ABOVE: TIM PRESLEY, AKA WHITE FENCE. PHOTOS BY CARA ROBBINS
Home recording nerds looking for their stoic-cool icon may have found a patron saint in Tim Presley. Under his White Fence moniker, Presley has spent the past four years exercising a special kind of bedroom project productivity. He’s released five (soon to be six) full-lengths, and elevated his four-track recordings from fuzzy sketches to intricately nuanced works of art. After years fronting psych rock quintet Darker My Love, White Fence was the inevitably obsessive solo project, and even in its infant stages it seemed best left sequestered in an anonymous L.A. apartment.
But, like most prolific artists do, Presley’s love affair with his homebound muse eventually petered out, leaving room for a fresh creative spark to saunter in. Cue Ty Segall. On paper, Segall and Presley seem eerily similar, like the kind of guys who would either bond for life or declare each other mortal enemies. Both have work-horse-like outputs; both show a deep seeded reverence for guitar rock of the 1960s; and both have honed a sound by scrambling their reference points into a jangly soup of garage, psych, punk, and folk. In 2012, the pair sealed their long-orbiting fate with Hair, a collaborative split record that somehow managed to be a sum greater than its parts. And next month, they’ll re-ingratiate themselves to the masses via White Fence’s latest, For the Recently Found Innocent.
Produced by Segall in his tiny L.A. garage-turned-studio, Innocent marks the first White Fence album constructed outside of the bedroom, as well as the first with a live drummer. But it’s also a stunning culmination of the kind of abstracted, vaguely indebted weirdo pop that Presley has been tinkering with since the start. The record’s first single, “Like That,” which we’re premiering today, is a playfully anthemic take on wealth, envy, and big dreams. “When I first wrote it I was like, ‘Dude, I just wrote a hit,'” Presley laughs of the track’s catchiness. “I was almost embarrassed to record it. I almost threw it away. But Ty was like, ‘What about that song?’ So we cut it. It’s a weird one.” After the jump, we chat with Presley about the forthcoming album and accidental self-portraiture.
ALY COMINGORE: Obvious questions first: What made you want to leave your house this time around?
TIM PRESLEY: I think I felt like it was time for a change. I really wanted to try and do something different, shake it up a little. And Ty and I work really well together, so it just seemed like a natural thing. He’s really enthusiastic about projects, and that makes me stoked.
COMINGORE: And Ty is in L.A. now.
COMINGORE: Who got the conversation started?
PRESLEY: After my last album came out, Cyclops Reap, we started talking about recording a White Fence record, but with his eight-track instead of my four-track. We talked about it and talked about it and finally he was getting kicked out of his place. He had just built a cool little studio in his garage, so we had a month left to do it; it was a now-or-never kind of thing. But Ty shook me out of my indifference and apathy about going into the studio. He basically got me off my ass and got me to just do it. He put a time clock on it and forced me to focus up and conceptualize it.
COMINGORE: Do you want to talk a bit about the dynamic between the two of you?
PRESLEY: We just work well together, I think. We speak the same language. It’s weird. It’s a special thing that’s hard to talk about. [laughs] I’m just kidding. But it is hard to explain. We don’t talk about stuff. It’s not like your typical musicians in the room talking about a song and how it goes and how it should go. We both trust each other, and with that trust I think you’re able to shine and do exactly what you want to do and then the other person massages it into whatever, and vice versa.
COMINGORE: Were you working with a lot of material going in?
PRESLEY: I had to choose from something like 100 songs.
COMINGORE: Is that kind of your deal, to write a lot and then whittle it down?
PRESLEY: Yeah. I write every day, every night. It’s all I do, kind of. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’ve almost become addicted to it. There have been nights where there’s an opportunity to hang out with friends or go somewhere, and I’ve said no and I ended up writing a really good song [laughs]—I mean, I impressed myself. So now I always think, “Oh man, I could have gone out and I would have never written that song.” When I write I will go and record it immediately, or I’m in there tweaking around with stuff, and I might not have got that cool sound had I gone out. Since then it’s just become my go-to response: “No, I’m busy. No, I’m busy. No, I’m busy.”
COMINGORE: It’s the inverse of the fear of missing out.
PRESLEY: It’s the fear of missing in. [laughs]
COMINGORE: What kind of purpose does music serve for you, do you think?
PRESLEY: It feels like therapy, actually. A lot of people come out of a therapy session and feel like a weight has been lifted—I got it out, I cried, I feel good. I think for me this is just my way of doing that. It’s the only avenue I have that fulfills that, that makes me feel good about myself. And I don’t mean that in regards to the rewards, or like getting some good review. That’s not what it’s about. It’s more about trying to please myself. It’s really sick and weird.
COMNIGORE: I want to talk a little bit about the cover art. Did you paint it?
PRESLEY: I did. That was kind of an accident.
COMINGORE: You painted yourself on accident?
PRESLEY: I didn’t know what to do for a cover, so I just started painting. I was thinking, “Oh, I think an abstract painting,” and then it morphed into a face and I was like, “Oh no. I always go there.” And then all of a sudden it fucking looked like me. It’s like, how narcissistic is that? I had it up on my computer because I had scanned it and my wife was like, “What’s that?” I was like, “Oh it’s this painting I did. It’s weird, right?” And she was like, “You should use that as your cover.”
COMNIGORE: It’s cool. It takes a second to realize it’s even a person.
PRESLEY: Oh, that’s good! Me and Kyle [Thomas] from King Tuff-I was telling him the story and I was like, “Yeah, it was an accidental self-portrait,” and he was like, “Dude, that should be the album name.”
COMINGORE: Did you entertain that idea?
PRESLEY: Yeah, but then I thought about record snobs being like, “Oh, it’s just a rip-off of Dylan’s Self Portrait.”
COMINGORE: But accidental.
PRESLEY: But accidental. I do think it’s funny that I didn’t mean to do it and it ended up being my face. It looks exactly like me. It’s really strange. I’m almost embarrassed about it, but I figured anything that makes me feel that weird should definitely be an album cover.
COMINGORE: What’s the story behind the album title?
PRESLEY: After the record was done and I did a reel-in of all the lyrics and stuff, I noticed a common thread. It kind of popped out. The whole record is pretty basically built around the darker emotions—anger, greed, guilt, envy, fear, pain—and every song deals with that, but not necessarily through my own thing. They’re stories that come through me, or are about me watching and seeing someone else’s problem, or greed, or envy. It all kind of covers that spectrum.
COMINGORE: Was there a jumping-off point or a catalyst that pushed you in that direction?
PRESLEY: I don’t know if retrograde is real, but it seems as though every time I feel my soul being crushed it tends to always be around that time. I think the world as a whole has been on that level too lately, so that’s where most of the lyrics come from. It’s a mix between the world’s problems and my own. The world’s problems make us think about who we are and where we stand, and how we measure up. I think it is a dark time. Not all the lyrics are topical—sometimes that is just the setting. They are all pretty much interpersonal. For some reason it’s easier to write about people who are unsavory. [It’s like] sometimes when you peel back an onion, there is mold inside.
COMINGORE: And the first single is “Like That.” What got that one started?
PRESLEY: It’s basically about that moment you leave the nest, go through college, live on your own and all of that—basically me until the present, and all of my friends, and a lot of my generation, I guess. It’s very literal, but that was kind of the point. It’s kind of tongue in cheek, too. It’s half-silly, half-serious. If you have friends who have parents who are kind of rich and you see that and you think, “Well, I’m shit poor. What would I do with that money if I was in their position? How would I live if I made a really good salary and I could afford nice cars and a nice house?” I don’t know anyone of my friends that could afford to buy a house, at least in L.A. It’s kind of like, “Am I going to live in an apartment my whole life?” There’s a little bit of envy in it, but also not really. It’s fun to dream. It’s kind of like, “What would I do if I won the lottery?” But it’s also fucking sad because, like I said, am I ever going to own a house? I doubt it. It would be cool though. I feel like everyone could relate to that song. Except for the one percent.