memory for the first time, and being able to realise upon reflection , that something that was part of you, like a song, had a resonating effect back then. Something isn’t the same any more. You’ve lost the feeling that it initially gave you, before you even knew you’d enjoyed it. Maybe the first time you hear it, it blows your mind, or maybe it just seeps in. I relish the moment when I hear something that I hadn’t heard before, and I know right then that I’m going to be singing it in the street. You can’t wait for the effect of being introduced to something you’ve never heard before. That sublimeness, it’s at the core of you.”

Was it listening to stuff on the radio that was important to you early on?

“No, it was MTV. Then a bit later it was metal. That’s how I forged an identity with music. It was my own thing. It felt as if no-one else knew about it, that I’d invented it.”


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