Published Aug 20, 2013For someone who has released more music in the past eight years than most acts do in their entire career, Ty Segall seems to be an unstoppable force that, like any other human, runs on the same fuel. "I'm sorry, do you mind if I order a coffee really quickly?" he asks, over the phone from a coffee shop in San Francisco. "Without coffee, I'm a dead man." Segall must be constantly caffeinated.
Having spent time in seven bands and released eight albums — three in 2012 alone, with White Fence, Ty Segall Band and solo — it's easy to see why media automatically jump to "prolific" in describing the California-based garage rocker. But, to Segall, it's not about being prolific; it's a matter of creative survival and sanity.
"That's awesome if people think that I'm prolific, but to me, I just need to do that," he says. "I just need to keep working on stuff because it kind of helps me be a happy, sane individual."
At 27, Segall has utilized his 20s to the fullest. After three years of playing in various lo-fi noise-rock bands around Orange County and the Bay Area, Segall began releasing solo records and has yet to go a year without putting out an album since.
Often credited with the revival of the psychedelic garage rock scene on the sunny West coast, Segall's DIY recording space (he has built a home studio now) lends itself to his now signature sound of surf rock on acid — buzzing riffs riding a wave of reverb atop furious drums, all masking Segall's penchant for writing great pop lyrics. Segall is at once a rock whiz kid and a hidden pop star.
He often evokes decades past as a way to debunk this prolific label he's been given, arguing that "bands in the '60s put out so much more stuff than Thee Oh Sees or me; the Beatles put out a record every six months and they're the fucking Beatles."
But we're in a new era of music now. Albums are stretched out to maximize profit, but Segall's not interested in slowing down for any of that. Instead, he is gearing up for two more releases before the end of the year — a solo record entitled Sleeper, and the debut by his new band, Fuzz.
Sleeper was written and recorded by Segall almost entirely on his own, save for orchestral arrangements by collaborator Dillon Watson, and hosts some of Segall's most personal and sonically departed work yet, breaking down his wall of noise for something more toned down. Following the death of Segall's adoptive father, who passed away from oral cancer, the songwriter dealt with a lot of anger and negativity, most notably towards his mother, with whom he's no longer on speaking terms.
"She's an awful person," Segall says. "It's complicated and long-winded, but she made a choice and she chose other things instead of her children, which is a very interesting choice to make. I was extremely spiteful and I'm still spiteful. The lines have been crossed so many times that it's beyond repair, and she knows how I feel."
Segall almost immediately took to songwriting to get his feelings out in the healthiest manner possible, just one of the cathartic ways for him to deal with the tragedy, along with taking some much-needed time off from recording and touring. And after touring behind three albums back-to-back-to-back, Segall admits that the eight months straight on the road most definitely left him "a little fried."
"Writing was a way of dealing with a lot of negative emotion and angst instead of getting super fucked up and doing something shitty," Segall explains. "It was dealing with these problems head on and confronting them; I needed to get it out of my system because I realized it was creeping into other parts of my life and I was becoming an angry person and you can't project that kind of shit on other people."
Not one for bringing up "heavy shit," as Segall puts it, it was important for him to channel these experiences and sentiments into his most natural form of output: songs.
Sleeper, as its title suggests, is a decidedly quieter affair, a stark contrast to his otherwise loud, aggressive discography. Gone are the thick fogs of reverb clouding Segall's voice, as heard on his last solo record Twins. In their place is a clear, acoustic album anchored by sombre lyrics, subtly moving string sections and a psychedelic flare that Segall's work often shows off. Instead of heavy sounds, we get heavy words, but the result bears the same signature and triumphantly stands up to some of Segall's best work.
"I tried to write some louder songs and some noisier stuff and it just didn't sound genuine," Segall reveals. "Maybe it was just from doing it so much last year, I'm not sure, but it didn't sound right. I kept writing these other songs and it just happened. Nothing was intentional; I kind of just followed that pathway down that route."
And now that Sleeper is complete, Segall admits that he's ready to move on. "I think I've gotten more to a normal headspace again," he contemplates. "You can almost look back on that kind of stuff and feel good about it, but that's just one part of dealing with that kind of stuff."
Segall is also well-rested and has hit the "restart button in my mind," so it's back to being his productive self. "I treat this like a job and I'm super lucky to be doing it," he says. "I wake up every day, I go in my studio for a couple of hours and I try to do some stuff. In order to have a good day, I have to be productive. It allows me to enjoy the other parts of my life."