THE OVERACHIEVER Ty Segall

How
many recordings and tours can one man tackle in a single 12-month span? This
Bay Area guitar monster – his profile in ascendance – has a pretty
good idea…

 

BY JENNIFER KELLY

 

“It was kind of an accident. I didn’t really mean for all
three records to come out so close together,” admits Ty Segall, about a very
busy 2012, a year in which he released three full-length albums of new material
Hair, a collaboration with White
Fence’s Tim Presley; Slaughterhouse,  a full-band record; and Twins, a guitar-heavy solo album just released by Drag City. “But
the reason I wanted these three records to come out was that I genuinely
thought they were different things,” he added. “If there were three solo
records this year, I would worry about it, that’s too much. But there’s only
one, and then there’s the band record and the record with Tim. They’re three of
the most different sounding things.”

 

Segall has been a force in the Bay Area garage pop scene
since his self-titled, one-man-band debut in 2008 on John Dwyer’s CastleFace
label.  Along the way, he has released
roughly a dozen albums, a pile of singles (recently compiled on Goner’s
double-disc Singles 2007-2010), and
cassettes collaborated with Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, Mikail Cronin and others –
not to mention touring relentlessly (see link for tour itinerary at the bottom
of the page).

 

Still even as one of San
Francisco’s most prolific, productive musicians,
Segall couldn’t pull off his 2012 triple-play alone. He wrote Slaughterhouse with his touring band – Mikail
Cronin, Emily Rose Epstein and Charles Moonhart – while jamming out its tunes
in a practice room and, later, a studio, and sharing lyric-writing duties with
Cronin. Hair, too, was a joint
effort, with Segall bringing in two songs, Presley three and the two of them
writing the remainder together. Only Twins came about through the painstaking, time-consuming process of solo songwriting.
Segall says he worked on it for six months, on and off, first demoing songs
with a guitar and provisional lyrics, later fleshing them out with bass, drums
and lots of guitar.

 

 “One of the goals of
this record was to make it a guitar heavy record,” says Segall. “I had never
done that before.” And, indeed, Twins is uncharacteristically shreddy and riff-centered, with three and four guitar
parts layered over one another in some tracks. That’s a big shift for an artist
who came out of Southern California’s
skateboard punk scene and revered bands like Minor Threat and Bad Brains.    

 

 

 

 

Lately, though, Segall says he’s into “heavier rock music,
like 1960s and early 1970s stuff. Blue Cheer and Hawkwind and Sabbath and
Hendrix and Cream, those are all my favorite guitar sounds. I got really into
kraut-y stuff. Noisy stuff.” Segall also discovered a pedal called Fuzz War,
whose buzzy, metallic, distorted blare quickly became his go-to guitar sound.
“That’s like my favorite pedal ever,” says Segall. “I wanted to use it on every
song. So I kind of wanted to go for that.”

 

As he has for every record since 2009’s Melted, Segall turned to Eric Bauer to help him record Twins, cranking out the tunes in Bauer’s
Chinatown basement studio, and experimenting with the many sonic devices
available there. “Eric’s got a lot of ideas about sound,” says Segall. “He’ll
get a new chorus echo chamber, and we’ll throw that on. Or he’ll get a new
compressor, and he’ll be like, let’s try this thing out. So he’s really a great
guy to work with. He’s always throwing ideas back and forth, and he’s a great
guy to toss ideas off, too.”

 

Twins is
about duality, the idea of split personality and the interplay of light and
darkness. It’s dedicated to San
Francisco, Segall’s adopted
home and, he says, a prime example of the theme. “San Francisco is amazing, beautiful. It’s probably
the most beautiful city on the West Coast. But at the same time, it’s such a
dark weird place that has a history of mental issues, drugs and psychedelia.
When the sun is shining, maybe 20 days out of the year, it’s an unbelievably
positive place, but a lot of the time it’s cold and gloomy. So, I think that San Francisco has this
really unique split personality. There are extremes here.”

 

Segall worked mostly alone on Twins, but Moonhart did turn up to play drums, while Brigid Dawson
of Thee Oh Sees made a guest appearance on “The Hill,” which is the album’s
first single. Dawson
sings the introduction, a very pretty, closely harmonized folk interval that
runs into a buzz saw of psychedelic guitars about 20 seconds into the
track.  

 

“That song started out as a mellow song,” says Segall. “The
demo of it is an acoustic song, so I decided to see what it would sound like if
I sped it up and made it electric. And then I couldn’t sing the opening part
very well. It was all right, but it was missing something. I had been talking
to Brigid for a couple of years about doing something together.”

 

Dawson’s band
is one of a tightly knit collection of combos that live and work in San Francisco, frequently
tour together, play on each other’s records, and just hang out.  Segall did his first-ever tour with Thee Oh
Sees and remains close to the band’s founder, John Dwyer. “John’s the best.
He’s like my big brother. He’s the guy you want to go to first if you have a
question about music. He’ll always be the guy to tell you to do it or not, or
lead you in the right direction.”

 

Adds Segall, “[John] has been doing music for so long, and
always under the radar. He’s so happy to be putting out records and touring and
doing the Ohsees now, but I think back in the day, he had to work a lot harder
for a lot less. He deserves everything he’s gotten and more. Thee Oh Sees should
be one of the biggest bands in the world. I think they’re one of the best live
bands around.”

 

As San Francisco
outfits like Thee Oh Sees, Fresh & Onlys, Sic Alps and Segall’s band get to
be more popular, they are on the road more and together less. Big group shows
in San Francisco
are rarer now because it’s hard to get all the players together. Still, Segall
says he connects regularly with this musical fraternity, grabbing tacos with
Dwyer or getting coffee with Mike Donovan of Sic Alps.

 

“To be honest, if I didn’t have these guys around, I don’t
know if I’d be doing what I’m doing at all,” he admits. “John and Mike help
keep me going. It is a very isolating, weird lifestyle, but these guys have
been doing it for so long and they’re so positive about it. It’s pretty cool.”

 

Segall won’t be releasing three albums in a year again any
time soon; in fact, his plan for 2013 entails a six month lay-off from touring
and one new recording. (Not counting
In the Red’s January reissue of Reverse
Shark Attack
with Mikail Cronin.)  “I
just want to take a moment and collect my thoughts,” says Segall. “And then I
was planning on working on one record for an entire year. Trying to make it the
best record I could do.” 

 

An
edited version of this story appears in the current print issue (13) of BLURT
as part of our contemporary garage rock
scene overview featuring, in addition to Segall, the Fresh & Onlys, Sic
Alps and Thee Oh Sees. Ty Segall just completed a US
tour and commences a UK and European trek on
November 7, running through early December; he then tackles a week-long series
of west coast dates Dec. 11-18 to be followed by yet another North American
tour starting Jan. 23. View his full itinerary here. Did we mention he’s an
overachiever?

 

 

[Photos credit: Marty Perez]

 

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