ABOVE: ARIEL PINK. PHOTO COURTESY OF GRANT SINGER
In 2010, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti released its left-field breakthrough album Before Today, and since then, 36-year-old Ariel Rosenberg has graduated from a quasi-obscure musician to something of a household name. Today, the Los Angeles native releases pom pom, his first solo album under his moniker Ariel Pink, and his third with independent British record label, 4AD.
Pink’s fearless creativity and no-filter conversational style drew attention to his music in the past and pom pom follows suit–on the surface, the 17-track album might seem like a hodgepodge collection, but it soon gives way to startling moments of tenderness. He swings from murky darkwave in “Not Enough Violence” to Rick James trance channeling in “Sexual Athletics,” tales of strip clubs in “Black Ballerina,” and even a corporate commercial ruse in “Jell-O.” However, breaking through this apparent chaos, is Pink, wielding his ability to evoke nearly every strange, uncomfortable and awkward, yet life-affirming emotion imaginable.
We caught up with Pink in Los Angeles between DJ sets, donut giveaways, and an appearance with Hollywood icon Angelyn, where he told us about going solo, evading the press, and his increasing desire to simply just please people.
ALY COMINGORE: I know you were really into art and theater when you were in school. Did you always enjoy performing as much as you enjoyed making things?
ARIEL PINK: Yes totally. I was in school plays and all that stuff. I think I would probably say that performance came first. I was definitely a thespian of sorts in elementary school. [laughs] I went to a real small private school and every year I participated in the talent shows and the school plays, all of ’em. I played Adam in the Adam and Eve story. It was very “Me and Julio Down By the School Yard.” I sang “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses for my sixth grade talent show and I wanted to be an actor when I was younger. It was all very, very theatrical. It was only later that I separated the two and thought of myself as quite the opposite of an actor.
COMINGORE: Was it more difficult to get in front of an audience when it was your stuff, rather than someone else’s?
PINK: Yeah, and it’s still not easy for me. It’s extremely nerve-wracking, especially if my mom’s in the audience. As I get older it doesn’t seem to go away, it just seems to get worse. I want to sit down more. I’ve kind of gotten more timid. I used to be fearless–at a certain point I didn’t care about what anybody thought. I had all the answers and I could have been as bad as I wanted to be. But nowadays I just want to be good and make people happy.
COMINGORE: Does your mom go to a lot of shows?
PINK: Oh yeah, are you kidding me? We have to alert Goldenvoice and not let her in the building every time she’s within a mile radius.
COMINGORE: In New York, you told the PS22 Chorus kids in that a lot of your best songs came from ideas you had when you were much younger. How far back do the beginnings of pom pom songs go?
PINK: It’s pretty recent. The last song on the record, “Dayzed Inn Daydreams,” was a song I wrote in 2004. But I didn’t write the lyrics until this year. The chorus was there, but the verse wasn’t. There have been some demos that circulated. There was a version of it on Oddities Sodomies Vol. 1., but that’s it. Everything else has been pretty damn new. I take elements from certain songs that haven’t been released, but I’ve been doing that forever. It’s like crawling over your sketchbook over and over again. I never see songs as permanent. I’m always in a state of revising everything.
COMINGORE: Did you know going in that you wanted to do a double album?
PINK: No, [but] it’s kind of my default go-to. Back in the day, you’d only release double albums and when we say double album, we mean enough to put on one CD. On a record, an album could only hold 23 minutes at most per side, but then CDs can hold so much more that you basically put a double record, four sides, on a single CD. It’s an old format adjustment. It’s filling up the time and space with as many songs as possible so you get the most bang for your buck.
COMINGORE: So was there anything specific driving the song selection process?
PINK: No, not at all. There really wasn’t much extra fat lying around that we didn’t use. Almost everything that was started was completed serendipitously. I sort of made that call to stop writing. We wrapped everything, went back to the songs in their various states, and decided to cap it at 17.
COMINGORE: Do you want to talk a little bit about how the writing process for this one compared to Mature Themes? You were working mostly by yourself, correct?
PINK: Not even by myself, really. I was just writing with more impunity. Or I was just not considering the band itself as a thing. It’s like a parent taking their kids to Disneyland for the weekend. There are five kids and you want to keep a leash on them, keep track of them, and get them all their cotton candy and take them to the roller coasters that they want to go on. You have to humor them a little bit. This is me taking them to Disneyland and letting myself run free and having them wait for me at the end of every roller coaster, asking me where I wanted to go next. I basically kept everybody in the dark and on a need-to-know basis in every step of the process, so that nobody got to feel too much like it was their thing.
COMINGORE: Did you enjoy the process more this time around?
PINK: Absolutely. When I get to do whatever I want I’m perfectly happy. I’ve found that the best scenario is that I just do what I do, and if somebody wants to be part of it they should work as a conduit for what vision I have. They should help me complete the universe. This is my solo project, and if one of the other players was doing their solo project and they wanted to have me come in and help them with that, I would be completely subservient to their thing. I would love to just take direction from them in any kind of way possible. But this is my solo project. Even though it’s been a band and it’s been different things, it’s always been my solo project. That should be understood and respected a lot more than maybe it has in the past.
COMINGORE: Why did you decide on the name pom pom?
PINK: It was the last decision that was made, really. I left it up to the person who designed the sleeve of the record. He sort of kept on pushing for a title. We were just going to name it Ariel Pink and have it be known as “The Pink Album”—because of the pink album cover–so it would be like The White Album. But he just kept throwing out titles and I kept saying, “No, no, no, no, no.” And then he was like, “I got it—pom pom!” And I was like, “Okay.”
POM POM IS OUT NOW VIA 4AD. FOR MORE INFORMTAION ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.