By: Liz Tracy
He is the man that your head-banging, no-good punk ass needs to thank immediately for keeping rock 'n' roll brash, beautifully loud, unpredictable, and incredibly exciting.
Over the course of six years and dozens of albums, EPs, and singles, Ty Segall, the 27-year-old Orange County-bred and Bay Area-ripened rock virtuoso, has industriously infused an almost antiquated genre with new sounds and new life, as he blends the dark delights of Sabbath and the trippiness of psych with the million other brilliant strains of fuzzy tuneage that swirl forever through the hidden chambers of his kaleidoscopic mind.
But it's not just the ingenuity and originality of his recorded product — Ty Segall is also one of the most scintillating showmen around. He arrives on the stage, an unassuming, blond, baby-faced angel who proceeds to bring knee-shaking intensity, physicality, and intimacy to each moment. Segall doesn't have to encourage extreme reactions from the crowd, he inspires them. At SXSW in 2011, we witnessed a man climb onto a giant speaker, over a dozen feet in the air, and fling himself — safety be damned — down into a furiously frothing crowd.
We asked Segall about his secret formula for creating unhinged rock 'n' roll shows. But "it's funny," he says. "We've been doing it so long, I don't even know anymore what happens. It just kind of happens. We used to always talk about going to war, and killing the audience.
"[Now] it's more just like we really want to affect people the best we can. I am of the opinion that it's hard to affect people these days. I think you have to try your best. Because everybody knows about every music festival, everyone's seen and heard everything. So you really have to go for it."
Aside from combustible live gigs, Segall's also notorious for his prolific musical output, usually working with friends in various iterations, such as Fuzz and the Ty Segall Band. "I'm a huge fan of my friends' music. I consider myself lucky to have friends that make a bunch of crazy music," he says, mentioning a few acts that he digs, from the Zig Zags and Meatbodies to Wands, whose new album, Ganglion Reef, was released via his God? imprint on the Drag City record label.
However, Segall's most recent effort, Manipulator, was crafted solo. It took him much longer to complete than previous albums, but it was worth the extra time. "I like to think that in the moment of every record I've done that I've tried the hardest on it or whatever," he says, adding with a laugh, "But I do feel that I'm happy with [this one]."
As for the contrast between working alone and creating music with others, he explains, "The band record is a 100-percent collaborative effort. All those songs were written in a room with everybody playing. By myself, I'm writing all the songs and playing all the instruments. So this one, it ends up being a different kind of music. When I'm with my band and we're writing together, it's usually a lot more aggressive and faster, which I love, which is great. The main difference is they're completely different bands, in the writing process."
We wondered if the Manipulator experience had been a lonely one after working so intently with friends in the past. "I wanted that feeling, to be honest. Because I wanted to get to a different place that I'd never gotten to before. That's the kind of place where you need to be alone and focusing on something a month straight, because you go insane a little bit, and that was kind of the spot I wanted to get to while working on it."
Surprisingly, given his history of superhuman productivity, Segall's not already prepping his next album, EP, or single at the moment. "I'm a bit spent with writing right now," he concedes. "I'm enjoying the idea of doing one record a year, maybe a little longer in between records."
But he's not worried about bouncing back from being a tad burnt out. "That just kind of happens randomly or when it's supposed to happen. I don't try to force anything. I like to do stuff that's non-musical. When I'm not writing, I shift over to, like, Alright, now it's time to surf a lot, go outside. That's good for the mind."
As is the Ty Segall experience. Catch it whenever you can.