Photo: Courtesy of Mexican Summer

“You Can Have It All”: Ariel Pink on His Odds & Sods

Los Angeles pop weirdo Ariel Pink looks back at two early records freshly reissued by Mexican Summer and discusses his new Odditties Sodomies Vol. 2 rarities collection.

Ariel Pink
Mexican Summer
25 October 2019
Ariel Pink
Mexican Summer
25 October 2019
Odditties Sodomies Vol. 2
Ariel Pink
Mexican Summer
25 October 2019

Ariel Rosenberg doesn’t listen to his old albums much. “I’ve listened to them plenty,” he says.

The same can’t be said for fans of his project, formerly known as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and now known simply as Ariel Pink. (He insists Rosenberg is the songwriter and Pink is the project.) Though he’s best known for the excellent run of records he put out this decade on 4AD, the bulk of his output stems from the late ’90s and early ’00s when he recorded and released a vast trove of lo-fi pop whose influence on the faded, nostalgic milieu of 2010s indie rock would prove incalculable.

Two of these albums — 1999’s Underground and 2002’s Loverboy — were recently re-released by the Mexican Summer label along with Odditties Sodomies Vol. 2, a collection of rarities. More music will be released in 2020; Rosenberg’s not sure when, nor is he entirely sure why his old albums are being released. “I’m sure there’s some sort of marketing something to do with the appeal, I don’t know,” he says. “I’m not that clued into it.”

Underground was the first official Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti release. Recorded when Rosenberg was an undergrad at the California Institute of the Arts, it’s strikingly raw and guitar-focused compared to the gauzy burbles of bass and synth that would later define his sound.

Contrasting it with the “art” music popular at his alma mater, he calls it “guitar stuff — all the stuff a whole bunch of retro-heads and retro collectors were into.”

Rosenberg is a fan of Lester Bangs, the ’70s rock critic who championed raw, loud, crude, and otherwise primitive music. On Underground, we can hear traces of some of the bands Bangs championed, like the Shaggs and the Godz. The younger Rosenberg who made Underground might agree with Bangs’ assessment that “rock ‘n’ roll is not art; rock ‘n’ roll is a raw wail from the bottom of the guts.”

Raw wailing is a constant in the Pink catalog to this day, but art started to creep in soon enough. He compares his next album The Doldrums (excellent, yet to be reissued) to Carburetor Dung, a fictional album created by Bangs to lampoon 1960s garage bands’ transition to more progressive music.

By the time of Loverboy, the second album in this batch of reissues, his music didn’t seem hammered out but floated as if in midair. The guitar melodies got prettier, the quality of the recordings improved; there were more synths and pads. By this time, he’d left CalArts — he graduated but never bothered to attend his graduation or pick up his diploma — and was living in an ashram in L.A.

A few other names appear on Loverboy, including John Maus and Matt Fishbeck of Holy Shit, but Rosenberg doesn’t categorize it as collaborative work. “It’s entirely born of extreme isolation,” he says. “I was up in L.A. slogging three jobs, doing the music thing almost all the time, taking the inspiration whenever it came, and living [in the ashram] quite apart and isolated from everything else. It’s a very solo record.”

One track sadly not appearing on the reissue is “New Trumpets of Time”, a fan-favorite collaboration with Los Angeles artist coL, a.k.a. Colin Lipe. “I love that song, a lot of people love that song, but it really is a coL song,” Rosenberg says. “I felt it wasn’t fair to include it. Colin did give me the option of including it, but he’s got great stuff, and it should be heard on his own. I just played bass on that song and just did some other things. I can’t remember beyond that.”

Of the records Mexican Summer is putting out, the one that’ll get the most attention — and the one with the best reviews so far — is Odditties Sodomies Vol. 2. This is the second in an ongoing series of odds and ends, with a third promised next year. “I get my advance and start work on the next record, so I was still recording and doing stuff but for nothing in particular,” Rosenberg says. “I do the Odditties as a sort of repository for those one-offs.”

Though it’s culled from a span of over 20 years, Odditties be of most interest to fans for featuring some of the first publicly available one-offs from his 4AD tenure, which found him working with a full band and a considerable budget. “Bolivian Soldier” could compete with the best tracks on 2017’s Dedicated to Bobby Jameson, and “Party Zone Time” includes contributions from Mac DeMarco, whom Rosenberg met through his co-writer Patrik Berger.

In all, it has enough new material to be the closest thing to a new Pink album since Jameson.

“I would consider it that,” Rosenberg says. Interesting. Usually, artists delineate strictly between their official releases and the things that aren’t meant to be taken as part of their canon. But Rosenberg doesn’t seem like an artist who thinks much in terms of a canon. In fact, he doesn’t seem like he thinks much about his music once it’s done.

This isn’t a hallmark of laziness, but of the combination of confidence and apathy we see in musicians for whom great music comes too easily for them to take it as seriously as we do — musicians who can write brilliant pop songs like “Only in my Dreams” and then turn around and write “Schnitzel Boogie”. Tom Hulce’s farting Mozart from Amadeus comes to mind.

“I live and breathe music,” he says. “So normally, I’m not thinking about music if I don’t have to.”