Never Satisfied

Ariel Pink has come a long way since his early home recordings

For singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ariel Pink, making music generally has been a process of "biting off more than I can chew."

"For me, all the confidence was there before there was anything in the way of skill," Pink confided during a recent interview. "Sometimes I got feedback that was critical, but I always thought it was cool to challenge myself and make mistakes to learn more about my own abilities. You have to learn from your failures as well as from your successes. And that certainly helped me grow a thicker skin in regards to many things."

Listeners familiar with Pink's early 21st-century home recordings—charming ultra-lo-fi experiments that he recorded primarily by himself on a computer—will be taken aback by the evolution shown on his latest album, Before Today.

Nowadays, the Los Angeles-based Pink employs a full band, the colorfully named Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. He's evolved into a promising sonic alchemist, deriving new elements from amalgams of classic pop, garage-punk, glam and prog rock, DayGlo psychedelia, bouncy R&B, '80s post-punk and new wave, effervescent melodies, lush Beach Boys-style harmonies, and the occasional eccentric sound effect or found sound.

The difference between Pink's beginnings and his current blossoming is like comparing a dial-up Internet connection to a 4G network.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti will perform next Thursday, Aug. 5, at Plush. Opening for Pink will be Puro Instinct, a 1970s-style pop act from Los Angeles fronted by sisters Piper and Skylar Kaplan that was until recently known as Pearl Harbor. Tucson-based group The Electric Blankets will round out the bill.

Pink has been compulsively writing songs since he was 9 or 10 years old, he said.

"I was always really into music, idolizing rock stars, especially heavy metal. I started recording my own stuff in my room, and I got into more freeform and experimental music. I was able to start constructing music that I found enjoyable without worrying about whether it was sonically 'good' in an objective sense or whatever."

When he was growing up in Los Angeles, Pink was a self-described obsessive music fan.

"I used to work in a record shop. I was a rock snob of sorts, but I had to hear everything. I still love music, but the older that I get, the less I need to listen to other guys. One song will get me through two or three months. I don't need to eat up every album that comes out. Now I have a healthier, well-rounded attitude toward music."

The public started hearing Pink with his CD-R debut, The Doldrums, which in 2000 marked the first of his many homemade recordings.

In 2004, Pink secured a deal with Animal Collective's Paw Tracks record label, which released and distributed several of his solo home recordings, including The Doldrums. He began collaborating with other musicians on various projects under the Haunted Graffiti name (as well as other appellations), and by 2008, he had settled on a full-fledged band.

He said Haunted Graffiti "was primarily just me back in the day, before 2004. Since then, when I started playing live, I worked on creating music that sounded good live, and for that, I needed more musicians. I had various lineups over the past several years. But in the past 2 1/2 years, I've fixed on the lineup we have now, more or less and with a couple of exceptions."

On the advantages of playing with a whole band, Pink said, "You can't fake it. You can always tell when it hasn't been played by human beings."

The current Haunted Graffiti lineup includes bassist Tim Koh, keyboardist player Kenny Gilmore, drummer Aaron Sperske and guitarist Joe Kennedy (a recent addition to replace Cole M. Greif-Neill, who played on Before Today).

"It took some time, but I feel like I've settled on a good group. I can say with certainty that this is one of the best bands around," Pink said.

The band recently signed with the legendary British indie label 4AD, which this year released Before Today.

"This is a huge step for me and the band," Pink said of Before Today. "... (This record) serves the purpose in many ways as the first sort of welcome, like, 'Hi, I'm Ariel.' And although I respect anyone who has been kind enough to follow my music, I think there are a lot of new listeners out there, too."

Pink is pleased to be on a respected boutique label such as 4AD, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

"When I was younger, I felt that it was actually like, 'That band is on 4AD Records; I think I'll check them out just because of that.' These days, of course, it's different. There's a lot of filler (on the roster). But it's nice to be there."

Pink said making music is an ongoing quest that he suspects might never be finished. He hears certain sounds in his head that he can never quite translate into recordings, but he's getting closer.

"The more that I do it, the more that new things come to light that make me want to push it further and make it better. It's probably a self-deluding fantasy in my mind that I can achieve the ultimate realization of the sound I am looking for, but maybe that's part of the journey. I don't ever get satisfied. What's key is that I keep striving."


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