There aren’t many artists out there today who have had as prolific a decade as the multi-talented garage cult hero Ty Segall. Back in October, in the midst of a unique European tour, the American musician sat down with Jack Parker to reflect on the last ten years.
Hey Ty. As we speak you’re in the midst of a very special tour, performing full albums over two nights. Why are you doing this?
We’re doing residencies you know? When you play more than one show in a particular town then there sort of has to be a good reason for it, so we felt like it would be cool to try and experiment with playing multiple albums. It felt like an interesting thing to do, to see if it worked or not.
Do you think it’s being received well?
Yeah, I do. It’s almost a sold out tour too.
I suppose it’s also been giving you a fresh outlook on older songs you may not have played in a while, right?
It does, yeah. Specifically for Melted and Manipulator. Melted is simple, it’s garage pop music and not necessarily the kind of music I make anymore. It’s fun to rearrange and give the songs different spins. Manipulator is the same, it’s the type of songwriting I don’t do anymore, or at least to that degree as much on one album. I think I’ll revisit poppy songs less on an album nowadays, so it’s fun to rearrange these songs. Plus, half that record we’ve never played live before.
That took some learning then?
Oh yeah, but it was a fun challenge to make it sound more like our current style but still stay true to how it sounded at the time.
In the last decade you’ve released fifteen records. How have you maintained such a rapid consistency? The speed at which you bring out music is quite remarkable.
You know, it seems like it’s faster than it really is. Usually I do one solo album a year, which takes about eight or nine months to write and record. That’s generally twelve songs, so if you do the math it’s not an insane amount. But then I’m also in other bands, which are collaborative. For my solo work the weight of all the work is on my shoulders, so it’s not as crazy as it seems. I’m sure that to general people it must seem that I’m putting out a million albums.
The most recent one is First Taste. Can you tell me a bit more about how that record came to be?
It started off while I was in a place of not really wanting to do guitar-driven music. I still feel like after Freedom’s Goblin I hit a glass ceiling with guitar playing and writing, and I just felt like I wanted to approach an album differently. I didn’t decide then and there that I didn’t want to have any guitars, because I mainly wanted to focus on drums and songwriting. That’s why there’s no guitars on First Taste, which was and is very fun for me.
Does it also feel odd for you to have a record with no guitar whatsoever?
It didn’t feel weird at all, it was fun! I find myself to be a very limited guitar player anyway, I’m not a very dynamic guitarist. I’m loud, I’m noisy. I can play far more dynamically on drums, so that was fun. I don’t need guitars!
Of course. It’s often a stereotype of garage music and its associated styles, the everpresent guitar.
Yeah, but I don’t agree. There’s lots of bands out there who don’t have guitars as their main focus, and they always sound unique which is cool. The main thing isn’t the guitar.
Those are the bands people remember.
Yeah! Like Suicide, they’re steeped in garage rock and roll but they’re very unique.
I just want to reflect on the last decade, as we’re approaching the end. You’ve been around a lot longer than that, and you’ve seen plenty of bands come and go, changes occurring. How do you cope with constant change in the music industry?
That’s a very loaded question. How I’ve coped is to really just keep doing what I’ve always been doing. But I guess you’ve also gotta adapt and change with the times, get on streaming and social media and tour more. People don’t buy records like they used to, so that’s why I’ve changed my style of touring and playing. For the most part, like writing and making music, I haven’t changed because of the times. I haven’t thought of it like that, but I do feel that rock and roll had a garage revival or whatever the hell that was. It peaked, and then it dipped. We’re on the downward slope now for garage music, so it’s interesting to think of what that means for bands in the future. I’m not worried about it though, because I feel very lucky to be able to tour. It seems like the people who are into my music have my back, and are willing to go to weirder places with me. I feel very lucky to have that.
You say we’re on a downwards slope, but has anyone been musically exciting you lately?
I’m really into older music to be honest, I’ve never been super attached to modern music. I’m really into all of my friends’ records, but I don’t think I could tell you about a new band that blows my mind. There’s weirdo bands like Uranium Club and modern punk music which I like though.
Your listening habits have changed a lot then?
Yeah! When I was a 22 year old kid I was into the Seeds, the Nuggets, Thirteenth Floor Elevators and all sorts of punk music. Now it’s far more diverse, stuff like experimental jazz, anything which is, umm…
I don’t know if deviant is the right word because I’m not a person who searches for a deviation from popular culture. I love a great song, I’m a song freak. There are these artists like Kevin Ayres and Robin Wyatt who are just song people, they write great songs. They come from the Soft Machine universe, and that’s the kind of rock I love. People who seem to have no rules or regulations for what they make but who just produce great songs. Their worlds are very diverse and fun to listen to.
What would the 22 year old Ty Segall have thought of the 32 year old Ty Segall, now that we look back throughout the decade? Would he have envisioned all of this?
No way, no way!
What did you see yourself doing ten years down the line then?
At 22 I had gone on two or three US tours and was just about to come on my first European one, so at that point I thought it was just cool to achieve my ultimate goal of going to Europe. I just told myself that I wanted to ride this out for as long as I could. I’d quit my job building hydroponic growth cabinets, which at the time were called suburban growth tanks or whatever. Hydroponics basically. It was for weed before weed was legal, but I guess that people also grew vegetables in there. I was with a crew of eight people and I built the fans and drip systems, packed them up and shipped them off. It was a weird warehouse job.
Yeah. But it was a great job! I’d just quit it at the time, and I was down to roll the dice. I’m always down to roll the dice.