Practically a one man music scene – and often a one man band – Ty Segall has enjoyed growing cult success with his fuzz-heavy garage rock and roll and a relentless work rate that’s seen him release over ten albums in just six years (he was only a full time musician for four of those). With his most recent release, last month’s solo effort Twins (which followed Slaughterhouse with his group and Hair with the band White Fence earlier in 2012) the Californian has shown no signs of burning out, crafting one of his best, most melodious records yet. As his European tour kicks off in London tonight (7 November) – fresh from an election eve appearance on Letterman – we spoke to Ty about the new record, his work ethic, making “fuzzy pop songs”, why ‘beach’ culture fails to capture his native California and much more.
How the devil are you?
“I’m good! Everything’s good, I’m sitting on my back porch drinking coffee. It’s a sunny day, so I can’t complain.”
It’s been a busy year for you, hasn’t it? Just the three albums…
“Yep, three! It’s been a hectic year, definitely. For me, honestly, the records have always been a focus. Touring is a different thing, it’s super fun, but I’ve definitely focused on recording this year!”
What drives that level of creativity for you? Are you worried about standing still?
“Just to do something, really. The records were just fun. Both the White Fence and Slaughterhouse [with his touring band] records were more experiments that were so great we kept working on them and turned them into full-length records. They weren’t supposed to be albums, they were supposed to be EPs and seven-inches but we kept working on them and they ended-up being LPs. They gave me a chance to work in a way I’d never done before and do things I’d never tried, so they were great.”
How do you generate enough material for them, even if they are experiments? Are you writing a song a day or does it come in bursts?
“I definitely don’t write a song a day [laughs], no! It comes in waves, yeah, the records with White Fence and the Ty Segall band record we all wrote together so I can’t take the credit for that. They were collaborative records which is a whole different kind of songwriting. When you write by yourself you’re in a room alone and it can be way different. I think that’s why I was able to do my own record this year and the others, because they were completely different processes. It’s not like I wrote 65 songs by myself.”
How about inspiration then, where do you find that to sustain that level of creativity?
“The best inspiration is when you’re not thinking about it, it just happens. Trying too hard or thinking too much about it is when stuff can go wrong and starts sounding bad. When you’re feeling good and songwriting is working then you should keep writing. That’s how I do it, I work in bursts. For instance I wrote four of the songs on Twins in a day and then I couldn’t write another song for three weeks, it didn’t feel right. It’s all over the place.”
And you’re calm in the periods when it’s not working? No fretting?
“Yeah there are moments of, Damn it, this sucks!, but I’ve learnt if you just wait it out, relax and calm down stuff will come to see you.”
Twins is your most recent album and it’s a solo album how does it differ for you compared to the collaborative work? Is it’s purely the personnel or is there a different psychology to a solo album?
“It’s different because it’s just me doing everything. It’s insular and really personal. One of the reason I enjoyed the collaborative records this year is because it seems like the answers are more immediate, stuff happens quickly, everything is worked out in a different way. Whereas Twins took me a year to make. I wrote songs and threw them away, wrote more songs and threw them away, recorded songs and trashed them. We recorded a whole record and then recorded a whole record again. It’s a lot more of a personally weird, control freak style of making a record.”
You played most of the instruments on Twins too, so you also can’t be in two places – or rather play two instruments at once?
“Yes, that’s true. It’s a little more time consuming when you’re playing all the instruments yourself.”
The album mixes quite a fuzzy, rocky sound with some really blissful melodies, was that a balance you were going for on Twins?
“Definitely. The idea was to put the fuzz on some pop songs, that was the theme behind it.”
Hence the title Twins, it has a split personality?
“Yeah. I’ve always been into really melodic pop music and super noisy, insane music so that was where I was coming from.”
You dedicated the album to San Francisco and there is quite a sun-kissed feel to a lot of the songs, do you see it as a Californian record?
“To be honest every record I do is inspired by California because that’s where I’ve lived most of my life and it’s hard to get away from that inspiration for me. Maybe if I lived in Manchester and it rained more my songs would be a bit more Mark E Smith-inspired.”
The California you’re writing about isn’t the one that’s sold to the wider world though is it?
“No, no, no. I actually hate that stuff, that really styled California. There’s the beach and it’s nice, but people forget people live here and it’s like every other place, there are problems and there’s issues. Just because you’re in a nice place that’s sunny and has palm trees it doesn’t mean people aren’t going crazy. People are affected by other things other than where they live. There are ways people can still get lost. Some people live here and don’t even like the beach. That’s the thing, the beach isn’t the answer to the California question. People are so hung up on the beach, the beach doesn’t matter. The beach should be whatever you want it to be just like any other thing. It shouldn’t be thought about too much or talked about too much. It gets a little old when people are talking about beach music, it’s just not real, rock and roll is real. You know, The Beach Boys is dead and gone, that was 40 years ago, that’s not real any more. Kids aren’t like that any more, they’re into electronic music. My sister is 16 and her favourite band is Skrillex not The Beach Boys.”
Is that were the distortion comes into your records, life’s not perfect?
“For me it’s what’s in my head. It’s fuzzy music. So, yeah, I guess so… I don’t know, it’s too close to me.”
You also dedicated the album to Neil Young…
“Yeah it was out of respect to what he’s done, just a general nod to him. Have I read his book yet? No my girlfriend is reading and I’ll check it out after she’s done. He talks a lot about his car apparently.”
Are you thinking about a new record yet?
“I’m just trying to write and relax really. I’ve been working too much recently so I just want to live a normal life when I get back from this tour. It’s going to be good. I don’t know what direction I’ll take next, I never know until I start working on it. It’s good not to think about it too much, sometimes I’m surprised as anyone as to where I go. It’s fun not to have expectations.”
Well you live in San Francisco which is one of the most laid back places around so it should be good place to relax.
“I love the laid back vibe. I need to be laid back, I’m too highly strung as a person. I can’t handle over stimulation so it’s perfect for me. It’s the kind of place where you run into your friends on the street and go and grab a beer. It’s great.”
Finally you’ve got your UK dates this week, with your fanbase expanding a bit there might be some first timers there so what can they expect?
“I’m super thankful to anyone who’s into it, especially with you guys over there. It took us a long time for anyone to support us over there. I feel like finally something’s happening, which is crazy. It’s awesome, I almost didn’t want to go back for a while because our shows weren’t doing so well there, but it’s worked out and I’m super happy. We’ll play a bit from the new record and play real loud. If you want to hear something scream and we might play it.”
For more, including full tour dates, head to Ty-segall.com.