Chatting to Ariel Pink is a little like listening to his music: it’s tangential, borderline disorientating, but still inflected by some kind of lopsided and yet inevitable sense of conclusion. Indeed, with his halting, scrambled lines of thought, and the long pauses between question and response, there is a direct parallel between the man himself and his new record, Dedicated To Bobby Jameson, an album that feels in many ways like a return to his lo-fi, cassette-based early days.
Not that Dedicated is some glorified art project, or a creaking exercise in nostalgia. As an album, Dedicated features all the kinetic and effervescent grooves we’ve come to expect from Pink – though there are still some singsong glimmers here and there of his tirade against the modern music industry. After all, now pushing 40, Pink confesses he “isn’t a spring chicken anymore”; a sentiment expressed in the way songs wobble like geriatrics between moods.
For lack of a better way of putting it: I don’t like interviews.
“The whole album was a product of my relationship with my 8-track,” Pink says. “It’s a homecoming; it’s me reigniting the flame of my youth. There aren’t any studios anymore that are worthy of the price tag. They’re way too expensive. The standard sound you can get in your house is as clean as it gets, so there’s no reason for me to go to an analogue studio to record a rock band.”
His voice trails out, the crackle on the phoneline a kind of sonic ellipsis. To be honest, all this is probably to be expected: Pink has gone on the record more than once on the subject of his dislike of being interviewed. In response, some interviewers have resorted to name-calling: they’ve variously called him an “indie provocateur”, a “hermetic weirdo” and a “controversial savant”. But when asked why he hates interviews so much, his response seems to dust-bust these conflated labels. Pink is, after all, nothing if not to the point.
“It’s not that I don’t like talking about myself,” Pink says. “It’s that the interview is a very frustrating experience, because people tend to ask the same questions and I’m fulfilling the task of having to restate myself so many times. Also, I end up saying things about myself over and over again – and I start not believing them. I read articles and think, ‘No that’s not the case; that’s a soundbite.’ So yeah, for lack of a better way of putting it: I don’t like interviews.”
Pink has always had an iron-cast sense of aesthetics. That’s obvious in his music videos – technicolour curios like the clip for ‘Put Your Number In My Phone’, the single off his last record Pom Pom – and in his dress sense, which cartwheels between the dadaist and absurd and the genuinely trendy. A quick tour through his new album’s tracklist, and it seems like Pink hasn’t let his eye fog up yet: Dedicated is full of songs about bubble-gum and narcissists and witches and Santa.
Oh, and Bobby Jameson of course, the record’s devotee, who was an obscure Californian singer-songwriter who never quite made it. “What I see in him is a kernel of the angst I grew up with and felt at a time before I arguably made it,” Pink says. He is drawn to Jameson’s honesty; to his crystalline, poppy songwriting; and, perhaps most importantly, to his ability to crawl back from the dead.
“[Jameson] came out of nowhere back in 2007 after a long hiatus. Before that, people thought he was dead. I didn’t know about him then. I only found his blog a year ago, and I read it as though it were, like, the elixir of life, man. The way he wrote was no bullshit, telling you as it is, without any fanciful artifice … and the way he dealt with disenchantment resonated with me.”
And for good reason. After all, if one wanted to, it wouldn’t be hard to draw connections between Jameson, a fallen angel of the Californian music scene, and Pink’s own growing disillusionment with an industry vanishing beneath his feet. In more ways than one, the story of Jameson forced Pink to contemplate the story of his own musical origins. “I got my first acknowledgement at age 26. Before then, it was me against the world. Nobody paid attention, nobody acknowledged me; not even my family. It was just me fixating on a juvenile and adolescent fantasy. All I needed were a couple of reviews in Uncut Magazine: a sign that I existed. I wanted to know I had an effect. I wanted to make fireworks in the form of a record.”
It’s hard to see that kind of uncertainty and fear in Pink these days. He seems safe; supremely confident. He has, after all, carved himself a nice little niche, settling into a hollow entirely of his own making, where he churn out his bizarre, oozing records without having to worry about intrusion.
But he once was, if not the wide-eyed innocent frequently seen with suitcase in hand during the opening act of music biopics, then a man unused to the industry. “I used to have reason to believe there wasn’t going to be an audience waiting for me. There was little chance of anything I did having a market … If I had never received my acknowledgement, I would probably to this day be ranting and raving, like Bobby Jameson was in 2007. Bobby was a guy waiting for his first car to pull up.”