Interview | By Robert Duguay
Every year, it seems like Los Angeles garage rocker Ty Segall is putting out at least one new album. Either it’s something stripped-down and acoustic, a scorching and electrified opus, or a melding of the two. His latest solo album, Freedom’s Goblin—released via Drag City in January—could be his most inventive release yet. Each track is distinct from the rest through various musical styles, ranging from punk jazz to elongated prog and psychedelic folk. It’s a record that promises not to bore, but instead, it explores.
Segall takes a moment to discuss his vast discography, trying out new things in the studio, surprising the audience, and who he’d like to work with in the future.
So far, over your career, you’ve put out 10 studio albums along with being part of countless LPs, EPs, singles, and splits. You’re just entering your 30s, so what has inspired you to be so prolific?
That’s a tough question, because it’s just kind of what has happened. When I was a kid, my inspiration for playing music came out of not knowing how long I’d be able to do it or if opportunities would dry up. For example, two labels want to put out two albums of mine, and I make those two albums, and it ends up becoming the thing you do. I want to try to make different records all over the place whenever the opportunities to do so happen. I think the only real difference between me and other musicians is that I tend to not really pay attention to the release schedule of albums.
If I had my way, I would be putting out even more music, even though it would be a poor decision, because no one would listen to any of the records because it would be a flooding of the market. I would do that because I have a lot of fun making records. There’s so many things you can do while making one.
Between your solo stuff and playing with Fuzz and GØGGS, along with other bands you’ve been a part of, has it ever felt like a major adjustment? You play drums in Fuzz, while the majority of your music has you playing guitar.
The main adjustment is that the other bands I’m in are all collaborations, so it’s a completely different kind of experience. In that situation, the songwriting we’re doing is a group effort for everybody involved. When it’s my solo thing, it’s just me in my bedroom, and I bring in people to record with me and it becomes a collaboration in that sense. They’re both different headspaces.
How often do you take time to yourself so you don’t feel burned out?
Constantly. I’m not writing music every minute of my life. Whenever I’m off a tour, I always take a month off or more. Since my last record came out, I just started writing new music for myself. It’s been around eight or nine months since I’ve written a solo song.
Your most recent album, Freedom’s Goblin, came out this past January, and there’s a plethora of variety within it. No track sounds the same, and a lot of different things come into play. There are guitars, bass, and drums, but saxophone and keyboard have a big presence too. Some tracks are acoustic, while others are completely electric. Going into the studio and making the album, what made you want to have such a mixture of elements?
That was the theme I wanted to go for; that’s what the genesis of the record was. The angle I decided upon was that each song should be as varied as the other ones as much as possible. It’s OK to have a couple songs feeling and sounding the same, but I wanted to really have a mixtape kind of vibe. The instrumentation is one thing, but I also wanted to use different recording techniques. That was the whole angle for the record.
Were there any particular bands or musicians who influenced you while writing the songs on the album? Or was it you winging it and throwing ideas at the wall to see what would stick?
I’m influenced by countless records, so there are so many influences all over that. I got more comfortable with trying to write stuff that was more funk- or soul-influenced on this record, even though it’s not exactly that. It didn’t end up being a direct result to my ears, but it ended up being a sideways version. There’s too many to reference, so it’s hard to nail them down to just a few. There’s a ton.
I don’t know if you listen to James Chance And The Contortions from the No Wave scene in early ’80s New York City, but “Talkin 3” definitely has that vibe, especially with the saxophone.
Another highlight is the one Freedom’s Goblin ends with: “And Goodnight” is this 12-minute long cover of “Sleeper,” which is off of the acoustic album you put out under the same name in 2013. It’s reminiscent of ’70s progressive rock, notably Pink Floyd, but a lot more raw. How did you decide to conclude the album with such an epic jam?
That song has been part of the setlist for a while. I hadn’t played that song since the Sleeper album came out, and about a year ago, I had the idea to electrify it. Over the course of a couple tours, it turned into that version. It’s cool, because it’s kind of a safe route of “Sleeper.” Watching the crowd sometimes is really great, because you can see someone getting really surprised when they realize that it’s a different version of the song.
After touring with that for a while, when I was wrapping up the album, I was like “OK, I gotta have that on there at the end for the surprise ending.” It was definitely an experiment, but I thought it was really fun to make.
With the musical freedom you had in the studio, would you say that this was one of the most stress-free experiences you’ve had while making an album?
Yeah, I always stress myself out at least once or twice. Nothing too serious, just my own neurotic weirdness when doing a vocal take or whatever. For the most part, it was really, really fun. I try to have every album be a non-stressed-out fun experience. Ninety percent of the time, it’s great, and this one was also really fun.
You’ve collaborated with the likes of Tim Presley from White Fence, Dave Davies from The Kinks, producer Steve Albini, and John Dwyer from Thee Oh Sees via his label, Castle Face Records. Is there anyone out there today who you’d like to collaborate with either through producing, writing a song, or teaming up on an entire album?
There’s a lot of people. I would love to record at Daptone’s [House Of Soul] Studio, and I’m trying to figure that out. I don’t know if they’d be into me recording there.
If you did record at Daptone, would you want to use the horn section that Daptone has on the album?
Yeah, of course. I would like to jam with Sleep—be, like, the second drummer or something. I’d like to do something crazy like that, like being the monitor guy for Death Grips. I would just be chilling, pressing a couple buttons, and being able to watch people play.
Photo by Alan Snodgrass