Raincoats, Jell-O and dinosaur Care Bears. Not many artists would dare broach such troubling topics, but for Ariel Pink this is just everyday chitchat. The offbeat rock and roller from Beverly Hills is back, and this time he’s got a new name, a new record and a new sense of self-worth – all very impressive considering the difficulties he has had to face in the last couple of years. “My ex-band-mate, the person who took out the lawsuit [on me], I should send him a postcard really,” he says merrily, “Because everything that’s happened since then has been great.”
In case you weren’t aware, it’s former drummer Aaron Sperske who is the ex-band-mate in question. Coinciding with the release of 2011’s ‘Mature Themes’, a lawsuit was filed due to disagreements over royalties and songwriting credit. It’s a subject that Ariel is still quietly exasperated by. “To have someone claim that they owned you or that they owned a quarter of you, and to actually, like, have a court system entertain the claim, was ludicrous to me because I just didn’t understand how that could happen.” He exhales slightly. “It was a waste of a year.” As a consequence, he realised that some things had to change. His latest album, ‘pom pom’ sees his official recording name change from Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti to just Ariel Pink. “I made it very difficult when I started the project in the 90s, making it out to be a band… it was always a solo project… it has always been a solo project.”
"I’m surprised I’m not dragged into the street and beaten by today’s youth…"
— Ariel Pink
Despite the difficulties with his last album, Ariel is extremely hopeful now. There is so much excitement that his voice is practically sizzling – “‘Mature Themes’ I can’t even listen to because of the memories, [but ‘pom pom’ is] a total, happy celebration and it’s a great time,” he beams, “the approach I took on this record was vastly different from the approach I took on ‘Mature Themes’ – or any other records for that matter.” With the 69-minute runtime and extra-abstract wordplay, that news comes as no surprise. “I wanted to make it feel like an event, you know? Make it hard on everybody to endure. A little nod and a wink to the double record that’s gone the way of the dinosaurs.”
And ‘pom pom’ is without doubt a celebration. Seventeen tracks of eccentric lo-fi, triumphant rifts and bizarre lyrics (“it’s all bullshit”) make it one of Ariel’s most ambitious records yet, with some tracks shamelessly straying into a more commercial, radio-friendly territory. Is this a conscious choice? “The goal is to make the thing bigger than yourself, to blow up and hopefully speak a universal language that people can relate to.” Surprisingly, when discussing the topic further, he doesn’t flinch at the words ‘accessibility’ and ‘conventionality’ – quite the opposite, in fact. “I’m far more conventional now, just by virtue of the fact that I’ve been somewhat absorbed into the mainstream,” he explains. “I’m surprised anybody likes it. I’m surprised I’m not dragged into the street and beaten by today’s youth… The world is a lot weirder and I’m less weird as a consequence. The world has accepted the weirdness.”
“I wanna be able to say anything I want without being held accountable for it.”
— Ariel Pink
It was a slow and steady acceptance, however - Ariel has been making music for 26 years and was only discovered and signed to Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks in 2003. It’s been a long slog, and his growing success now has certainly been earned. “I was a very, very disturbed child. I came from a broken family,” he remembers. “[This success is because of] circumstance and conviction and belief on my part... But I’m not bitter about it. I was planning on doing it forever, I just didn’t expect the world to come around.” When talking about where he thinks the music world is headed next, Ariel places a heavy emphasis on the “kids” before breaking into a calm rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ – “I believe that children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”
Ariel is light-hearted and chatty, it’s only when the subject turns to recent controversies that his tone drops. The problem is, he’s almost becoming as known for his divisive political statements as he is for his music. “I can’t help but be political! I’m politically incorrect. There’s still an angry five-year-old in me to beat his chest and make a fool of himself,” he says, sounding a little dejected. “It’s embarrassing and it’s humiliating to actually be on trial, it seems, for who I am... I wanna be able to say anything I want without being held accountable for it. I honestly just want to run my mouth, and not have to apologise for what I say, because I’m not trying to say anything that is trying to make any sense or any point. I can’t help it because I’ve invested so much of my sense of self and identity into what I’ve done for so long, that I don’t have another personality...”
This flash of sadness is actually quite disarming, but he perks up again quickly. It’s clear that he’s starting to learn from his mistakes, and this new wave of positive thinking is what he’s set on focusing on. “People like me are called mentally retarded or they’re called genius. I don’t know which one I am,” he states, proudly. “I just want people to love me. I’m only happy if other people like me.”
Taken from the November issue of DIY, out now. Ariel Pink’s new album 'pom pom' is out now via 4AD.