Talking with Ariel Pink is like getting a surprise visit from chaos theory, his discussion bouncing effortlessly from highbrow to the gutter, a filter-less verbal free association that connects Bach with quantum physics with Michael Jackson with milkfarts. It’s a free-flowing exercise in postmodern post-irony, a pre-Apocalyptic jig—as is his music. His latest album, the much-anticipated “Before Today”, delivers what discerning audiences have come to expect from Mr Pink, albeit more polished than ever before—a swirling, holographic voyage through the kingdoms of synth pop, surf rock, basement punk and pure summertime melody, his songs are conceptual as much as they are organic, shrouding comforting FM radio pop music sounds with eerie context, making the listener feel like they’re trapped in a hazy, post-operative anesthetic fog wondering “Who am I? Who are you? And why are we talking about farting?”
(interview for Dazed & Confused)
I really like the artwork on your new album, “Before Today”.
It was pretty cool. I was really happy with it. We wanted it to look like one of those mid seventies German records that were done with airbrushes.
Who is that creepy glowing lady on the front?
Creepy glowing lady? It’s a Chinaman. It’s the guy from “Gremlins”. “With Mogwai comes much responsibility.”
There are some real lessons to be learned in Gremlins.
Yeah, like how hot is Phoebe Cates? She's the ultimate brunette man. Like, her and Sasha Grey.
Sasha Grey…from Dirty Dancing?
No…the porn queen! You gotta get with it, I mean come on!
What’s the most important film in Sasha Grey’s oeuvre?
I just saw something about ass farting.
Isn’t that what asses normally do?
Sorry—I mean milkfarts. She’s not like, gross-out though. She sounds like she’s pretty intelligent. Indie nobility. She was in that Steven Soderbergh film.
What about blondes? Do you like blondes?
I like Jenny McCarthy. She farts in person. She farts a lot. That’s kind of a common thread with me. People like to watch violence and pain and farts. You don’t feel the pain…you don’t smell the fart…but you can really get off on it. It’s pretty weird.
There’s something so intimate about farting.
The more evolved version of love is where you fart. That’s when you’re in the romantic stage, with the puppy love, the flutters and the chess, and that kind of stuff. Then when you let it go with your loved one...that’s the real deal. Think about all the nastiness that happens at birth. You are literally shat out into the world of shit.
So, back to the album. I understand you recorded it in Tito Jackson’s old studio. Are you a fan of the Jackson 5?
Yes. But I didn’t realize that we were recording in Tito’s old studio until afterwards.
How did you feel about Michael Jackson passing away?
He passed away the day after my birthday. It was odd because we were just listening to him in our van when we were on tour. Our drummer had brought the “Thriller” demos and we were fully feeling Michael Jackson. And then we played our show in Lyon, France. This is on the 25th of June. Someone tugged on my leg and said “Hey man. Michael Jackson is dead” (in accent). I thought he was saying “you can get off the stage now because you have kicked Michael Jackson’s ass, you’re the fucking king”. But he actually meant it. I had to pause and I didn’t know what to say. Then we played three more songs. I announced it to the audience. Most of them already knew. It had kind of traveled through the audience before it hit us. There weren’t that many people. It was fun show.
Trippy to find out something like that while you’re on stage, right?
Yeah. With Michael Jackson it was like more than being a fan. It’s like when something is part of you. Like Star Wars and ET and all the things that I experienced that resonate with me through my life.
And The Goonies too, man.
Are you kidding? Corey Haim RIP.
Have you ever seen Corey Feldman’s band, Truth Movement?
No. Is it like kind of a Genesis kind of thing?
No. The music is challenging, hard to describe.
Wow, it sounds really exciting. You can’t even describe it. You can’t compare it to anything. That’s what I strive for, I strive toward the movement of truth. Toward not being like anything you can actually describe.
So one of the songs on your new album is called Hot Body Rub. Do you remember the best body rub you’ve ever had?
I like it when my back is scratched, personally. I am a back-scratching guy. Like a hairless cat. I love to just wrinkle up and have my back scratched. I have a girlfriend who does it nice. She doesn’t like it when I scratch her though. She’s got moles.
Another one of the songs on the album is called “L'estat (acc. to the widow's maid”. That’s a weird name. Is that some kind of a literary reference?
It sounds like a literary reference, doesn’t it? I write my own literature. I write it and then I sing it and that’s it.
Do you read much?
I only read science books.
Have you read The Holographic Universe?
That’s not science. Thats pseudo science. But it’s true—I really do just read straight up science.
Who is your favorite scientist?
I would have to say…that’s a really good question…I think maybe Galileo. I liked it back in the day when science took hundreds of years to make these quantum leaps. I don’t know. I want to see an atom. I wonder how they actually image that shit. I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe that there are little bits of nothing in between everything? I think they finally got an image of an atom, which is supposedly an electron cloud encasing basically nothing, emptiness and then a little piece of matter…a proton in the center. And the protons are made of quarks and there you go. But what are the quarks made of?
Um…Holograms? Some people say your music sounds “holographic”.
I think that’s where we’re going with music – I’m like the Galileo of my time.
So I really like the album art of your new single, Round and Round, which features a man kissing a dog.
Yes, and on the back cover it’s a girl making out with a cat. It’s a kind of yin yang.
Do you have any pets?
I have a bird, Norman. And I used to have a cat named Jules and a cat named Malibu. I never had a dog. Oh wait – I did have a dog. I had a Dalmatian named Bonny. She died.
I recently read a story about a man who fell in love with a dolphin. And he claims that the dolphin made the first move!
Dogs kind of make the first move too. And cats do too. They full on rape. I think most animals are like that. They see you as a piece of meat or a tree trunk. And anything they can rub up against, they will. It’s just like the law of attraction. You’re just like this loving, non-killing thing…and if you treat 'em nice they are going to want love you. They have that urge probably ten times a day just like we do, and they just will spray on your lap you know. It’s just what they do.
Thank God humans don’t spray on each other’s laps.
They do. And that is why I love Sasha Grey. I tried on MySpace to arrange a meeting with her. I asked her to come on tour with us. She didn’t say shit. I don’t think she knows who I am. She’s into other shit. She’s not reading Pitchfork. She’s rifling through her ex-boyfriend’s industrial music record collection.
With your song “Little Wig”. Was it a subconscious Jimi Hendrix reference, or conscious?
I think I realized I was thinking “Little Wing” and then I wrote it down and then I was like “little wig!”.
So it was a consciously subconscious reference.
Always. Never plagiarism. Just extrapolation. Like, I think heavy metal owes a lot to Mozart. And Bach is obviously the king of music, hands down.
The king of your world of music, even?
Absolutely. The world of music, period. Bach created science in music. I really truly believe this. I am not even joking. I think the fact that he was an organ player really helped define him as composer. Back then, most composers were composing in their minds. They were scoring. They wouldn’t need a piano in front of them to compose. So they didn’t need the virtuosity of being an instrumentalist to get them to do what they needed to do.
It sounds so abstract…writing music without playing an instrument.
That’s why having ensembles play their work was so vital. It was the realization of something that someone had in their head. The whole performance aspect of it was so key in bringing it to life. And that has been so decimated by modern recording techniques. Once we could record things, pretty much the whole performance aspect lost its weight.
It created huge disposability of what we consider music—hence the simplicity and urgency of rock n roll, which relies on those three chords than can be played over and over again and still ring with some sort of vitality. It speaks to the non-scripted. The non-notational parts of the music are what actually make it. It is the inverse of hundreds of years of musical progression that had reached its summit probably with Bach. And after Schoenberg, really, where are you going to go? It’s hardly surprising that recorded music would all out replace the zeitgeist.
So where is music going, in your opinion?
Now it’s going back to performance believe it or not, in my opinion. I think recorded music is so disposable that so it’s going to be a fringe interest and people are going to actually go to live shows more for their sonic kick. IPod and iTunes are going to devalue the currency of a recording, period. And it’s also diluting the listernship with drove and droves and droves of more recordings doing pretty much the same thing. So yes, the performative, social aspects are going to come back
Speaking of performance—the first time I saw you perform was in 2006, at the Schindler House in West Hollywood. You were covered in chocolate.
I wanted it to be mud. I wanted to be covered in mud like Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. But instead I got bunch of chocolate on me. We were all supposed to be different kinds of zombies and mummies…my girlfriend was a mummy and my friend was a zombie and then there was a troll and Dracula.
Was it Halloween?
I understand you are really into Ethiopian and Eritrean music, and you even started to study the Ethiopian Amharic alphabet?
I actually did for a while. I started to collect tapes out here in Little Ethiopia, and in order to read and know who the names of the music I was getting I had to learn how to read the language, at least phonetically. So I after a while it became very natural. And there are some similarities with Hebrew, which I was raised to read. I love that music. Over the past three years, Ethiopian music has been my most treasured discovery.
Any artists you would recommend?
Bezawork Asfaw. Mahmud Ahmed. I love Yeshimebet Dubale. There are so many.
What is it about the music you like?
It is so futuristic. Its like the best funk band ever. Like the best James Brown band ever. You know what I’m saying. All the performers in Ethiopia had to go underground when records became illegal there while it was communist, up through to the 80s. They outlawed selling records. So the musicians would do these midnights sessions and would dub the tapes themselves.
So recording of music was banned in Ethiopia?
Unless you were affiliated with the state, yes. Basically, they had to go underground. There was no market to sell or produce the vinyl, so it went to cassette tape, which was a cheap recording alternative. They had a handful of studios that they could things in private.
Are you an artist or a musician?
I am both and I am neither. I am a musician and I am an artist. And an artist is a musician. Isn’t that what they call them in Spin magazine? “Artists of the month”. I think an artist is someone who is good at what they do. Like the art of cooking. The art of whatever. You’ve already turned your trade or skill or whatever field you’re in into an art. I would hope that I am perceived that way.