The Californian garage wunderkind takes us through his finest albums
“I want to try everything, for sure,” insists Ty Segall. The Californian, not yet 30, is looking back over the mass of records he has produced in the last decade. “By the time I made [2010’s] Melted, I had solidified my idea of ‘Don’t do anything twice if you don’t have to.’ I’m not saying I’ve totally stuck to that rule, but for me there should always be a different spin on it.”
Since rising from the San Francisco underground at the end of the last decade, Segall has found room to explore garage rock concept albums like Slaughterhouse, hushed acoustic folk, stoner jams with his trio Fuzz, and pouting, acid-glam epics such as Twins and Manipulator. Along the way, he’s collaborated with White Fence’s Tim Presley, and paid tribute to his hero Marc Bolan. His new, self-titled album, meanwhile, is a fine entrance point into his work, expanding his heavy electric and acoustic songs far out into psychedelic improv.
“I realised I could just do what I wanted to do on a record,” he explains of his Neil Young-like quest to experiment, “and if no-one liked it, who cares. It’s more about allowing myself to be free.”
CASTLE FACE, 2008
Written while Segall was in the Traditional Fools, this was an aggressive, distorted – and, at 24 minutes, brief – debut, with everything played by Ty himself.
TY SEGALL: In the Traditional Fools, we were very democratic in the writing process, and eventually I started stockpiling my own songs. I didn’t know what to do with them, because I was really insecure about putting something out under my name. I recorded a tape first, Horn The Unicorn, and that’s a band version of a lot of these songs. I was working at a radio station and I got fired for not showing up for my shift, which is understandable. But I was still friends with the director of the station, and I gave him my tape. He was like, “This is amazing, man, you should do something with this.” So I decided to play some shows. I felt really weird about calling a band my name, though, so I just started doing things as a one-man band. Then I decided to re-record all the songs one-man-band-style, so I could have something to give away at the shows. My buddy Kyle was one of the only guys I knew who had an eight-track, so I went over to his basement and did it all in two hours. A little-known fact is that this is a digital record – but I think those things sound great. I gave it to [Thee Oh Sees’] John Dwyer after he saw the Traditional Fools play, asking him if he knew of anyone who might want to put it out. He gave me the addresses for In The Red, Sub Pop, all these labels, and none of them responded. He was like, “Fuck it, I’ll put it out.”
Segall teams up with engineer Eric Bauer for his third album, which adds more obvious hooks to his garage fuzz, and introduces some new collaborators.
Bauer was a silk-screener and did T-shirts on the side. While we were talking, he mentioned that he did some recording, and I figured out that he had helped record some of the Hospitals stuff, some of the Sic Alps stuff and some of the early Oh Sees stuff. I asked him how much he charged, and he was like, “Ah, don’t worry about it, just come in and we’ll play it by ear.” At that time, he had a Tascam 388, two preamps, a Space Echo, a compressor and maybe four or five microphones, and that was it. But it was definitely the most hi-fi stuff I had done up to that point on an actual tape machine, so that was really cool. There’s a lot of people on this one – Tim Hellman, who’s in Thee Oh Sees now, is on bass, Emily [Rose Epstein, drummer] is on “Caesar”, Charles [Moothart] double drums on “Girlfriend”, Mike Donovan from Sic Alps does the vocals on “Mike D’s Coke”. Back then, I was way more loose and I was kind of obsessed with trying to do things differently. So on at least one or two of these songs, the drums were laid down after the guitar, because I liked how fucked-up it sounded. Nowadays I would rather just have me and Charles go in and lay down drums and guitar, you know? But doing it the other way, it’s like Skip Spence’s Oar or Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, you can tell the drums are laid down afterwards, and it’s pretty cool. It was cool around this time to be able to tour, and start to realise, ‘OK, I think maybe we could be a working band…’