Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Pretty in Ariel Pink

Written by Jesse Sposato
If you are having a dismal day, Ariel Pink may not be the first person you call for a pick-me-up. He speaks of death and cavities and warns us about the trivialness that comes with being twenty-years-old. (In fact, it only goes downhill from there.) Youth is the good stuff, and when you’re at an age where you’re pulling your hair out and thinking your world is ending over something so small, so minor, you’re actually, in fact, OK. It will be a while till the downward spiral that comes with age and real responsibility kicks in.
 
Ariel Pink has an interesting approach to just about everything, which is undoubtedly what makes him such a unique performer, and person. If Ariel wasn’t doing what he’s doing now, he would like to be president, no biggie, but only for four years. Oh, or a lawyer, or scientist. Despite these aspirations—and, to be fair, I’m not sure I believed him wholeheartedly when he rattled off his attempts to be multidimensional and not just rock and roll—Ariel is instead a faggy, arty musician.
 
Ariel Pink is a character from your favorite fairy tale, the ghost story your parents didn’t allow you to tell so you had to wait until they were in bed and all the lights were turned off to revel in the eerie greatness as it glowed in the dark. You can hear the LA in him when he speaks his mantras on how we all need to get the love we need in order to start liking or knowing who we are.

Ariel writes all the parts to his songs, he makes beats with his mouth when he records, and in the past he has been known for kind of freaking out on stage, though, like a dieter always teetering on those last fifteen pounds, he is trying to change that.

It’s not so often you get to feel like you’re in confessional with one of the artists whose music you most admire. During the course of my interview with Ariel, I felt simultaneously like I was in therapy, like I was a therapist, and like I had just joined an AA (Artists Anonymous) support group where finally someone understood, and I hoped he felt the same way.

Jesse: Do you have a new album coming out?

Ariel: Nope. We do have some material, but we don’t have a label to release [it on] yet. I want to negotiate a good record deal.

Jesse: Cool. Have you put your records out yourself so far?

Ariel: I have a lot of records out on small, limited pressings, with various different record labels. That’s kind of key to the whole problem because I’ve been overeager to put things out in the past and indie labels [can] only commit so much.

We won’t have a label as a home unless we really start to work to change that impression. Because it means we don’t see any label as a home, and we’re just going to put out with whoever, and that’s certainly not the attitude I’m taking these days.

Jesse: So basically you’re looking for a label to call home?

Ariel: I need some good old-fashioned support. I’ve never actually been offered a record deal. In the entire time I’ve been playing music, I’ve never had a legitimate record deal. And that’s even shocking to me. I thought by now I would have had it, but I obviously had to learn one step at a time that I [have] to make good impressions. You know, turning everybody off is not always the best option.

Jesse: [Laughing] What do you mean by turning everyone off? Is that part of your aesthetic?

Ariel: It’s not part of my aesthetic. I’m just kind of making fun of the impression that a lot of the world seems to have [of me]. I never set out to do anything...except when I was like a teenager. [Then] I actually did think in my mind, I want to make the worst music ever. You know, the worst, [music] nobody likes. I tried to do that for a while, but that was teen angst, and I’ve long since outgrown that. I’m thirty years old [now].

That said, I probably subjected myself to a whirlwind of complications and weird, painful, humiliating experiences playing live before I was prepared. The reason I actually have a band and that I’m working towards turning around any kind of doubts about my seriousness as an artist, or as a musician, or as a worthwhile commodity, [is] because if I do it, I have to enjoy it. And I can’t enjoy it if I’m not enjoying playing live and I’m just getting humiliated every night.

I thought about quitting a lot of times. But my rate hasn’t gone down since I started, so it’s a blessing that that’s been the case. And I have a good booking agent who saves my life essentially on a month to month basis, as do several other people around me: my band, my manager, and my girlfriend. So, I’ll never be alone.

Jesse: You’ve had mixed reviews of your live shows. Some critics have described them as too lo-fi, while others have thought them to be really fantastic. You seem like someone who is unaffected by critics and who seems to be in charge of what you’re doing. Can you describe your approach to your live show now, maybe even compared to what it was before?

Ariel: It’s been many things, and it’s something that happens live so you never know. It’s actually unpredictable. That’s probably the biggest asset to it.
 

A good show is one where we play the songs right through, and I don’t say anything in between because we’re just quickly and preparedly doing what we’re supposed to do. I just want to be good. I want people to watch a show and be like, "Oh my god, the live show’s actually really cool."
 
I see my whole career as essentially just practice for the one gig that is waiting just beyond the horizon. I mean, I’ll never have that gig. Every gig is just inching towards that. Practice. I just try my best, try to give a good show. 

Jesse: Awesome. Is it fair to describe your lyrics as sometimes cold and melancholic?

Ariel: Yeah…I think I’ve got a semi-fatalistic view of life. I’m a glass half empty kind of guy, but…it’s just because I know life only gets worse so I actually live every day like it’s my last.

I try to deal with death as often as possible because, you can’t live your life like everybody’s dead, but you can’t live your life in complete denial that everybody you know is gonna die if you don’t die first. So there’s no use hanging on a miracle. I suppose that creeps into my lyrics a little bit, but it’s really just a coping mechanism. I try to switch it and make it positive.

Jesse: When you said that life only gets worse, do you just mean because it eventually ends in death?

Ariel: No. It gets harder. I think certain things get easier for people, hopefully, but I think generally, when you’re a twenty-year-old fucking pulling [your] hair out because of something, you’re wasting your time. You don’t realize that—as soon as that tooth starts stinging, that cavity starts to reek havoc all over your gums, and you have to go to the dentist, and then you have tinnitus, and you have all these failing organs—you missed your opportunity to appreciate being as healthy as you were gonna be because you were griping and fighting with your boyfriend or something, [while] you could have been enjoying yourself.

So, it only gets worse, and everybody you know is going to die, and all the people, all the stuff that bothers you and depresses you all the time, it’s just going to get worse. How could it not?

Jesse: [Cracking up and sighing] I don’t know, I guess...

Ariel: So maybe if you think about it now so you can deal with it, [then you will] really appreciate what you got, every second.

Jesse: Right. Well, it’s a good message in the end.

A lot of times you’re bluntly humble and forthright with your loneliness in your lyrics. Are your lyrics a reflection of yourself, or are they just stories?

Ariel: Well, the lyrics are the part I’ve always had a hard time with in terms of really putting a lot of weight on myself. I have a hard time knowing what to say, but I say it when I need to. As soon as we get everything else recorded, I’ll write the lyrics down, for better or for worse. I don’t spend too much time brooding [over] whether it’s something good or bad or silly or stupid. It is what it is.

Jesse: So, are they about you though, or are they fiction?

Ariel: They’re pretty much poetry. I need to rhyme things so getting a point across in an articulate and clear way is not usually my first priority. So, it runs the gamut. Sometimes I actually say what I’m trying to say. If it’s self-referential, sometimes I’ll hit the nail on the head and just go crazy with the neurosis of identifying myself as the voice and author behind a kind of illusive alter ego.

I try all these different voices out that aren’t necessarily me, [so I’m] just trying out all these different approaches, and sometimes I’ll throw all the approaches in one song, and it’s this big circus.

Jesse: That’s cute. I like that. A lot of people talk about what your music influences are, but what, outside of music, informs you, like art, film, politics, history?

Ariel: Science, these days. I like reading blogs [about] science and researching cosmic microwave background radiation, and trying to figure out the implications of genetic engineering and all that kind of stuff.

And also, since I [have] a family life too, I get exposed to lots of things revolving around the court system and legal issues, so I have an interest in law too and business, and all these things that are not rock and roll and not music. In fact, I wouldn’t really be into music at all these days if it weren’t for my discovering Ethiopian funk music from the eighties and stuff like that. [It] just completely re-scrambled my brain and got me all excited about music again.

Jesse: Cool.

Ariel: Yeah, it’s been years.

Jesse: It’s been years since…?
 
Ariel: It’s been years since I was a total record geek/collector/audiophile. I used to work at a record shop when I was younger, [and] I was that guy, the typical, record clerk asshole. But I eventually felt like that was a losing battle. [There were] a thousand obscure names I needed to listen to, and I kind of gave up on being the archeologist for all these obscure personal obsessions. You know, it’s a very adolescent thing, is what I’m saying.

I listen to all music [though] I feel like I’m at the point where I don’t listen to music as much because I always want to hear something I’ve never heard before. So, the more you listen to music, the harder it is for you to satisfy that fix. When I hear something I’ve never heard before, I get extremely, extremely excited. I feel my brain expanding in real time, like it’s a total revelation, just like old times.

[At the same time], I don’t have the appetite. I don’t have an iPod, and I don’t have any of the state-of-the-art playlists that go on and on and on [forever]. I don’t really make mixtapes all that much anymore unless it’s Ethiopian music from the eighties [laughing]. Generally, I always had a kind of policy that if I could find a record at a friend’s house, I didn’t want it. I wanted to get something that nobody had, so that was what I spent my post high school years doing.

Jesse: And what about now? Are there any new bands you’re into?

Ariel: Whether I listen to music or not, it is the center of my world. I made it that way; I put it front stage and center, [and] I’m happy. I love music so much and have loved it so much from such a young age that I just feel honored to even be playing. To be considered a musician to me is an honor.

I feel like I get to play musician. I get to pretend to be a musician, and I get to enjoy what it feels like to be like all my heroes. But I’m also over it [cracking up]. So there [are] two sides to every story.

Jesse: Yeah, totally. I wanted to ask you about LA. Francesca Lia Block is my favorite author, and an LA native who writes about LA like it’s a fairy tale. I was just wondering, do you think of LA like a fairy tale? And who is your favorite culture maker that depicts LA in the way you see it?

Ariel: Oh! Yeah, I do [see it as a fairy tale]. But I also see it as my roots, my stomping ground. [It’s] like I never left my backyard, like a country bumpkin. It’s natural that it would feel like the center of the world to me, the center of the universe, but apart from that, it just feels like it is.
 
We invented TV out here, and that’s pretty much the vine that connects everybody around the world. Everybody knows about LA. Who embodies LA the most? I would say that Don Bolles is an oracle out here. He’s the drummer from the Germs. He’s a good friend of mine.

Richard Simmons
, as well. Totally LA—New Orleans originally—but landed here and lived his life the way he likes to. Everybody who lives here is, every celebrity at least, is essentially making [his or her] dream happen. It’s a passionate thing to be here if you’re not from here.

Most people just fucking don’t make it out here. When they come out here, they convince themselves they’re not out here for any reason, that they don’t have expectations, but then it always crushes them.

I defend LA when I go out on the road. I feel quite proud of LA. I like to root for the underdog, and everybody seems to have a reason why they’re not in LA.

Jesse: Right...

Ariel: I’m surprised the whole world hasn’t moved here. Honestly, everybody should be here, yet only several million people are here. And it’s only because people are convincing themselves that there’s something pretentious or wrong with LA like, "Ugh, I don’t like LA. I don’t like all the people. I don’t like all the shopping." You can convince yourself of that, [but] you’re dreaming. You’re just disappointed that you can’t have the guts to follow your dreams, and that’s sad. It’s better than New York!

Jesse: Why do you think everybody should be in LA?

Ariel: Because they know about it! Don’t they want to go? We’re the TV show; we’re the sound stage, it all happens out here. We created all these things that people live with in different parts of the planet. I mean, Johnny Rotten lives out here! Everybody who’s cool lives out here.

I’m happy that Johnny Rotten lives in my fucking town. And that Morrissey can pretty much play the rest of his life in this town because the Latinos love him so much. And I love that it’s the last frontier. We’re the youngest state; we’re the youngest culture. It’s been said back to the world a million times over, and we still rule.

Jesse: Wow, that’s a lot to take in. Does LA play a big part in your songwriting process? Do you write about LA at all?

Ariel: Not really. Maybe if I’m away from LA for long enough, I’ll start to write about it. I don’t really write about things, per se. I write about writing about things that I write about [giggles].

Jesse: Cool, I like that. 

We’re a gender driven magazine for girls, so I want to ask you something with that in mind, but I don’t want it to sound weird or rude. Do you feel like you come off with a certain kind of sexual ambiguity in your performances, or just in your appearances in general?

Ariel: Yeah, totally. When I [make] videos, I feel like a girl, and I want to be a girl, a really pretty girl.

And it’s weird to me because when I look into the mirror, I don’t see a handsome man. I see a maybe, potentially hot girl, and I see a fifteen-year-old, no, a fourteen year-old-boy, basically at the heart of it. And my parents see that too. That’s why they still kind of treat me like a kid. I think I’m perpetually playing dress up.

I really would love nothing more than to actually be a transgressive entity—half male, half woman. I feel completely heterosexual through and through, but absolutely devoid of any kind of testosterone or sense of machismo.

Jesse: Awesome! That’s like the perfect combination of person.

Ariel: I know, and it’s me [laughing]! But I think that if I were doing anything else, I’d be fooling myself. I’d be a pretty bad bodyguard or tough guy. I’m much better at being a faggy, Napoleon kind of thing.

Jesse: Nice. What would you be if you weren’t a musician? Do you have a second or even third passion?

Ariel: Yes! I would love to be president of the United States.

Jesse: Really?

Ariel: I mean, just for four years, but way down the line. I think I would be a good president. And similarly, I would also like to be a lawyer. And I’d like to be a scientist. I think I will be all these things before I die.
 
I honestly believe that my rock and roll days are pretty limited, and I certainly don’t want to be chasing them for the rest of my life. I would like to write a book too, by the end of my life. That would be probably the crowning achievement because I’m so far away from being able to do it [now].

Jesse: Well, hey, you have time!

Ariel: I know! I’ve got plenty of time. I mean, Obama’s [almost] fifty years old. I’ve got like twenty years to be governor. You know, I’m a celebrity so that’s [actually] in the running [laughing].

Jesse: [Laughing] Right, totally, especially in California! What would be the one thing you would want to change more than anything else about policy or politics?

Ariel: I think, first of all, before we figure out [how to] save the planet and save wildlife, we have to figure out how to not kill ourselves…We have to figure out how to fucking live with each other. [Let’s] figure that out first, then we’ll deal with other things. No more fucking greed and all that kind of stuff.

Jesse: Yeah, that’s a good one. I like that.

Ariel: Essentially there’s gonna be an international movement that just dissolves everything. That’s the most democracy can hope for, that this country can hope for...You know, when you have everybody on your side, what’s the point of having America and depriving all those other great people from it?

We need to figure out what our values are in terms of workforce. I mean, are we gonna be a burden to the city or are we gonna be creating agriculture and getting all the food to whoever needs it?

Because...in a very short period of time, there [aren’t] going to be enough factory workers. In the service industry, everybody’s gonna be just getting by working at a shop. But there’s not gonna be anything arriving at the shop.

Jesse: On a totally other note, your music is really unique, and it doesn’t seem to fall into any kind of scene. Do you feel like you’re a part of a scene, and if so, who is in it, and what is it based on?

Ariel: Of course I’m not from a scene, of course I don’t want to copy anybody. Of course I’ve tried to design it so that I’m not like everybody else, but then at the same time, I just do that by trying to write something I like, and that usually entails being like everybody else and paying tribute to what I like [by] copying all my heroes. I want to be everybody. So, I mean, I think I’m a freak of nature. I know I am. 

Jesse: On that same note, I remember reading in an interview that you’re surprised people like your music. What were you thinking people would think of it? And what were you thinking you would do with it since you weren’t necessarily anticipating the success you’ve had?

Ariel: I think in hindsight, I probably wasn’t as loved as I thought I was when I said that. It really is whatever you feel. I had a dying urge at one time in my life to get the music out. I had to have the acknowledgement, and I knew it was just a total pipe dream. I always thought eventually I would just be an undiscovered legend in [my] own mind kind of thing.

Then the Animal Collective came by and lifted me from out of obscurity just enough for me to feel really grateful for it. Essentially, I was thinking, I’m really grateful that I actually get to fucking live out my dream a little bit, for the time being. As long as I’m not working another job, I’m living the life. And it’s not without its defeats and trials, but I’m just happy people give a shit. Are you kidding me?

That people even like me, that I’m not just a passing fad—that’s another thing I’m thankful for. That my booking agent is very good at what he does, and he just happens to really fucking go to town for me—that’s just sheer luck.

It makes me feel like I was right all along, when I was younger, doubting myself and dealing with all the teen angst and wanting the acknowledgement my parents didn’t give me. I got it, and now I feel like a whole person. Now I feel like I’m starting from zero finally. I know who I am; I don’t need music; I don’t need all the acknowledgement anymore.

If I hadn’t felt love, I don’t even know where I’d be. If I hadn’t felt acknowledgement, and didn’t feel appreciated for the work I did, if I was always fighting up the hill to get noticed, I would probably be making a lot better records now, but I’d be miserable.

Jesse: Yeah.

Ariel: And, you know, music is not the most important thing in the world. [There are] reasons to live out there, [there are] reasons to be true, and [there are] good things to do. There is a person you need to embody and be. I think everybody really needs to get all the love they need in order to start liking or knowing who they are, at all. I feel like I cheated fate, you know. Just by being able to play to a few people every night on a tour.

Jesse: Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about that you wanted to add?

Ariel: Well, this [current] lineup is the best yet. People should come out to see me if they saw me years ago, and they vowed never to go to an Ariel Pink concert [again]. They should just go if they want to have a cool little mind fuck because it’s really gonna be a good, solid combo with no frills, no lo-fi. It’s gonna sound like good music, so I urge them to reconsider.

Jesse: Cool. Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing you play live next time you’re in town and hearing your new music soon.

Ariel: Yeah, it was nice to talk to you.

Jesse: Yes, thank you so much for doing this. This was awesome!

Ariel: No problem.

Jesse: OK, bye!

Ariel: Bye.

What Ariel Is...

Listening to: rock and roll, sixties, oldies, psychedelic, progressive rock, death metal, world music, outsider music, electronic music, classical music, what else is there? [Laughing], pop rock, music of the stars, soundtracks, song poems, all that stuff.

Watching on YouTube: Einstein’s Idiots  

Watching on screen: Journey of Man

Reading: Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson & This Little Ziggy by Martin Newell
 
Select images courtesy of Kathy Rivkin and Geneva Garvin

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