Ariel Pink's Ariel Rosenberg on his breakout album and art-world con-artists

In this week's Rough Mixes entry, we got a much needed introduction to Ariel Rosenberg, the creative force behind Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. He has a reputation for being a bit of a pistol, but now that we've felt him out, we feel comfortable digging a little deeper. In this extended Q&A, a jet-lagged Rosenberg talks about the processes behind his breakout album Before Today, art-world con-artists, and a journalist's need to create a narrative even where one doesn't exist.

Westword (Jonathan Easley): You just got back from your European tour, how was that?

Ariel Rosenberg: It was good, it was good. I think we ripped it up, the venues were a little bit small, but hopefully that won't be the case next time.

WW: Let's talk about your new album, Before Today. It's the first album that you didn't self-record, your first time in the studio, is that right?

AR: That's right.

WW: What was that experience like? Was it difficult having more people with their hands on your product?

AR: Yeah, it was challenging but it was good. It was a change, but not that big of a change. I'm used to working with people, contrary to popular belief I'm no stranger to collaboration. It was more of an exercise in diplomacy, in making a few compromises here and there, but I don't mind that.

WW: Did you have a bunch of new equipment at your disposal?

AR: The equipment isn't really a make or break thing for me. I make use of whatever is around, and there wasn't really that much new equipment around. Doing the album digitally was a marked change for me.

WW: What attracted you to this? What made it the right time to jump to a bigger label and get in the studio?

AR: Just having that label support. We didn't have anyone bigger trying to sign us before this, and that's what I've always been trying to do. It took a little bit longer than I would have liked, but that's always been the goal, to get that support.

WW: Your relationships with Animal Collective and R. Stevie Moore started with tape exchanges, how did the relationship with your new label 4AD come about?

AR: Simon Halliday is the head of 4AD, he contacted me years ago when he was still with Warp Records. He told me then that at the right time he would consider signing us, but nothing really happened. We didn't hear back from him for quite some time, and then he became the head of 4AD, and in that role he has a lot more say over who to sign. He'd been keeping tabs over our development throughout the years, and so he set it in motion. It was a long, involved process of negotiations, all that boring shit.

WW: Did being on a bigger label put any restrictions on you? Was there a certain product they were looking for?

AR: They trusted me, I don't offer decisions with my art. It's not like they could offer much in telling me what to do, they don't make the music. They signed me, so there's a fair amount of faith involved there. I'd give them an ear if they had any suggestions or wanted something. We had to whittle the track list down from my initial idea, which was to have certain other tracks on there, but they were thinking that less is more. But they weren't involved in the creative process at all, that would've been a no-no.

WW: You're touring with a full band now, is that a new discipline for you?

AR: No, that's the most established part of the whole thing. I've been playing live now with the same guys for the last three years, and even beyond that. One of our guys put Worn Copy out before it was reissued for Paw Tracks, so I've known some of these people for a long time. I've known Aaron (Sperske) on drums for three years and I've been in other bands with him, so I've been playing with these guys since before 4AD. Really for the past five years I've been playing with various line-ups, so that's nothing new for me.

WW: Now that you're on a bigger label and your new album is getting stellar reviews, are you noticing that you're getting a lot more attention, and if so, are you cool with that?

AR: Oh yeah man, I love the attention, are you kidding me? But the increased attention just kind of goes with the climate of things, the record is out right now and I got a publicist, and he does what he does. I can't take credit for all that.

WW: Everyone is rightfully going bananas over the song "Round and Round," and I saw in the liner notes that that was the only track recorded at Abbey Road Studios. What's the story behind that?

AR: That song in particular was picked by 4AD to be the likely single, which I found surprising. I wouldn't have chosen that one, but they saw it differently. But as the first single it had to be delivered and mastered by a deadline and we hadn't finished the record yet, so we had to speed up the process and deliver that track a little bit earlier than the rest of the album.

4AD facilitated an Abbey Road mastering session, so we prepared the track and sent it off to their guy. When they sent us back the result we kind of went back and forth a few times, but it was cool. After that we had our album mastering sessions, and at that point rather than mastering it again we just kind of added it to the track list. After that we had a little bit of minor mastering, but it was just kind of a formality.

WW: I've read about your interests in art and painting, and even in other areas like science and politics. Do you see music as a long term enterprise for you or could you see yourself getting involved in something else?

AR: That's true, I mean I'm just interested in everything, you know? You can call it whatever you want, I'm just really interested in the world around me. I don't try to just keep myself in a bubble...well, I kind of do, but you know, I get out here and there. But as I get older I kind of feel differently about different things and I can't help it. I don't think I'm really qualified to say anything of much value in any of those industries, or in those areas, but I can run my mouth about most anything.

WW: Are you surprised that music broke for you how it did? Did you have something else in mind when you went to art school, or was it always going to be about music?

AR: For my thesis project when I went to art school, for the gallery show I actually sold The Doldrums at a kiosk. That was my artistic, kind of rebellious stance there. I was extremely defiant, I didn't like the gallery system, and I don't like the art world; I think it's pretty much a joke. I can appreciate the music world a little bit more, it's more of a way to make a living in a little way, and people understand what they're paying for. No slight to Damien Hirst or anything like that, but I think art is a con job...which is cool, which is cool. I'd need to do a few cons myself if I was trying to make a living in that industry for that long.

WW: You mentioned The Doldrums, most of your early work culled your back catalogue of songs written in the 90s and early 2000s. When did you start writing music?

AR: I started when I was about eight or nine, but I was kind of just playing stuff around the house. I didn't really learn how to play anything until, uh...well I still don't even know. I've been writing songs longer than I've been playing them, so it goes back a ways. I've always had an interest in music, but I still feel like an outsider. I'm just happy to be making music, happy to be a part of it.

WW: Absolutely. Well cool man, that's all I have. Is there anything else you wanted to get out there?

AR: No, not really. Just that I love my parents, and I'm glad they get to read something where they see what I'm doing.

WW: For sure, I know the feeling.

AR: Everybody wants to talk about my family and make a tragedy out of it, like it's some sort of tragic narrative, and I'm just like give me a fucking break. I got great parents, so I want to give them something positive to read.

WW: Hey man, you got it.

AR: Yeah, love you mom!

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, with Magic Kids and Puro Instinct (formerly Pearl Harbor), 9pm, Saturday, July 17th, Bluebird Theater, 3317 E. Colfax, $11, 303-377-1666.

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Jonathan Easley
Contact: Jonathan Easley