In the span of just a few years, Ty Segall has put out seven albums, a handful of collaborative LPs, and so many singles, guest appearances, compilation tracks, and assorted other releases that even he’s probably lost count. His latest, Manipulator, was released this past Tuesday, almost exactly a year after his last album, Sleeper, a deeply personal and largely acoustic record about fraught family relationships. The new one finds him back in full-on rock mode, exploding with a generous amount of sweet hooks and heavy guitar riffing, and is equally capable of satisfying pop fans and van-driving, dope-smoking hard rockers alike.
In the lead-up to Manipulator’s release, EW got Segall on the phone to talk about the album, its inspiration, and how he manages to stay so prolific.
EW: Your last album was made under some pretty heavy circumstances. I was wondering how this one compares.
Ty Segall: Well it was actually really great to make this one, because the last one was…I’d never made a record that that was kind of a heavy emotional record. I had written emotional songs and talked about heavy stuff, but that was a whole different scenario, and a whole different way of doing it. So it was really great for this one to kind of play really loud music again and write in a completely different way. All of the songs are more vignettes, and spoken almost from a narrator, of like a story, kind of, or from a different character. None of the music is about me. It’s about things that have happened to me, or to people in my life, but never a specific song from my perspective. So that was a very cool thing. It was almost like the final stage of the last record, to move on to do a loud record again.
In the past you’ve talked about about Sabbath and Slayer quite a bit, and it feels like that’s become more of a prominent influence on the new record.
Cool. That’s awesome. I think that when I was younger I was way more into the Troggs and like classic garage music. Like “Louie Louie” kind of stuff. And as well as punk, Ramones type stuff. You know, the older I get the more, I don’t know, I’m more open minded. It’s not like I felt insecure playing something like Black Sabbath or something, it was like a weighty thing to do. I felt like I had to start somewhere else to get to playing heavier stuff eventually, if that makes any sense at all. Yeah. Plus, honestly when I started playing music it was just out of fashion to play heavy metal, or like proto-metal stuff. The kind of punk or garage world and the heavy metal world were not friends, it seems. Now everybody’s kind of hanging out with each other and playing on each other’s records and stuff. It’s pretty rad.
Early on you were tagged as a garage rock artist, and you’re still called one fairly often, but it seems like the past couple of records especially have transcended that.
That’s awesome to hear, man.
Do you feel like you were being pigeonholed?
Well, you know, the whole garage rock thing is funny because it is a label. It’s a cool one. I’d rather be called that than “alternative rock” or something. But yeah man any kind of label you want to break out of. To me, rock ‘n’ roll is rock ‘n’ roll. I try to think of it as that. To me, Funkadelic and Metallica exist in the same world. So you should be able to drop them both when you make a record.
Getting ready for this interview I found the Pitchfork thing that you did, the Situation Critical one where they had you pick out songs for different situations, and it struck me that a lot of it was really big, broad stuff. Creedence and Sabbath and Elton John and Steve Miller Band. It seems like those are all, they’re kind of really well known. You don’t seem like the kind of guy who’s really focused on fetishizing obscurity.
I mean I definitely am, as well. I mean I’ve got way too many records. I used to work in a record store. I have a problem. I definitely have a problem. I’m trying to find weird stuff all of the time. You know, just because you’re into finding weird stuff, it’s like you can’t deny a good song. A good song’s a good song, and well known songs take on meaning in people’s lives. That’s why those answers made more sense to me. You know? Instead of “I’m going to play this really weird obscure record that like I really like but that is, I don’t know. That’s not how my brain works. It’s like well obviously I’m going to play fucking Black Sabbath because they’re fucking Black Sabbath.
The credits on this album are pretty lengthy. I was wondering what the recording process for it was like.
We, you know, took the time to write the whole thing, then rented a studio. I had already demoed out all of the songs so I had versions of everything. I basically had the record in demo form, like already sequenced and everything. But the sequence changed after I re-recorded everything. But I recorded it over a month with Chris Woodhouse in Sacramento. I lived in the studio, there was like a weird room above the studio and I lived there for a month, and I’d just go down every day around one in the afternoon and end about three in the morning, kind of non-stop, we’d take a break for dinner, and just hit it. It’s pretty wild because I’ve never done anything like that ever. All the other records I’ve done were like, “Go into the studio for three days and then okay we’re done.” Or I’d just go in once a week over a few months at my buddy’s place. But halfway through I was like, what is happening? I don’t’ even know anything anymore. It was wild. One day we had my band come in and it was really, really fun. They played on that song “The Faker.” I’m basically playing one of the guitars and singing on that song and the band was playing everything else, which was really fun to do live. And then a string trio came in one day and cut all the strings. And my buddy Brit sings on three of the songs, she sings backups. Yeah, it was pretty fun. It was really nice to have people come in, like once a week someone would come in and play stuff with me.
So I’d like to talk a little bit about your productivity. Do you think there’s any one reason, or a root cause as to why you’re so prolific?
I mean originally it was just because I was given the opportunity to do something. The kind of thing like, “Holy s–t, I’ve got this opportunity and I really need to take advantage of it.” You know, I don’t know how long this will last. People want to put my records out. Then it was just exciting to try to one-up each record, do different things, make different sounds. Then I was lucky enough that it became my job. Every day while everybody’s working, I’m at home… and I’m not going to sit around and play videos games all day, so I just started writing music. But now it’s nice because I’m trying to take more time for each project and really focus on it and make it the best it can be.
Well, even your “taking time with things” involves putting out more stuff than most other bands.
Well, you know, this record took me 14 months to do. Which is about twice as long as anything else I’ve ever done.
Do you have any sort of habits or routines, creatively? Do you try to sit down every day and make something or are you the type of person who if you’re trying something and it’s not coming out, you’re not going to force it?
Yeah, if I’m trying something and it’s not working then there’s no point. It’s gonna suck. I know that about myself. I don’t need to like do that as a routine because I don’t believe that for myself a routine songwriting method is good. I think a non-routine songwriting thing is way better because it makes it diverse and interesting. And especially when you’re working with rock ‘n’ roll songs it’s hard to sound unique these days because it’s been done for so long. So any kind of weirdness you can throw in is always a good thing. But I try to play drums two or three times a week. You’ve got to keep the chops up.
When you sit down to play music do you tend to have a goal in mind or do you let yourself create directionlessly?
It’s really all over the place. Like for this last record I didn’t have a goal when I went into it but after four or five songs I knew what the goal was. I knew the direction I wanted it to go in. That’s kind of how it always is. Like, okay, let’s start writing some songs, and then once there are two or three that are working and you’re like, “Okay, cool, now I know what the plan is.”
Do you ever sit down and you’re like, “I want to make a song that does whatever this other song does”? Not necessarily that sounds like that, but does the same thing.
Yeah, but it never works. It always sucks. I’ve definitely tried to be like, “I’m going to make a slide guitar song,” and it’s like no, that sucks, it sounds horrible. Unless it’s kind of naturally coming out of you it’s not going to sound good, at least for me. I can’t really sit down and do it like that. I’m not that kind of guy.
I notice that a lot of good bands and a lot of good songs come out of an idea like, “We want to sound like this” and you miss the goal, but in an interesting way.
Yeah, definitely. A lot of bands are influenced by other bands, and that informs their songwriting for sure. It definitely informs my songwriting too. But it’s more about not thinking about it, and if it comes out of you it’s better. At least for me, you know?
Just out of curiosity I was wondering who you’re listening to right now.
I listen to a lot of stuff. I mean I’m constantly switching up what I’m listening to. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Plasmatics. I’ve been listening to a lot of Funkadelic—always Funkadelic, all the time. Yeah, Maggot Brain, so good. Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, so good. I’ve been listening to a lot of metal, like Sodom and black metal. Some thrash. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Fahey. I threw on some Gang of Four yesterday. I hadn’t listened to them in years. Fucking awesome. Entertainment is a slayer. And Solid Gold is a very underrated record. It’s very good. Let’s see, are you familiar with the Killed by Death comps?
I’ve really been trying to get into the later Killed by Death, like, deep cuts, like number nine. It’s been rad. They’re all good. There’s not a single bad Killed by Death, I think. There’s also this band called the Apostles, they’re an English band, kind of an anarcho band, friends with Crass, friends with Peni. And I’ve been pretty obsessed with that band. They’re really weird, like a combination of classic rock, stoner rock, and anarcho punk. It’s fucking weird. This guy will be shredding, like, Blue Cheer solos over like a Crass song or something.