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Interview: Ariel Pink

photographer Terry Richardson

Ariel Pink sat down on the couch (literal and proverbial) to discuss his new record Mature Themes (out August 20th on 4AD) and life's big questions, proving himself to be a great conversationalist made even more talkative after an interview with High Times, which preceded ours. Stream the entire album and go deep with Pink below.

You’ve been quoted as saying Mature Themes was really an album that you had in your mind before your last album Before Today. That’s kind of a misunderstanding. It’s overstating the case. All I meant was I had a hard time with the last record, and this one is not saying much. There is a lot of bullshit that I would rather not revisit every time I have a fucking interview. I guess it’s a juicy tidbit, ‘Oh let’s investigate further’ ‘Why is he being so vague?’ What’s so weird to me is how the press machine works. When people are researching they need to get caught up on their subject, so they research the stuff that has been revealed and has somehow lasted—just in terms of content from many different sources—a certain quote from here and there, or whatever. Then the actual content of me becomes so limited and condensed, turned into a Wikipedia page essentially, which is the sum total of my life. It is the sum total of my existence, it is my obituary. It’s like, ‘When is he gonna die now?’ ‘What has he done?’ ‘Oh, he’s done stuff’ I guess I have a job, that’s my resume right there.

Do you interact with your Wikipedia page? I tried to intervene very early on and my moderator said ‘I think you should check your sources,’ and I was like ‘You’re right. You’re right. Who knows about Ariel Pink more than you do? You’re right, you’re absolutely right. I’m going to sit back and watch this thing.' So I know exactly what people know and what people don’t know. I’ve had total control about the secrecy of my life, and I haven’t ever had a manager that’s like stepped in and created a biography. It’s literally like a legend made by sources, other sources, not mine. And I don’t interact with it at all, and I don’t interact with my friends on Facebook except when I want to have sex with them, you know?

What is your relationship to pop culture? Do you hate it? I have no idea what pop culture is. I mean I live in LA. I’m as star struck as anybody. Now I know Terry Richardson, Oooh, well he’s a famous person. I grew up in Beverly Hills, famous people everywhere. But I managed not to know. Must be hardwired to avoid those people. It must have been some dysfunctional affectation or something like that, a rebellion that I had. And I think I started making music for the totally wrong reasons, as a way to escape and get my revenge at my parents. I don’t advocate it; I’m over it now. But I’m in arrested development, like a teenager that’s been allowed to be a teenager for way too long, and I’m 34. I thought I was huge when I was competing with Devendra Banhart in 2004 for the ‘Hottest Fucking Nobody,’ you know what I’m saying? I thought that was as famous as I ever needed to get. Fifteen minutes come and go, then I was like, Let’s try to get a record deal this time.

Is music still a release for you? I think it is. I think I underestimated its true potency in my life for a little while. I managed to keep the blinders on. I fell in love and stuff like that. Then for the past year and a half I’ve been a fucking basketcase…after eight years of being with her [Pink’s ex girlfriend]. All of a sudden, I’m getting my mojo back a little bit. I was just happy to be asleep in that feeling that I was in love with somebody, and to have it amount to nothing kind of brings me right back to where I was before that, which is bitter as fuck.

Are you romantic? No, I’m the least romantic person on the planet. I am all about longevity and stability and loyalty. I’m old fashioned.

I’m married. Well, congratulations, I hope it lasts. Just don’t get a divorce. I’m not into divorce. I got married. I got married before this last relationship. I got married to somebody. It’s one of my biggest regrets.

Getting married? Well getting married to somebody I didn’t really have the intention of being with forever, right?

Did you not? I didn’t. My parents have been divorced since I was two years old. I’ve never seen a functional relationship last. To me it’s planned obsolescence. Just to get married, when you can get a divorce. Why not get married? Get married as many times as you want? It doesn’t matter. I just don’t like the institutions. I have a chip on my shoulder about lots of things. Authority and stuff like that. It sucks. It’s bullshit. Everything…The world is evil. That’s the line that I take. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Do you think making music is a good intention? Eh. I think making money and that kind of stuff is a fool’s game. We kind of just let ourselves off the hook because we would want to do something useful with our money, and to do something positive, philanthropic—these are ways that we kind of get away from the fact that we engage in this tiny evil and sort of try to undo that with good intentions, navigating our way through the world, and then things backfire, and we’re surprised. We are surprised that people are so shallow, that somebody could go to such lengths or be such a good friend and then just fucking turn on you like that and become your worst enemy. It’s just like, well, you shouldn’t be surprised cause you’re fucking evil. There’s nothing righteous about humanity anymore. We’re killing each other. We kill the killers. I think we are going back to the stone ages.

Do you strive to be a good person despite that? Of course I do. I’m a victim of society. I try to be a better person. I strive to be somebody that lives by his principles. I’m an idiot, I’m a fool, and I know I’m full of shit—I’ll be the first to say it. That said, a good argument is a good argument, and people need to have priorities and need to know what’s the bottom line. They need to be reminded over and over again. Other people are our biggest threat and our only hope. So we are a person divided. We are completely at war with ourselves and we don’t know how to deal with it.

As a self-proclaimed misanthrope, how does it feel to have so many people love your music? It feels weird, but I’m nicely oblivious to it. It’s not in my face. I get to pretend that it’s not there.

Does that make it easier for you? Of course it does. If I didn’t think I was a normal person, I don’t think I would live a life. I mean come on. I’m not that egomaniacal. I wish I were as paranoid to believe that the government was listening in on me and tapping my phone. Nobody cares, man, about me. I have to remind the world that I exist. I have to answer the phone. I have to show up to this interview. People would forget about me in five seconds if they weren’t reminded.

Well, they forget about everything in five seconds. Right, exactly. I don’t value anything about the Pop world. I know exactly what it’s made of, and it’s easy to fucking disappear. Every little bit of attention I get, I get because I fucking seek it out. I have to make money for my living, and I don’t think that if I didn’t make money, I’d be doing it right now. To be by yourself is not the goal. I started out that way, and I know I could be self-sufficient, I could make more money probably if I just cut my expenses down, and I took all the credit, but part of me wants to make it bigger, part of me wants to take myself out completely and just kinda see this thing unravel and give jobs to people and make this a stimulating enterprise. On the other hand, I’m like, Oh, I’d rather be miserable and just record by myself to myself. I can always do that in the future, it’s not a goal. And then there’s lots of fans of mine [that are like] ‘I liked it better when he was by himself.’ Then there’s other people that are like, ‘What are you talking about, man?’ I sometimes get exposed to that side of it just from being on blogs and being on Facebook, and I don’t give a shit. I’m just a voyeur into that universe. I don’t interact with my fans. I don’t like the level of projection people put on me. I know that I project a lot onto my heroes, but I don’t go knocking on their door or even expressing my feelings online as a way to actually assert myself and have an online presence that is supposed to be who I am.

Everyone wants to be an individual but we need each other to affirm our identity. No, but we aren’t in need enough! We think pursuit of happiness is the ultimate aim for the individual as opposed to: the good of my life is going to be my thinking of the good of all life. Of the family.

Do you want to have a family? Of course I do. But nobody—now that women work and all that kind of stuff. I’m into chivalry and all that. I want to make money, not just for me, I’ll make money for me—it’s easy! I want to have enough money for one other person or two other people. And then I want to support them, while they fucking, you know, stay home and make french fries and have babies. I don’t know. I’m an old fashioned kind of guy. But that seems to be completely—we have the new gender for god’s sake!

Do you get overwhelmed by that? I tend to think about the long term so much, and I’m just so cerebral about everything that it’s just bullshit. I like to think of worst-case scenarios. It’s just a good way to entertain yourself. I like to make people uncomfortable. If people get too comfortable with anything, I want to creep them out, man. I want to bring up something uncanny that’s keeping them from their safe zone. I love pushing people’s buttons.

When you make a record, are you telling a story for yourself or for someone else? There’s no story. It’s a joke, it’s a fake, it’s an act of fantasy that I’m building. It has no basis in reality. It has to do with my own pathology, in…so far as I’m constantly trying to distract and deceive with this evil art form that’s supposed to woo you like a woman or something like that. But it’s not, it’s pretend bullshit. You know, I used to live by it. It used to really make my identity when I was younger. Those were the first beginning streaks of independence and getting in touch with my weird, I suppose. Because my identity was wrapped up in it. But I got over that. Music is not the be all and end all. I don’t mystify it anymore.

So you are more interested in an anti-narrative? I’m a fucking—I’m just a girl that’s been on the fucking therapy couch for way too long, and I psychoanalyze everything, and I break everything down, and I’m traumatized by therapy in that sense. I’ve just had it way too long. I’m just an expression machine. No filter. I’m still grateful to my ex-girlfriend for allowing me at least to believe that I was in this love forever, that it would last a lifetime, ’cause it made me a better person, and I was so grateful every second of it. I’m never going to do it again because if it will amount to nothing. I don’t want to just do temporary…I’d rather just fucking nip it in the bud, one-night-stands all the time, polygamy all the time. I don’t want the connection unless it’s a best friend, a good roommate, to have and have sex with. People suggest: You know you should get some time to yourself, Ariel. Go outta town. They want me out of town! I’m with myself all the time, [they] just don’t want me in town bothering [them] about it. Okay, I get it. I’m a bleeding heart. If I’m sad I want to be able to express it. It’s why I love interviews.

What is the song “Farewell American Primitive” about? Well, it’s a Native American immigrant, that’s the whole idea. Having a whole bunch of Americans that are kind of immigrants in other parts of the world after America is done, they are the new foreigner everywhere. 'We have to guard ourselves against these Americans, man, they are fucking crossing the border, they are trying to get in, trying to get into China via tunnel, or whatever' These Americans that scatter from some Civil War or something like that.

Are you into sci-fi or post-apocalyptic scenarios? Of course, man. I want to think of the worst possible outcome, and as many different ones [as possible]. I try to think of the most horrible things. The things that would scare you. We all don’t deal with our own deaths so we repress that. I don’t really worry about it, but I think about my family and stuff like that, and that bums me out, that’s why I stay alive. And it’s weird because that’s just a way to not deal with your own death. To think about other people’s death, the trauma of the end of the human race. You’re going to die anyway what does it matter? You won’t be there to experience it, why are you so sad about everybody else? Hopefully you die first. You assume that. When you talk about these scenarios about the end of the world, what difference does it make if you die at the same time or if it’s before. You’re going to be dead, you just don’t want to be alone in heaven. You’re like, ‘When are my friends coming up here, shit!’

How do you feel about being in America? I feel like LA is the most American city. It’s the youngest. It’s like the last frontier. It’s like, Okay, let’s turn back, that’s all there is to discover. I think LA is really young so it has this idealism. Like all the things that are good about America typified there. The innocence, the lack of values, those are all the best things about America and what we offer to the rest of the world as a means of actually liberating people, being an example of you too can be a person of repute, or whatever. You could be a person, you can be whatever you want to be.

Are you nostalgic for childhood? No, but I’m very inquiring to the seed of my origins. I want to go back to as deep as possible into my memory banks to see where I came from. Because I believe that is what we all have to do. We stray from our origins because we don’t value them, we don’t know them. We don’t know what it’s like to think about things before we ever knew the word for them. Words are like these gods that we repeat, we incant them every time we say them. Do you remember what life was like before you knew that word? Do you remember what it’s like to not know how to speak?

No, not really. Right, because you didn’t have the words to actually remember. I think memory is really the mystery that we are always getting at a little bit, further and further, but we still haven’t been able to consolidate it.

Do you think that making music has been part of that? Absolutely. It’s sublimation, it’s sexual sublimation, too. It’s a very effeminate quality of seduction that basically seduces with some sort of spell. I’m making more evil out of the bare raw basics. I want to do something good with my life. That’s the irony. I’m a humanist.

Do you think music is good? I think it’s harmless.

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Interview: Ariel Pink