August 14, 2018Feature

We speak with the enigmatic Ariel Pink ahead of his return to Dublin on August 16 in Button Factory.

“I try to not make deals with the devil. I am the devil!”


To borrow a line from David Bowie’s 1975 number one hit ‘Fame’,

‘Fame, it’s not your brain

It’s just the flame

That burns your change

To keep you insane’

The notion of ‘fame’ in the music industry is a highly contentious and widely-debated one. It evokes a question about what it means to have more fans, more money, more ego, more spotlight, and fame is the very first word that comes to my mind when Ariel Pink is concerned.

It’s a theme that seems somewhat up for debate in the mind of this unconventional genius. Just under a year has passed since he released his last album, ‘Dedicated to Bobby Jameson’, the title of which refers to a Californian musician tipped for stardom in the 1960s. While Jameson garnered a cult following, he retreated away from the music industry on the back of a series of unfortunate struggles, only to resurface online 40 years later with an autobiographical blog telling the story of his rendezvous with fame. The blog grabbed the attention of Ariel Pink and he felt that naming the album after someone else, one Bobby Jameson, would divert attention in the other direction.

‘Dedicated to Bobby Jameson’ carries the clear-cut essence of Pink’s reverb-heavy dream-pop. His unique brand of bedroom psychedelia is a harmonious concoction of folk, punk, kraut-rock and funk. The semi-concept album has at least a touch of David Bowie’s magical theatre in there too, with a hint of John Lennon. Interestingly, Lennon happened to collaborate with Bowie on the creation of ‘Fame’.

The record received widespread acclaim from critics and fans, so I ask Ariel what sort of effect he feels it’s had on his career.

“At least it’s being appreciated,” he tells me. “And new fans are getting turned on hopefully. I don’t see my lifestyle or career changing all that much ever really.”

In recent months, two fellow musicians have independently claimed Pink would have been as big as Bowie in another era.

Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon released a song in April called ‘The Mark Kozelek Museum’, the lyrics read”

‘Ariel Pink ain’t your run-of-the-mill indie rock

If it was 1975

He’d be a household name

And we’d be neck-and-neck

He’d be David Bowie famous

And I’d be Neil Young famous

Selling out arenas

But that ain’t the case here

In 2017′

“It’s kind of flattering,” Pink replies to my mention of the song. “I don’t agree with that sentiment, but hey, to each his own. Anything that draws attention to me in that way makes me kind of squeamish to be honest.”

The Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas made a similar remark just a month previous in an interview with Vulture. He said that Ariel Pink is analogous to Bowie and that “in another era, he would’ve been much more popular”.

He continued to confess that he strives to build a world in which “Ariel Pink is as popular as Ed Sheeran”. All this talk of bygone times had me thinking. What if Pink had the choice to exist as an artist back then? Would he step into the hypothetical time machine?

“I wouldn’t choose to perform if I had the choice. Take me back to the 90s please.”

The endorsements from Kozelek and Casablancas reminded me of a tweet Pink posted in May. It simply read, ‘wish i was more famous’. Did he though?

“I was being facetious. Of course, I don’t want to be more famous. I’m too famous as it is!”

Another brief reply. Was he being short with me or merely concise? It was beginning to become clear that the journalistic rumours about Pink were somewhat true. Artistic merit aside, he’s not always an easy man to interview. He once told The Guardian that one of his tactics is ‘to never stop talking once he starts, so the interviewer cannot ask any questions’.

Not a tactic being used in our conversation evidently.

"I read a lot, I think a lot, I talk a lot. I eat a lot. Smoke a lot. I do a lot of nothing and I’m not ashamed of that either.”

I ask him about the idea of selling one’s soul to the devil for fame, talent and success. Think of the rumours about Jay-Z, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Page, Paganini…

“I don’t know. I hope it makes them happy, I guess. I try to not make deals with the devil. I am the devil!”

The devil? I’m not sold, but Ariel Pink is a devil’s advocate for sure. He’s made comments during his time in the spotlight that the press has jumped on, for obvious reasons.

He’s voiced derogatory opinions about Madonna and Grimes and has claimed love for paedophiles (“like Jesus loved paedophiles”) and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Maybe the things he said were just spoken accidentally. Maybe his words were taken out of context. Maybe he was acting in support of free speech and ripping up the rulebook for the way an artist is meant to act these days, or maybe it’s just his twisted sense of humour.

When Stephen Hawking passed away in March Pink tweeted, ‘steven hawking would have made a great hollywood villain’. It should be pointed out, Stephen Hawking had previously said he’d make a good fit for a James Bond bad guy, but it still begs the question about Pink’s consideration for audience sensitivity. He also spelled Stephen’s name incorrectly. I broach the subject with him.

“No comment. That’s how I feel about all of it. I don’t want drama. I don’t want my thoughts under a microscope. I just wanna keep it clean, and say as little as possible, ok?”

Today is one of those days where Ariel Pink is choosing to be cautious about his opinions of others. Perhaps he’s willing to share something about himself, his driving forces, and what keeps him ticking.

“Personal question… I read a lot, I think a lot, I talk a lot. I eat a lot. Smoke a lot. I do a lot of nothing and I’m not ashamed of that either.”

We come to the end of our conversation. Although fleeting, it’s a welcome relief that when I ask Pink how he feels about maintaining a relationship with the media, he confirms his passiveness for interviews across the board.

“I have no opinion on it one way or the other. I’m fine with it. I don’t like interviews, but I don’t have a problem doing them in principle. What choice do I have anyway?”

Ariel Pink embarks on a sprawling tour of Europe this month. After more than 20 years in the game, and despite a self-proclaimed lack of desire to perform, he still puts a hell of a lot of heart and soul into each show for the fans.

“I’m getting too old to tackle the logistics; getting a band together, rehearsing, spending all sorts of money in advance, and that’s all before the tour starts. So much work! The best part is travelling and putting smiles on people’s faces.”

And so, Ariel Pink plays the Button Factory later this month. Alas, he hasn’t yet reached the level of recognition that he may deserve here in Ireland, but that’s just fine by me. Do us fans really want to watch him in a sold-out Croke Park, sitting on a €90 seat? No thanks.

This upcoming gig is an opportunity to see a should-be indie superstar in an intimate venue with great sound quality. It will make for a nice change from his last billing in the city when he played on the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 2016, supporting Patti Smith and Spiritualized. Torrential rain pushed dedicated revellers under the cover of nearby festival tents, where unfortunately the sound was as muddy as the surrounding fields.

“I’ll try and bring the sunshine this time,” he tells me. “See you there.”

Ariel Pink plays The Button Factory on August 16.

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