Interview: Ariel Pink
He has been called a creative genius and exalted by indie blogs and media outlets as the poster child for lo-fi noise rock, yet Ariel Marcus Rosenberg insists he’s anything but. In fact, he thinks the whole famous musician thing is more than slightly overrated.
“I’m horrible at posing for photos. I’m horrible at just kind of offering up my two cents. I’m just extremely argumentative,” he shared, explaining how he doesn’t know how to deal with being in the spotlight.
Rosenberg, who is the person behind the Ariel Pink moniker, has been recording music for years. His story is famous in underground circles, namely due to his being “discovered” by Animal Collective and subsequently being signed to the Paw Tracks label. Since then, some of his albums have been re-mastered and re-released and, with the backing of a live band while on tours, Rosenberg has skyrocketed to new levels of fame.
Yet this renown, or notoriety (depending on how one approaches it), is the last thing Rosenberg expected or desired. As for his take on his most recent album, “Before Today,” which placed on various musical charts throughout the world and established him as a “big deal”? Well, Rosenberg isn’t so interested in all of that.
“It’s just a fucking recording,” he said nonchalantly. “It’s so not exciting.”
So instead of doing the talk-about-the-record spiel, Rosenberg diverts the conversation to the subject of home recording and the appeal of cassettes, both of which he is well-versed in.
Cassettes, according to Rosenberg, are the kind of thing that one can throw “in the bottom of the car and step on them a million times and then they sound good.”
In fact, for the purposes of Ariel Pink recordings, the cheaper a tape, the better it usually is.
“I…look at the bias and the length of time on the tape and all that kind of stuff. Generally the lower quality ones are the ones that are the best for me,” he said, likening the resulting recording to something that sounds as though it was recorded under a mattress.
“The fact that there are cassette elitists, to me, is totally the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “That’s comedy to me. That’s like something from Spinal Tap.”
And while Rosenberg can appreciate those who love and collect vinyl, he differentiated between the two, suggesting that vinyl is a tangible item that sounds good and can be treasured, whereas cassettes, and now CDs, are commodity items.
“The disposability of tape is what gave it its power. It’s flimsy; you don’t have to think about it,” he said. “Having a tape is only valuable in that it’s convenient. That’s the way I thought when I was taping.”
Rosenberg said he rarely ever tapes nowadays. However, back when he first began making music on his own, cassettes were the best medium for what he set out to accomplish.
“It would be one night and I’d just put down the guitar line,” he explained. “It would be kind of lopsided and f—ked up, but then I’d actually have to kind of make the beat work to it. It became an interesting monstrosity at the end. And that’s pretty much what my artistic process consisted of.”
Since then, Rosenberg’s recording process has evolved a bit, but the way he approaches writing songs is still quite similar. However, the element of a live band has forced him to change the way things are done.
While the blueprints of the music are available in the original cassette format, Rosenberg relies on the band members to take that skeletal structure, and transform it on their instruments.
“They’re very used to kind of just listening to my songs as they’ve ended up, as they’ve appeared on the records, and just kind of extrapolating the exact lines, mistakes and all,” he said of his band members. “They usually get the idea because they kind of know my style.”
Rosenberg, who is admittedly not the easiest person to deal with in a musical capacity, has found a balance that works well.
“I’m a control freak about the process and how it should come about,” he said. “In terms of aesthetics, I’m also very picky. I get instincts.”
He also stressed the importance of communication among the band, but said not thinking too much is also key.
“You want to have vital performances. [You want to] capture the moment,” he said. “That’s what makes this thing distinctive and interesting. It’s almost ninety percent in the moment.”
In order to keep this aspect alive in the live performance, Rosenberg makes certain that the band doesn’t have the songs down to a tee.
“I kind of step in and make everybody kind of not learn everything as well as they would,” he explained.
That way, the live performances are slightly unpredictable, organic, and fresh, which is the way the initial recordings set out to be.
In a sense, it’s the irregularity and sometimes-erratic nature of performing that helps Rosenberg to cope with life on the road, because if he were being totally honest (and he is), he’d prefer to just record.
What makes his recording process so unique is the aforementioned tactic of writing the song as he records.
“I’m kind of a sound painter that way,” he said. “I don’t really see myself as a songwriter slash performer. I feel really weird about my songs. I don’t think that they’re really good.”
So then one might wonder why Rosenberg even bothers writing songs he isn’t entirely self-assured about. But it’s not out of a desire to be famous, rather a compulsion to channel his energy and create something out of it.
Recording, for Rosenberg, is not just what happens during downtime between albums. Instead, it’s what he refers to as his “true love”.
“For me it’s just a big question mark experiment, and that’s kind of key to the whole thing,” he shared. “I could experiment with writing country songs on the road…but I don’t want to do rock and roll really. I want it to be otherworldly.”
Ariel Pink will play the Fox Theater on Friday, opening up for tour mates, the Flaming Lips, on the band’s first of two nights in Oakland, Calif.
“I’m so psyched,” Rosenberg admitted. “I’m ecstatic.”
In the meantime, he spends a lot of time listening to music, although he has come to terms with the fact that he can’t possibly get his hands on everything that he’d potentially like to hear.
“When I was younger…I was just eating up, gobbling everything at an incredible pace. I think I got caught up with many many years of music before I was born and up until that time,” he said. “[Now] I survive on one song I really really love by somebody and it sustains me for over a month.”
As far as what’s currently on Rosenberg’s musical radar, that all depends. Music his friends are making, like Crooked Cowboy and the Freshwater Indians for example, ranks high on his list. He also admits to listening to a lot of The The (who were once on the 4AD roster that Rosenberg is on now), as well as “lost 80s tracks on YouTube”.
However, he’s certain to differentiate himself from people who spend countless hours watching music videos online.
“I’m happy for time off of the Internet because it can be insidious,” he said. “I don’t avoid the Internet, but I don’t have a Facebook account and I’m not completely stuck on…googling my name.”
Still, the self-professed “total scatterbrain” does admit to having a few bad habits that he regularly indulges in.
“I have plenty of vices. I suffer from what you call positive denial,” Rosenberg said. “I smoke cigarettes…I watch TV. It’s like a narcotic for me. I watch the news. I’m very very picky with the food that I eat.”
He went on, but stopped himself short to clarify that in the larger scheme on things, he’s doing quite well.
“Ultimately, I’m pretty healthy. Emotionally too,” Rosenberg said. “I’m a happy guy.”