Do My Thing: Ty Segall
Prolific garage rocker wrestles with his ‘Sleeper’ hold
By Kevin Curtin, 1:47PM, Mon. Aug. 26
Playback checked in this week with Ty Segall, who loads in on Tuesday at Mohawk with locals Holy Wave and Hidden Ritual. The L.A.-based garage guitar poet talked songwriting, ATX’s OBN III’s, and his new acoustic LP, Sleeper, which he’ll perform tomorrow.
Austin Chronicle: How do you pronounce your last name? Like the bird or the karate guy?
Ty Segall: Like the bird.
AC: You’ve played at the Mohawk a few times recently. Do you remember when and where your first Austin show was?
TS: It was 2007 and it was a one-man-band show with Thee Oh Sees and the Sic Alps. It was a pretty rad tour: Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps, and me all in one van just rolling around. We played at Beerland.
AC: Do you have a favorite band from Austin?
TS: I like everything Orville [Bateman Neeley III] does, although he’s not properly from Austin. But OBN III’s are the shit. They’re my favorite Austin band.
AC: Your new album Sleeper sounds like it was largely recorded with an acoustic guitar. Do you have a different relationship with your acoustic than your electric?
TS: I do. I write most of my stuff on an acoustic, although lately I’ve been strictly trying to write on the electric with a loud amplifier. It’s totally different and cool. A lot of the poppier or more chord-y songs I write on acoustic.
AC: So the experience of this recording must have been more sonically restrained for you.
TS: It was like I didn’t really know what I was doing. I thought at first it was all demos and then they eventually became songs. It was a lot of, “I don’t know where this is going man,” and then a lot of, “I don’t know if people are going to dig this,” and, “What is this?” and then, “Oh shit, I guess this is it.”
AC: So it wasn’t calculated.
TS: Not at all. I didn’t set out to do an acoustic thing.
AC: You just said you weren’t sure if people were going to dig it. Did you have the same reservation about performing it live?
TS: I was really worried, but so far audiences have been open-minded. The live show is really not as mellow as the record at all. It meets halfway between what we’ve always done live and what the record is.
AC: Are you playing an acoustic onstage?
TS: Yeah, but I’ll be playing it through my giant amplifier stack. So it’s a compromise.
AC: Do you have the same band?
TS: No I have a different band for this, the Sleeper band. It’s Charlie, who plays guitar in my band; Fuzz, he plays drums; and then Sean Paul from Nodzzz and White Fence plays guitar and sings. My friend Andrew, who plays in the Traditional Fools with me, he plays bass. I still have my same live band, but it’s cool to mix it up for the mellow.
AC: I had to go on NPR’s website to listen to the new album. Five years ago would you have ever expected your music to be embraced by the sensible public radio crowd?
TS: Nope. It’s bizarre. It’s trippy. I try to just say thank you and not think about why that’s going on because it’s just too weird.
AC: You record your own stuff. For some people, making an album can be this really heavy personal experience that you go though. For others, you just plug in and play and rock.
TS: I’m definitely obsessive, because it’s what I do. I don’t take pictures, I don’t draw, I don’t paint. I just make recordings. I get hyper-focused and obsessive when I make records. I have to make them the best they can be.
AC: You write strong choruses. Some have described the melodies as bubblegum. What artists or records do you look to for inspiration when you’re crafting a chorus?
TS: I like trying to think about all the different kinds of choruses you can do and mixing it up as much as I can. I was just thinking about that the other day! I did a song yesterday that’s just one riff the entire time, then you add different layers in and out to make it the chorus or the verse and the bridge. If you listen to a lot of songs, that’s what they do. The Nirvana song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” is just one riff the whole song. There’s no change. I was tripping out on that.
“Gloria” is like that too. A lot of classic songs are. So I’ll get stuck on an idea and try to pull that off, like a singular riff song. But then I’m also a super spazz, so I get bored an' move on to something else.
AC: You’re known for being prolific — putting out three albums in a year, even. When it’s all said and done, how many albums do you want to have released?
TS: By the time I’m dead?
AC: Yup. Haven’t you ever thought about that?
TS: I don’t really care about that. I would be stoked if there was just one classic record in there. That’s the only real goal. With each one, I think I learn something about writing and also weaknesses I have. Then I try to keep it in mind next time around.
AC: I know a lot independent musicians who look up to you because you create so much music and you do it yourself. What advice do you have for them?
TS: People have sometimes asked me what did I do to get to where I am. You just gotta do what you’re doing. That’s the only thing. There’s no advice that one can give to someone except just go out and do it! Make a record. If you want people to hear it, go on tour. If you want more people to hear it, then go on tour more often. It’s like that OBN III’s song [“Do My Thing”] – do your thing!