Occasionally Ariel trails off like that, ending what is clearly a passionate, well-considered notion with a flippant sign off. I guess it’s the contradictory side of him, or perhaps the insecurity of a modern rock’n’roller.
“I’m all about new beginnings,” he continues, slicing another chunk of steak, “and I tend to disregard everything I’ve done prior. I have what people see as a pessimistic outlook on life, which is really a misreading of it, where I conceive of the worst possible scenario and then when it isn’t that I’m very thankful and grateful. I think of everything as a piece of shit, and as soon as I don’t feel that I think it’s when I start pandering to the bullshit.”
Amongst Ariel’s slew of discarded woozy works is ‘The Doldrums’, his second official album, and the collection of songs that got him on Paw Tracks as the first artist that wasn’t the label’s bosses, Animal Collective. “But that’s just prehistoric,” he says now. “I don’t have any relationship to that anymore, although I can definitely respect the cornels of my own development in that. I really did see it as an experimental scourge on the planet in a very prophetic sense, and that anybody else would see it as such is definitely poetic justice, but it is a scourge because it’s a terrible record; terrible music. It’s anti-progress; it doesn’t have any historical place and that’s the irony – ‘The Doldrums’ coming out in an era where Christina Aguilera is fighting for space with it in a record store. To me, that is hilarious. And I wanted to alienate Pavement fans as much as Christina Aguilera fans – I wanted to alienate everyone with that. The irony is that you have echoes of ‘The Doldrums’ in even Chris Brown and stuff like Rhianna.”
For better or worse, Ariel loves all of his children. Or at least respects them. He refers to his pre-‘Before Today’ records as Where’s Waldo, “jumping up and down in the air shouting, ‘hey, I’m over here, I’m over here!”
“It was really desperate songwriting and I was really making a lot of noise without caring about the results,” he says. “And then I got a little bit of recognition – like, the littlest bit – and that was enough for me to be like, ‘oh, what do I do now?’. Did I have the same drive to do it? No, not really.”
And what about now? What drives Ariel Pink, the blogger’s delight?
“Y’know, I broke up with my girlfriend,” he says in a sombre tone. “That was a big drive to selling out, because I wanted to start a family and stuff, and boy was I wrong about that. My drive now is just to enjoy what you have while you have it, because it’s not going to last. Let’s see if people like this record, which I personally don’t think they will, because it’s closer to the older stuff, and it’s a good record, and good records aren’t appreciated.”
More than once Ariel brings up the fact that all of this could end tomorrow. He respects all of his own failed experiments, but he respects the frivolous nature of the music business more. “I’m stoked that I’m here for another year,” he says, “and I’m happy that this record is a great place to end things, if it is the end.”
He repeatedly returns to the idea of selling out, too, as if any progression from his uncompromising, stringently DIY early songs needs to be defended somehow.
“I’m not necessarily true to my art,” he confesses. “I’m true to life, in that I’m a realist. I want to exist in the world, and obviously just making music and staying pure is not a recipe for success… obviously. Some people have been more pure than I will ever be and they’ve failed, and almost being an artist ensures that you fail, based on the definitions we give it. I don’t want to be that either. If I can sell out, I want to. I want to have as much success as possible. I want to take over the world.”
Ariel’s done the maths and worked out that .07% of the population is currently aware of him and his music, “so we’ve got plenty of people to reach out to”.
I propose that he surely has it in him to sell out if he wants to, and that ‘Weiner Schnitzel Boogie’ is not the way to do it. ‘Only In My Dreams’ and ‘Mature Themes’’s almost as sweet title track probably is, though. If nothing else, Ariel Pink’s extended adolescence as a musician has given him an uncanny knack for creating a nagging melody – even the oddest bits of his new record are more quotable than most tracks you’ll currently hear on the radio.
“But I have principals and priorities in my life that supersede everything that I do in my life,” he argues. “It’s easy to see that humanity has lost its way. Part of me wants to save it, part of me wants to dismantle whatever humanity has gotten us here. We have to redefine priorities and all that kind of stuff, so if I want to be part of that I’ve got to be true to myself.
“Right now we’re a race divided – our biggest threat is other humans and our only hope is other humans, so we don’t know what to do. We are in competition together but we’re no good on our own, and we never have been.”
Shorter, less stringy, slightly hunched and initially shy, Ariel also cuts a fine likeness to Kurt Cobain, snipped from the same outsider cloth. Unlike Cobain, he’s a realist, who, having grown up in fame-hungry Tinsel Town, is well aware of the nature of the beast, and willing to court it when it comes. But like Cobain, Ariel has become a shortcut to a world, whether he likes it or not. Mention home recordings and ‘lo-fi’ and it’ll take approximately five seconds for someone to bring up Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.
“I definitely want to dispel that,” he says, “because contrary to what people believe, there’s more to Ariel Pink than the sound of something recorded under a mattress. There is actually a patented Ariel Pink groove. There’s a musical expression that goes un-talked about. It’s sort of beyond words because it’s an essence that can’t be grasped. You can’t follow the recipe,” he warns.
Kids do look to Ariel for inspiration, though, just as he did/does to R. Stevie Moore. And so they should. Ariel as a DIY poster boy is no more unfounded than Cobain as a grunge god or Morrison as a spiritual guide. His name is dropped into lo-fi conversation partly because he’s still here after more than a decade, but that in itself is an accomplishment that shouldn’t go unnoticed. And then there’s what’s fuelled Ariel through hundreds of recordings and just as many shitty live shows – an unquenchable need to experiment and a charmed naivety that comes with prolonged adolescence.
“I intended to fail,” he tells me. “I wanted to succeed in isolation but I wanted to fail as the rest of the world was concerned, because that would be confirmation of all the pure things that I ever appreciated in my life – all the best rock’n’rollers were unknown; all the best music was made by people who died completely unknown; all things that affected me were not things that succeeded. If they did succeed they lost that cornel of magic that I’m always looking for.”
Ariel Pink has succeeded, though, and for now, at least, his cornel of surreal, silly, melodic, contradictory, quite brilliant magic remains. And so I ask him what advice he – “a 34-year-old musician who’s still somehow relevant to 17-year-olds” – can offer the kids?
“That’s a good question,” he nods, “but I don’t know yet. I’m dumber now than I was back then. I’ve got more doubts. I was the most confident in my vision before I picked up a guitar. I felt like I had already made all of these records. The way I went around when I was 18 was semi delusional, and yet I somehow managed to achieve those things, like magic. And the more that I learned how to navigate these landscapes the more I’ve learned how incapable I am of executing anything. And you start to think, ‘oh, but it was my total ignorance that got me here’.”