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Interview by Fred Armisen
Photo by James Elliot Bailey
By the time you’re done reading this interview, Ty Segall has probably made another solo album or one with the many bands in which he plays. Segall’s new, second self-titled LP shows the multi-instrumentalist is at the top of his very prolific game. MAGNET asked actor, comedian, musician and fellow studio rat Fred Armisen to go under the hood with Segall.
I was asked by MAGNET to interview Ty Segall. I said yes right away, as I’ve always loved his records (and him!). He’s built up such a solid discography. I’m really impressed by that. I felt like I knew him, just from bumping into him at different events. I saw him most recently at a video shoot for a new song. I’m always in a good mood after a conversation with Ty. He’s funny and always seems to be wanting to make more things. More art and music. A few days later, we did this interview. —Fred Armisen
Fred Armisen: What phone situation are you on? On a speaker phone? Are you at home?
Ty Segall: I have you plugged into my stereo really loud but no one is around, just so I can hear you better.
Armisen: Awwww. That’s so cool.
Segall: But you’re not on speaker phone. Just so you can hear me better.
Armisen: Yeah, I hear you great. I can hear you really clear; I’m glad I’m not in a car, and I’m glad I’m not wearing a little headset. I’m on a phone phone, and I’m definitely glad about it.
Segall: You’re definitely phone phone-ing.
Armisen: I’m phone phone-ing. Wait, should we be recording this? Is this already recording?
Segall: I don’t know. I don’t really know how to do that.
MAGNET: You guys are already being recorded.
Armisen: Oh! Who is this other voice?
MAGNET: It’s Megan from MAGNET.
Armisen: Oh, how are you?
MAGNET: I’m good. How are you?
Armisen: Good. We both really like MAGNET. I’m representing both of us with this one compliment.
Segall: I agree with that compliment.
Armisen: Well, first of all, hello, Ty, it’s good to talk to you. We’ve known each other a little while. So it’s not like we’re complete strangers to each other, and in fact, we saw each other the other day because I did a little something in your video that they’re shooting in L.A.
Segall: Yes, you did very well, by the way. That was amazing.
Armisen: Oh, thanks.
Segall: The close-up shots—I don’t know if you got to see those—were very good.
Armisen: Oh, good. And what was the concept of the whole video?
Segall: The song is just one big pun. It’s called “Break A Guitar,” so I thought I’d go extremely literal and just explode and destroy a bunch of guitars. To tie it all together, though, it’s supposed to take place in my brain. So it’s a little bit of a Lynchian zoom into my ear, through the ear canal into the brain, and that’s where you are, along with others. And that’s where the destroying takes place.
Armisen: You obviously play a lot, you tour a lot and everything—what is the state of people smashing instruments? Like is that happening a lot or not at all? Do you see it once in a while? Is it real? What is your perception of people smashing drums and guitars?
Segall: I don’t think it’s that real anymore. I think it was a lot more prevalent in the ’90s when there was a lot more money in the music industry to replace your gear. I’ve never done it with any good piece of equipment that I actually like. I’ve seen it happen maybe twice in seriousness. I don’t think it’s a very serious thing happening nowadays.
Armisen: I don’t think so, either. I don’t think I’ve really seen it.
Segall: I think I’ve only really seen an accidental destroying of gear. Or like a person loses their shit and yells at the crowd and slams their thing down. Whatever the thing is that they’re playing.
Armisen: Right. It never feels right to me to smash something, because I always feel that something could be useful. Like, “Oh, you never know, you could use this guitar or whatever.”
Segall: I think that’s a very normal and healthy way to be. I feel the same way. I’m more about giving things away instead of breaking them.
Armisen: That seems fine! Because someone could always use it; that I really like. To someone, it has value.
Segall: Yeah, instead of breaking a guitar, for instance, just give it to someone and pass it on.
Armisen: Because I would have loved it when I was a teenager like, “Oh wow, I got this guitar because they didn’t need it anymore.”
Segall: Yeah. I’ve done that a couple times at shows. Just like, “I don’t feel good about this guitar, maybe you would like it.” And it seemed like the kid liked it, so …
Armisen: Well, I’m very happy to be talking to you, and I love your new record.
Segall: Thank you.
Armisen: And last time I talked to you, one of the things we discussed was your body of work. It seems to me like you’re in a very solid place in the music world, like I have the sense that you’ve accomplished a lot. There’s a real library of work. When was it that you felt you had accomplished that—where you could look at your discography and think, “Oh, I really have a full body of work”?
Segall: You know, I don’t know. I don’t really look at myself like that. I like to just constantly be thinking about what I’m working on. I don’t look at the past records I’ve done. I think that would kind of drive me insane a little bit. I’m more about continuously trying to work on more stuff. But that’s cool! I’m a huge fan of bands that are just constantly doing different records all the time, so I would like to do that. I don’t know what that really means, but I just look at it like, “Is this thing gonna be a different kind of record than before?”
Armisen: When you’re singing or playing, especially when you’re recording, do you ever picture somebody else in your mind? Do you play the part of somebody else—do you think, like, “This is what so and so would do if they were playing this part”? Does that happen at all or is it just you?
Segall: Not playing live. Honestly, the brain tends to turn off, and it’s more like an ethereal kind of situation. Especially with the loud stuff. It’s more feeling the physicality of the music. Obviously, the brain is on and there’s intention and a thought process going on. But recording and writing, there’s lots of references and recording moves that I’ve either learned from listening to records or, like, “Oh, I love this mix that this person did of this song. I’m gonna try that.”
Armisen: Sometimes when I’m—and by the way, I’m not trying to make this about me, just as an example—there are times where we’re writing a sketch or performing a sketch, and I’ll think, like, “Well, what would Molly Shannon do? She would do it like this.” I’ll just do an impression of a comedian I like. And I suppose it’s kind of like just picking from them, but it helps me get to someplace quicker. But there might be a different goal for music, I’m guessing.
Segall: I totally understand that. I think for me it’s like recording or writing where you can take an influence. I think it’s totally fine to take a riff from a song and invert it and create a different vocal melody. It legitimately does turn it into a different song. It’s taking a cue or an influence, even just to get moving with an idea. I definitely do that stuff, for sure.
Armisen: How much do you tour? I think I don’t know how much you tour. I’m only imagining that you do it a lot, but maybe you don’t?
Segall: I used to tour a very large amount. Now, I’m probably one of the more laid-back touring people in my age group or whatever. It feels like that at least. I do maybe three tours a year now. I don’t think that’s too crazy anymore. I used to be gone like six months out of the year. But now it’s cool. We kind of make it count. Not that it didn’t count before. But for each record, we’ll do a cycle.
Armisen: When you tour, what kind of a vehicle are you in?
Segall: It’s funny, in the U.S. we get a van that my bandmate Charles and I own together, and it’s a great vehicle. And in Europe, we actually just started touring in a bus, which is kind of crazy. I’m a big fan because you can actually do things. You can travel through the night. It’s strange because the bus is cheaper. You know, we have so much gear, and our touring manager and our booking agent and our sound man come with us in Europe. In the U.S., it’s just us. In Europe, we have a few more people, so it would be more expensive to get two vans than it would be to get a tour bus.
Armisen: That’s a nice place to be, for sure. Have you ever traveled to a city and been talking to someone and they go, “You’ve met me already, why are you reintroducing yourself?” Or have you forgotten someone’s name and you’re going, “Do I know this person?” And they’re, like, “Yeah, you stayed with us.” Are you at that point in your career yet, or is it more controlled?
Segall: No, I’ve definitely forgotten people and totally made an ass out of myself many, many times. It’s always a really shitty feeling.
Armisen: You almost want to yell at yourself in your brain, like, “Yeah, of course that’s who that is!”
Segall: But you’ve gotta give yourself credit, though, that some of those people are insane—the other side of it where some people are psychopaths who will guilt trip you for not remembering meeting them for 30 seconds.
Armisen: Because that’s also a rude thing to do anyway. I don’t think I would ever do that to anyone else. If they ever forgot me, I wouldn’t give them a hard time about it. I’d be, like, “I understand, it’s OK,” I mean we’re meeting each other again anyway. I don’t think it’s ever fruitful to give someone a hard time about something.
Segall: Definitely not.
Armisen: Let’s do a quick magazine break. Hey, you’re reading MAGNET. And I’m here with Ty Segall, and we’re having a conversation. Stay tuned for the rest of the magazine! Plenty of pages coming up; we’ve got reviews. And I hope you’re enjoying it!