Musician sheds not-so-rosy light on labels, lo-fi

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Music Monday - Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Ariel Pink doesn’t necessarily believe in the labels critics and his fans have attached to his aesthetic since he began making music in 1996. Actually, Pink and his band, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, are irritated by those labels and think they have led people to make some illegitimate misconceptions about his music.

Take for instance, “hypnagogic pop,” a term coined by critic David Keenan in summer 2009 used to describe music that “refashions ‘80s chart pop-rock into a hazy, psychedelic drone.” While many music journalists have been quick to point out hypnagogic pop and lo-fi music as the precursors to today’s popular chillwave and surf pop genres, Pink, on the other hand, has been quick to dismiss those labels as skewed and bias. It happened in 2006 as well, when bloggers and music journalists attempted to create a “hauntology” canon that would include artists like Pink and the entire roster of the United Kingdom-based Ghost Box record label; that genre eventually deflated under the weight of its own vanity.

Rather than embrace the ideals that those genres champion — musical nostalgia as a reactionary element against the polished indie pop of the 2000s and a sort of cosmopolitan unity of underground genres from the 1970s to the mid-1990s — Ariel Pink just wants to make music and not have to worry about falling in line with other artists. To that end, he has released several dozen proper albums and underground albums, often in CD-R and cassette form.

Pink’s latest opus, Before Today, was released this June and charted on the Billboard Top 200, something that is unheard of for an artist who remained underground for more than a decade.

In an interview with The Daily Texan at Fun Fun Fun Fest last weekend, Ariel Pink spoke more about what he believes his music really is, the new legacy of lo-fi bands and why he isn’t concerned that his albums tend to leak early.

The Daily Texan: The first thing I wanted to ask is if you’re still in touch with the older crowd, like–

Ariel Pink: Like R. Stevie Moore, Animal Collective, yeah, yeah, yeah.

DT: You read my mind. So you still–

AP: Yes! Yes, yes, yes.

DT: Well, I guess moving on, there’s this article that’s always fascinated me, and it grouped a bunch of artists together under the label “hypnagogic pop.”

AP: Yeah, I’m familiar with it.

DT: And I know the way labels are thrown around these days, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti was definitely associated with the resurgence in the lo-fi movement, from which hypnagogic pop and chillwave were eventually born. How do you feel about that?

AP: Well it’s gone, and nobody remembers that anymore. Lo-fi is a lot more irritating to me. It just stuck around and never fucking got out of fashion. I’ve redefined the meaning of lo-fi to where it’s now not what it once was. But I thought it was Sebadoh and ‘90s alternative rock. That’s what I thought of it as, and it’s not that anymore.

DT: So what are your feelings about the resurgence in what people now call lo-fi? I’m specifically talking about all the lo-fi stuff that’s come out of Los Angeles, and especially The Smell, where a lot of contemporary lo-fi has come out in the last few years.

AP: They’re just punk bands. It’s punk rock. The Beatles are lo-fi, man. I don’t even know what it means. I really don’t know what that means anymore.

DT: What are your plans for the next year or so? And I’m also curious if you would ever do anything in the vein of your previous project, Holy Shit, again.

AP: I’m open to it, but I have no plans to do it. I just want to make music. I don’t have any kind of ... It’s all the same, whatever I do. I mean it’s different enough when different people are involved. I love collaborating with people. I have no intention of repeating what I already did, though. It can’t be rehashed anyway, and it shouldn’t be rehashed.

DT: Going back to the older crowd that I mentioned earlier — I know a lot of them have shown support for the new league of so-called lo-fi artists. R. Stevie Moore, for instance, who I know you’re really close to, has shown support for Pearl Harbor, now called Puro Instinct.

AP: They’re amazing. I love them! I love them.

DT: I spoke with them earlier this year, and they also very much look up to you and R. Stevie Moore.

AP: Keeping the lineage rocking, man. I feel honored to be in such great company.

DT: Are there any artists in particular that you feel contribute to that lineage?

AP: Puro Instinct ... Man, the list is too long. I don’t even want to — I don’t even know anymore. The names are just way too many. Too many.

DT: There’s been a huge resurgence in artists releasing on cassette tapes in the last couple of years, sort of the way vinyl suddenly got popular in the early 2000s. And I know you’ve always released stuff digitally, on vinyl, on cassette and-

AP: Yeah, and we have 8-tracks for sale here. My first record, Underground, is here on 8-track. We span every medium, whatever you want.

DT: Is there any particular medium you think fits your music better than the other?

AP: No, no. Whatever’s convenient for the listener. If somebody likes to stuff as many songs into the day and as many artists as possible, he’s probably going to prefer MP3 and put it on their iPod and have all their artists in one space and spend 24 hours listening to 500 songs. Then there’s other people who like to put on a record and like to flip it over. There’s people who just like to click through their fucking tracks. To me, I like to listen to records. I like songs; it’s all about the songs. It’s records all the time. I really appreciate a good record.

DT: Speaking of MP3s, I noticed that right before the release of your most recent record, Before Today, it was being shared online. Obviously, these are fans that really want to hear your music as soon as possible, but at the same time, you must realize it probably hurts your profits, right?

AP: No, it doesn’t. In fact, when I voiced concern to the label, I thought the label would be concerned about it, but they were just like, [British accent] “It’ll leak! Oh, it’ll leak! It’s not all that bad.” And I realized it was OK. I asked if they were leaking it [on purpose], but they said no. We didn’t even know how many copies were going to make until we saw the fucking response to the leak. If people like it, and it’s leaked, that’s good, and it’s good promotion. And it makes the label go, “Hmm, maybe we’ll make 30,000 records instead of 5,000.”

DT: OK, last two questions: How would you describe your perfect sandwich?

AP: I don’t like sandwiches. I don’t. I like hamburgers. Lettuce, tomatoes, and onions only. And that’s it. I’m a plain guy. McDonald’s, Burger King, In-N-Out, Johnny Rockets. All sorts of hamburgers.

DT: And lastly, how would you describe your perfect day?

AP: Just like, fuckin’ good feelings all the time. I don’t know, exciting memories. Out of my house part of it, and back at home for some of it. I don’t know, man. I live my life day-by-day, man.