He is erratic and outspoken, offering us his free-wheeling thoughts on subjects ranging from his love of Trump to the deep corruption of the music industry. But underneath that mischievous shell is a sensitive and fragile artist. Like all brilliant artists, he displays eccentric qualities that naturally extend to the music he makes. Ariel Pink has been stretching the rules of pop since the start of his career almost 20 years ago. Born in LA, Ariel Rosenberg (his given name) spent most of his early career going unnoticed until psych-group Animal Collective discovered him, and the rest is history.
There’s no doubt that Ariel opened the door for contemporary indie stars like Mac DeMarco and Connan Mockasin, with that same willingness to explore pop’s dark and strange underbelly. But somehow Ariel manages to do something differently, taking all the great influences of the past and updating them with his own idiosyncratic musicality. Rumours that he has recorded over 500 unreleased songs prove just how prolific and hard working Ariel is. If you can get past the provocateur in him, or the fact that his lyrics mostly remain an enigma, you won’t be disappointed. Ariel Pink remains one of the great pop writers of our time.
I didn’t really know how to approach you today because there is so much screwed up media attention around you, all this mystery.
You’ve got nothing to be worried about. I find it really funny because I’m a chipmunk in reality, a harmless little chipmunk. It’s really blown up.
The only interview I’ve heard with you that is articulate and made sense was with Bret Easton Ellis, who we also interviewed recently. Did you enjoy that?
Well, he pretty much talked the entire time. I wouldn’t say it was one of my best moments. I wouldn’t put it in my top 5 most articulate moments.
Well put it this way, there are no other 1 hour interviews with you, there are only short epithets and 5-minute conversations about pop culture crap. I want to hear about the real you.
That’s what this will be. So let’s delve into it, ask me about things that are actually interesting.
"I like anyone who puts me on their guestlist."
Pink on pop's new generation
So why did you leave 4AD?
My contract was up with them, it was a 3 record contract and they just weren’t really on the table for bargaining and other deals were better. 4AD had the advantage of knowing what I didn’t make and they showed some interest but it was tempered by a strange relationship of being married for 5 years in a way. No bad blood though.
And just as a formality to get this out of the way – you are solo now, you don’t carry around Haunted Graffiti anymore right?
No, but whenever I feel like it I might just bring it back up again. I just kind of got sick of answering the question. There seemed to be this eternal disconnect with people’s understanding of the definition of it, and here I go explaining it again just because it’s so frustrating – it seems to go in one ear and out the other.
There’s no Ariel Pink, there’s no Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, that was my project, not like a persona. My name’s Ariel Rosenberg and I have a solo project that I called Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. In early days, like 2004, I happened to respond to certain requests for Ariel Pink, and then all of a sudden the shows were being billed as Ariel Pink. I went to my booking agent and said we need to do something about it because the correct wording was Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. That happened to coincide with more people being in my band and so automatically people assumed that they must be the ‘Haunted Graffiti’.
It’s crazy, like Michael Jackson had a band and people didn’t keep asking him if he’s going to keep playing with them – it’s a solo project. I don’t really want to elucidate it anymore because it was always a solo project and there is this misconception that Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti was a case of an alter ego calling himself Ariel Pink fronting a band of blokes called Haunted Graffiti. On top of that, it’s been very hard for people to latch on to the name in general so I just changed it to make it easier for everybody as Ariel Pink. Unfortunately, it is a question I’m still getting.
You started out making music from your basement and then it just went from there. I wonder now if music still has a basement in that way.
Yeah, it’s only basement because there’s no studio now, so there’s nothing to graduate to. The basement is the standard for the quality and the quality you hear on the radio is what is on your computer – all that gear in the studio is redundant now. Overhead is down so producers are in right now, producers make the money because they can produce the sounds that are radio quality now. Studios are behemoths that are too expensive, with million dollar consoles. You don’t hear anything with that now. So there has been a proliferation of these entrepreneurial producers.
So if a brand approaches you and says they want to use your music in a commercial, is that something you would do?
They don’t do that. Of course, I would say yes, I’m pretty much desperate for anything I can get so I don’t discriminate. But people don’t come to me for that. You’d be surprised. If they do they are coming with the expectation of getting something almost for free.
I basically make money from my record deal, my advances, and my publishing. Also royalties from radio play.
I feel like you opened the door for Mac De Marco. I don’t know how you feel about that?
Yeah man, I opened the door for lots of these guys. Do I like him? Yeah dude, I like anyone who puts me on their guestlist. I’m into successful working musicians.
But do you like his music?
Yeah I like it.
"Artists are stupid and they don’t care about money or business so that’s why these big companies get into business with them. You deserve what you get."
I think we all live under the auspices of the Beatles somehow. They basically wrote the rulebook, so do you think that we can ever get out from under that huge weight?
Yeah, I think anyone that has a band name, like The Melvins, or any band without a frontman, is essentially indebted to the Beatles. They were the first backup band to actually be the band. So if they were revolutionary for anything it was the era of bands.
I just feel like every artist is psychologically damaged by the Beatles because we’re still trying to unpack what they did.
Well in the lifetime of a Beatle we are seeing it come to fruition and then die out. When Paul McCartney goes, that will be the end of the youth market and the music industry for one thing.
What do you mean by that?
Put it this way, Jon Bon Jovi said something really interesting on Larry King, and this was the last time that Larry King was on 60 Minutes, like 7 years ago or something. Larry goes to him, “Jon, do you think that the industry will ever bounce back?” and Bon Jovi goes, “Yeah I think it will come back in about 20 years when Google monetizes the Internet.” You kind of sit back and think about what he’s saying and then you realize that he’s saying when it becomes clear that Google owns all the means of distribution and publication of content, and everybody else is liquidating their labels, this is the end.
Essentially it will come down to ‘Google Records’ and that’s when the industry will come back.
Where the industry finds itself today, it’s almost as if it’s the artists’ fault.
Of course, it is the artists’ fault. This is all just starting and LA is the perfect ground zero for that kind of business to take place, and it is still being designed and the laws being amended. It’s a work in progress but the point is that artists are stupid and they don’t care about money or business so that’s why these big companies get into business with them. You deserve what you get.
"Google owns everything – the magazines, the books, historical records."
It really is, but it’s fine because if you are willing to sign your life away for nothing, why wouldn’t somebody take advantage of that? Maybe you’ll realize later down the line.
But people haven’t realised, and that’s why we are in this dilemma now.
I don’t think that has anything to do with it though. I think this is to do with the customer deciding that they don’t want to pay.
When CDs were popular the average consumer probably bought a handful of albums a year. Now, it seems the average consumer doesn’t care about music.
But what are you going to consume? What does consuming mean? Is it a digital download that you’re talking about?
I consume most of my music by streaming.
But that’s not consuming because you are just renting from a library.
Here’s my thought. I think that the industry is going to collapse even further when they find out a way to unlock the mystery of Spotify. For example, let’s assume you have a Spotify library of about 1,000 songs. When someone works out how to hack into that and download all the songs then Spotify is gone.
But you have YouTube, so there is no need for Spotify because it’s all been free for years. Spotify is just there to distract you from the fact that you have everything and more right there on Youtube. There is every single bootleg and all other forms of unreleased content that you would never be able to find elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean anything to me. I love Youtube and I’m a music obsessive but I like the architecture of Spotify. As corporate as it is, I have everything I need under one roof.
Ye, it’s the convenience of Spotify that people are buying.
Do you like convenience?
Yeah of course I do but convenience to me is Youtube. What I’m saying is that the consumers, starting with Napster, they have chosen what they are willing to pay for because they don’t need to pay for their music anymore. That was decided and so it took a while for people in the industry to be ok with that and realise that they need to get out before the building catches on fire. It’s kind of like a slow, casual stroll out, selling off your assets and then running round the corner.
"I think everybody is going crazy."
On a Trumpian world
What do you think about the news stories coming out to say that Spotify have been commissioning these fake artists to avoid paying royalties?
I’m not surprised at all. They will probably just pay these artists a flat fee to create some music, like $5000 and that’s it.
How bad has it got?
I mean I’m doing that. It’s a hustle. It’s really because we can’t have a monopoly – it’s illegal. There is a monopoly but everyone’s in denial of it and Google is being nice about it by letting these platforms exist, as if they are not the most around things that ever existed. Google owns everything – the magazines, the books, historical records…
If you’re interested in that kind of stuff you should read a book called Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. She talks about how algorithms and data are inherently biased and racist because of the information that we put into them. For example, in America, the justice system uses algorithms to determine recidivist policy and it is largely prejudiced against black people.
That’s so interesting, and it comes back to the whole NWA era, where there were these wild conspiracies that the record companies were in cahoots with the FBI to embolden gangster rap so that they would have enough people to fill the new jails that were being built.
Do you do anything other than music?
Yeah. I mean I write and doodle a little but I’m not really skilled at doing anything other than yapping and politicking. But I love reading and astronomy particularly. Cosmology, anything science related and history, politics. Where my mind is I’m just engaged in the now with politics. No one really wants to hear a musician talk about stuff like that though so I have no business in bringing it up. For instance, in my opinion Richard Nixon is the best president we ever had.
And why is that?
Various reasons. I think he opened up trade relations with China, he ended the war… both of those two huge things were on his time. He also, because of his paranoia and xenophobia, he was recording so we wouldn’t have known what a bigot he was if it wasn’t for his paranoia. So when he had to step down, we got to see someone basically doing the walk of shame, a president. He wasn’t kicked out or impeached, he resigned with grace, and we don’t see that as something to be proud of but it’s an honest, accountable thing. That doesn’t happen in this day and age. The Clintons were far dirtier in their dealings just to keep their profiles up.
Do you ever listen to shows like Breitbart and Infowars?
Of course. I’m really good friends with Greg Gutfeld who does the 5 on Fox so I’ve been on that show.
So you are obviously not a liberal, how would you define yourself politically?
I would say I’m for America in whatever capacity that comes in, so as long as there is a president I am totally for them. If Hilary was going to win I would have been like, right on. I vote for the winner.
Did you vote for Trump?
No I don’t vote for anyone, that’s the point, I just vote for the winner by not voting. As long as we are a nation that comes together then that’s all I care about.
Would you say that Trump’s getting a bad rap?
Absolutely. He hasn’t done any of the things that other presidents have done. The way that people talk about him is completely unwarranted. People don’t like success anymore. They don’t like people with money and he’s not a very pleasant person so people hate him. I don’t think there has ever been a more strongly hated person on the planet at any given point in time so how is that not going to screw somebody up?
I think he’s going crazy.
But wouldn’t you if everybody hated you? The media refuses to ever give him anything. They treat him like a fucking criminal, and he’s not. He might not be very appealing but why is everyone treating him as if he’s the one who bombed Iraq or something? He doesn’t have the power to get Putin to hack the election, that’s just craziness. Firstly, it’s on the US government to make sure that foreign countries don’t hack their system, Trump wasn’t in government at that time. You can’t blame Putin to gain influence in another election because why wouldn’t he? He’s just exposing a weakness and blaming that on Trump just seems so weird man. The whole line of questioning, even the FBI, I think everybody is going crazy.