Ty Segall On Freedom’s Goblin, The Whole “Prolific” Thing, & The Hip-Hop Album He Hopes To Make
To be honest with you reader, Ty Segall, boy king of the American Garage Rock Scene, never struck me as a morning person. Or even a “get out of bed before noon”-type person.
Blame the trippy vibes of his 2014 Bowie-mash note Manipulator, or the psych-rock onslaught of Emotional Mugger for giving me that red-eyed impression, I suppose. But here we were at noon at New York’s Hotel Rivington, getting coffee and discussing Freedom’s Goblin, his forthcoming double-album.
True to the name, Freedom’s Goblin is Segall at both his wildest (there’s no flavor of classic rock grime he denies himself here) and most disciplined; the hooks gleam, the guitars sound ’70s-sized. It’s been a year since the last Segall album, which at one time was an eternity for him, but he made it worth the wait.
Segall is never one to stand still for long, and hours after our interview he would serve as the first musical guest for the Comedy Central far right-parody series The Opposition With Jordan Klepper, performing a gleaming version of new album highlight “My Lady’s On Fire” and displaying some impressive comic timing during a few bits with Klepper. (He really sold, but didn’t oversell, the part where he served as Klepper’s food taster.) But before that, we sat and discussed his career, his new album and more focused approach to music, why weed doesn’t agree with him, and why he’d prefer not to get much more popular than he already is, thank you very much.
STEREOGUM: Are you still in the Bay Area?
SEGALL: No, I live in LA now.
STEREOGUM: I knew you were in San Francisco for a long time. Was it just getting too gentrified?
SEGALL: I moved for family stuff, and then I just stayed because moving back would have been too expensive.
STEREOGUM: Which is a weird thing to say about LA, but I guess that says a lot about San Francisco.
SEGALL: Yeah, I mean LA is getting more expensive, too.
STEREOGUM: San Francisco has that garage rock scene that everyone knows about, with Oh Sees and the like. Do you fit in to the LA scene like you did in San Francisco?
SEGALL: I think it’s a lot different. It’s way bigger, there’s way more shit going on. I definitely have my friends, and we all share ideas and play together, so that’s a thing, I don’t know what that’s called.
STEREOGUM: Plus, you’re on tour all the time, I don’t know how much time you really have to spend in LA.
SEGALL: I’m not on tour that much anymore.
STEREOGUM: You’ve slowed down?
SEGALL: Yeah, maybe three, four months out of the year I’m on tour.
STEREOGUM: Did you make a conscious decision to calm down?
SEGALL: Yeah, I toured so much for so long. It’s fun, but it was kinda hand-to-mouth for a while, financially. Now I can step back a little bit. It’s better to play slightly fewer shows and make it be a special thing than to just burn yourself out.
STEREOGUM: What was the last day job you had?
SEGALL: I worked at a hydroponic factory where I built grow shelves. Now, they can call it weed grow cabinets, but back then it was illegal, so it was kind of described as, you know, urban vegetable cabinets.
STEREOGUM: What was that like?
SEGALL: It was cool. I don’t really smoke weed, but everybody else did, so it was a very laid-back atmosphere. Just like a shelf of records and a turntable and I would have to build like 400 fans for the week. And then I’d have to do 200 drip systems and I could leave.
STEREOGUM: I would think that some of the fans of your more psychedelic, danky side might be surprised to learn that you don’t smoke weed.
SEGALL: Well, I do randomly. I really like CBD. It’s the psychoactive element of weed that doesn’t mesh well with my brain. I used to smoke a lot of weed when I was a teenager. But no, I’ve taken a lot of psychedelics and tried many things all to interesting effect. But weed is just, I don’t know, the paranoid style hits me.
STEREOGUM: Do you need to stay clear-headed to stay so prolific?
SEGALL: Yes and no. I can totally understand why people smoke weed to relax and calm down. I also think there are different brains out there. I know a lot of people that focus more when they smoke weed. It’s just not my brain.
STEREOGUM: How soon did you start on Freedom’s Goblin after your last solo album came out?
SEGALL: Well, I had to sit on the last album for about six months, so I had actually taken probably a five-month break from writing, four-month break, maybe. So I started writing maybe right before it came out.
STEREOGUM: Did your label force you to slow down?
SEGALL: It’s kinda the idea that people already think I’m too prolific so I shouldn’t shove anything down anybody’s throats. It’s not fair to the album if people are gonna write it off already because of too much output. So, sit on it for a couple months, it’s fine. Just a couple months. If it was like, “sit on this for a year” or something, that’d be a problem. So I had to sit on that and also on this one too, for the same amount of time. I think I worked on it for a year and some change, 14 months or something like that.
STEREOGUM: Fourteen months, is that your longest gestation period, or did Manipulator beat it?
SEGALL: Yeah, similar to Manipulator, I’d say.
STEREOGUM: Is this your longest album?
STEREOGUM: That’s what I thought. I wasn’t sure if it was this or Manipulator, but I think this beats it by a few songs.
SEGALL: I think actually when we were looking at it, Manipulator is an hour and this is 74 minutes.
STEREOGUM: So you beat it, good. You recorded this with the Freedom Band, right?
SEGALL: Every song is different in its recording and setup, so if you look at the credits, they’re wild, they’re all over the place. So a lot of those are us [playing] live in different studios. A lot of them will be me laying down most of the parts and a couple of the people coming in and laying something on top. Or you know, Charles [Moothart], the drummer, and me playing and then other people adding stuff. Every song is almost created in a different way.
STEREOGUM: Is the Freedom Band a specific group of individuals, or whoever is playing with you at the time?
SEGALL: It’s those guys, yeah. If one of them wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be called that.
STEREOGUM: Do you prefer to record everything yourself or to have people with you in the studio?
SEGALL: I like both. It’s kind of the idea of the solo record versus a collaboration, where a solo recording is your pure idea, and you execute it. There’s no one there to give another opinion, which is good and bad. A collaboration, you have to collaborate, meet in the middle, yield to the other collaborator and that’s a wonderful thing. So I like both of those situations. I really don’t feel like I’d be a happy musician if I didn’t have both, to be honest. So that’s kind of what that album is. There’s songs where it’s just me, there’s songs where it’s a group of people playing together.
STEREOGUM: For a little while, it seemed like you’d have one album focused more on glam rock, then one album a bit more singer-songwriter-y, then one album a bit heavier. This one seems kind of all over the place in terms of what you can do. Plus, you recorded all over the place. Was that your goal, to explode it all and show what you’re capable of?
SEGALL: I think the idea was that’s why it’s called Freedom’s Goblin, to have no rules or restrictions in what it would be. So the idea behind it was, “What are the most free ways we can record or explore these ideas?” Never like, “We shouldn’t do this,” it was like, “No, we could do that, let’s try it.” If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. There was never an instance where an idea was bad or shut down before we tried it. That was the only parameter.
STEREOGUM: How many different states did you record this in?
SEGALL: Only recorded it in three. But we recorded it at five different studios and six different sessions. A bunch of different sessions at my house, one with the band, I’m always recording by myself, and then [Steve] Albini came out and recorded at my house.
STEREOGUM: He came to your house? Wow.
SEGALL: Yeah, I think that’s some of my favorite stuff on the record was when he was at my house. We did a session with him at Electrical and we did a session in Memphis at Royal. We did another session in LA, but none of that stuff ended up on the record. We did another session in San Francisco, we were just trying and trying, so there was a lot of stuff that didn’t end up on the record.
STEREOGUM: What was Steve like?
SEGALL: He’s a great guy. He’s a straight shooter, very sweet person, very generous person. He’s a master at what he does… He wants to enable you to make what you want, and he’s a master at creating sounds. He helped me tweak my home studio a lot, which is really cool.
STEREOGUM: How were you able to talk him into coming to your studio when he has his own place? He’s obviously a busy guy.
SEGALL: I think we’ve become friends now. I had to ask him nicely, but he was super open to it. Immediately said yes. It was a really cool experience. He does that though, he flies all over to record in studios.
STEREOGUM: So multiple sessions. Were you really working more on the actual nuts and bolts of the songwriting, or was it more focusing on getting the right take, the right sounds?
SEGALL: Before we go record, there’s usually a demo of the song done. So, for the most part, say 95% of that album was written before we tracked it. That song “The Last Waltz” was an experiment in itself where I’d written all the words and I wrote the chords, but I didn’t show the band a thing. All the mics were set up, and I said, “OK, it goes like this, ready? First take.” And that’s the first take.
STEREOGUM: It’s really bold to name a song “The Last Waltz,” because some other Band has a claim to that title.
SEGALL: It’s kind of a joke. It was a working title that stuck.
STEREOGUM: But you’ve never been shy about that sort of thing, paying homage. You had the Ty Rex covers release.
SEGALL: Fanny, my dog, she’s named after “The Weight,” which is funny. Again, another slight joke that stuck.
STEREOGUM: At this point, you’ve tried so many styles and genres, are you actively looking for things you haven’t done yet?
SEGALL: I have all these different ideas of what to do. One is an album of piano ballads. I feel like no one would want to listen to it, but that’s what makes it exciting for me, because it’s like all the rock ‘n’ rollers out there would probably call it dog shit, but I think that would be really fun to make.
STEREOGUM: Are there any genres you haven’t approached yet that are still on the list somewhere?
SEGALL: Oh yeah, I feel like I’ve barely even tapped anything. A lot of them I’d need collaborators ’cause I don’t know what to do. I really wanna make hip-hop music, but I don’t know how to use any of the tools. Electronic, computer skills, I don’t have those for engineering or making beats. I don’t know how to use a sampler well, I don’t know how to use any of these things. So if Madlib happens to read this, hit me up, dude.
STEREOGUM: Who are some of your favorites rappers?
SEGALL: Madlib, definitely. I love Kool Keith, that guy’s the best. And all the classics, you know, Wu-Tang, you name it.
SEGALL: Yeah, oh dude, fuck yeah. But yeah, man, [also] I would love to make a drum record. I need to work on my drumming more.
STEREOGUM: Just drums? A drum-and-bass-type album?
SEGALL: I don’t even know. Well, there’s a couple versions. There’s the dub album, then there’s just the drums album, just wild drumming.
STEREOGUM: You do seem overdue for a dub album.
SEGALL: The good thing about working with tape is that you can recycle all your recordings. So I might just do a whole crazy dub remix record where I just fly everything in and out.
STEREOGUM: For the hip-hop album, would you actually want to rap?
SEGALL: No. [laughs] No way. That would be very embarrassing. It’d be just musically.
STEREOGUM: I know this is unfair to you as a person, but it’s interesting because I think a lot of people’s assumptions of you, because of the music you make and the aesthetics you favor, is that maybe your music taste stopped after the classic-rock era ended.
SEGALL: To be honest, for me as a songwriter, I feel like I’ve been stuck on the guitar for so long. That’s why I’m looking toward the piano and other avenues to write in, because I do agree, the guitar stuff is rooted in rock ‘n’ roll. Which is great, I’m obviously a huge fan of rock ‘n’ roll, but I want to move past rock ‘n’ roll. I think it’s a fair assumption for people to make based on my records, but no, I definitely love all music.
STEREOGUM: There’s always the kid in every high school who doesn’t listen to music on the radio, who only listens to their parents’ record collection, like Hendrix, Zeppelin, and such. A lot of people think that’s you.
SEGALL: Well, that was me to a degree, but I’ve always loved pop music. Madonna was my favorite when I was a little kid. There’s always a good song on the radio.
STEREOGUM: What was your favorite Madonna song?
SEGALL: I really loved her first record. “Burning Up” rules. That whole record’s great. I like Madonna. I like the first decade of Madonna.
STEREOGUM: So what were the first artists you really got into when you first started getting into music?
SEGALL: Typical Southern California rocker punk shit.
STEREOGUM: Like Social Distortion, NOFX?
SEGALL: No, no. Like Zeppelin and Sabbath and stuff like that.
STEREOGUM: Oh, OK, I thought you meant like skate punk.
SEGALL: Oh, yeah, but then maybe 11, 12, I was all about Sabbath, Zeppelin, AC/DC. Then I started getting into Big Brother And The Holding Company and Alice Cooper. And then I honed it down to, “Oh, I really only like Bon Scott AC/DC, oh and I really just like the Ozzy Sabbath records,” and it started getting distilled more. And then it went Ramones, Buzzcocks, Black Flag, then it went Minor Threat, Bad Brains, D.C. hardcore.
Then it was Rudimentary Peni and Crass and all that shit. I was the typical closed-minded punk kid for a few years. I was always into hip-hop and the very different types of music that make it a wide world of music, but I’d be like, “Fuck country, fuck pop music, fuck this, fuck that.” And then, when I became a little older, 17, 18, I really started to appreciate everything for what it is, and I developed the sense that the closed-minded punk attitude is very detrimental to the idea of what punk is. So now I just consider myself a fan of everything.
STEREOGUM: Did you at first mainly stick to your parents’ record collection, or was there stuff you found on your own?
SEGALL: To be honest, my parents didn’t really have anything. It was a neighbor. A neighbor moved away, and when she gave me a stack of records, all those hard-rock records I was talking about. Super, super cool. So from there, I had a stack of records. And there’s this punk band from my hometown called the Stitches and they’re amazing. Mike Lorman, the singer, had this record store downtown, so I’d go there every day after school. And I’m not making this up, I would literally spend my lunch money and buy one record a week. And I’d go to Taco Bell after school and buy like one taco for like a dollar. It was more important to me to buy Diamond Dogs on the wall or whatever.
STEREOGUM: We’re talking vinyl here?
SEGALL: Yes. And he was a really cool guy about turning kids on to cool stuff. So I was like, “oh I really like that song ‘Changes,’ is Diamond Dogs cool?”
STEREOGUM: Do you stream music on your phone, or are you strictly a purist?
SEGALL: I listen to Apple Music. I have opinions about it, but it’s the way the world is. I can’t hate. I buy a lot of music all the time. I’m sure you’ve heard this a lot from people, but I spend a lot of money buying physical music, so I feel like it’s OK for me to stream a bunch of stuff too.
STEREOGUM: You had to sit on your last two albums for a little while. Do you have a manager or anyone who says don’t be too prolific?
SEGALL: No it’s not like that. These are all decisions that we make together, Drag City and I. They’re decisions that we make together and it’s really to serve the album. I think a few years ago, I definitely pushed it through and said: “no we’re gonna put it out right away.” There’s pros and cons to that, but it actually has a lot to do with exercising restraint.
STEREOGUM: Is that a fairly new thing for you?
SEGALL: No, but I’m constantly working on taking more time with ideas. There’s a great thing to spontaneity with making something. But there’s also reflection and taking a step back. That’s always been my problem. I’ve always been the kind of person to just want to do first take, put it out, and not think about it again. So this new record is really fun, because there’s literally four versions of every song.
STEREOGUM: There are advantages and disadvantages to your earlier approach. You had so much stuff coming out at such a rapid clip for a while, and it really showed your range as a songwriter, and someone who was already a fan of yours had a lot to dive into. But someone who was a casual fan or just kind of heard about you and didn’t know your deal didn’t know where to start or would think, “There’s too much here. I can’t get into this.”
SEGALL: I think that’s totally valid and true, and I think me as a younger person — and I still feel this way because I have to for my own sanity — is that I didn’t really care at all. It was more about doing what I wanted to do, which is a selfish thing, but making things should be selfish, I guess. You’re giving yourself to this thing that you’re making.
STEREOGUM: Did you reach a point where you were like, “oh I worked really hard on this album, and people didn’t quite pay attention to it,” they were more like, “oh yeah another Ty Segall album!”
SEGALL: Maybe a little bit. But the way I appreciate records and my favorite records, and how they’ll stand up 20 years from now, that’s the only thing that I care about.
STEREOGUM: I feel like, amongst your fans, a lot of people view your albums as all of a piece and there’s no real consensus on your best album or the best one to start with. Some people like Twins, some people like Goodbye Bread, some people like Manipulator. But there’s no “start with this one.”
SEGALL: I think that’s a good thing. As a musician, I wouldn’t want to make one definitive album and then be done. I feel like that’s a compliment.
STEREOGUM: Do you get annoyed when people talk about you being prolific?
SEGALL: I used to. I honestly used to very much. Just because I didn’t understand it. Now I understand it’s a different world. It’s a different musical landscape, so I think of it differently. But I used to think of it as in the ’60s or ’70s when people could record a song and put it out a week later.
STEREOGUM: Like how Creedence Clearwater Revival did six albums in three years, something like that?
SEGALL: Yeah or “Ohio,” CSNY, that happened. That night, Neil Young wrote that song. The next day, they recorded it. It was out five days later. That can’t happen, that can’t physically happen [today]. So I understand. So I guess I am very prolific, but I can’t really not be like that.
STEREOGUM: You were talking about hip-hop earlier — it seems like you and your friends in the Oh Sees take the approach that a lot of rappers do these days, where you release a mixtape every few months and just put it out there. Future does this, Young Thug does this, a lot of guys do it. And sometimes a mixtape song really hits the radio, and sometimes it doesn’t quite hit, and you have to move on and do the next thing.
SEGALL: I just like the idea of growing. I would never want to be in a situation where I couldn’t make things because I had to wait for some other aspect of the business or the industry. I feel like I’ve really tried to shape my world in that way. That’s the main thing because I don’t want to feel like I’m waiting around, I want to grow, and there’s too much stuff to cover, more than I’ll ever be able to.
STEREOGUM: I know some songwriters who write a song a day no matter what.
SEGALL: It’s not like that for me. It’s more about trying to write a different song. I feel like I’ve written so many guitar songs. I could sit here and come up with a ditty and it’d be a song, but it’s not the kind of thing I want to write. It’s more about periods of writing. I started writing stuff for Freedom’s Goblin and it becomes this obsessive block of writing. It’s this thing where every day I go into my studio and flesh out ideas until it’s done. And then when I’m done, I’m done. So I haven’t written a song for myself in a good six months. But I’m working with other people. I’ve been writing music for a bunch of different projects I have, but I haven’t written anything for me. It usually goes like that. Once I have different perspectives and I mix it up for me, I’ll feel more open-minded and have enough in my head to start writing for myself.
STEREOGUM: Do you have any hobbies besides music?
SEGALL: I like to surf, paint, standard reading, exercising, film. I want to start writing short stories, but they’re totally stupid, and I need to work on that. I have a lot of weird conceptual hobbies that are strange and never really go anywhere.
STEREOGUM: Like what?
SEGALL: Just weird play ideas and film ideas and short stories that never go anywhere. It’s more funny to come up with ideas than to actually execute them. I never finish them, just half-assed blurbs.
STEREOGUM: So this album, Freedom’s Goblin, has the idea of freedom right there in the name. Last year you were touring with the Freedom Band and you released that EP Fried Shallots for the ACLU. For a while I don’t think you were considered a liberal, political-type artist, but have you found yourself more drawn to make a statement in these turbulent times?
SEGALL: I consider myself a political person. I don’t write protest songs, but I have an opinion that you should at least subversively throw stuff in all the time. I’m a big fan of sneaking in covert ideas and meanings into everything. But when I was younger it was more about the visceral music. Caveman emotion. I was a big fan of that “Louie, Louie” type of music that moves you, it doesn’t matter what the lyrics are. But lately, I think it’s all about throwing some of that stuff in. I’m a very political person. I think there’s a way to do it and get someone’s attention without shoving it down their throat. At least that’s how I feel comfortable doing it. I’m talking about subversively saying something, covertly throwing it in there or having a nod to an idea. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” right now might not be the most effective song.
STEREOGUM: Do you ever worry about beating people over the head with it?
SEGALL: No, that’s the side of me that says, “fuck it, take it or leave it.” I’m a very lucky person that I get to work, and if someone gets mad at me for my political views, they can fuck off because I’m an extremely open-minded person. I guess I’m opinionated, but all my opinions are based on facts. I just believe people should be who they want to be and have the freedom to do that no matter what.
STEREOGUM: Have you felt from last year that you need to be a bit more vocal about things? Or that you need to fight for what you believe in?
SEGALL: I think everyone is guilty of a little complacency of the past when things were quote-unquote less scary or easier. And I’m guilty of that as well. I was also young. Not to blame my age, but a lot of young people grew up pretty ignorant of the world, and I’m guilty of that as well. All you have in life is to speak your mind, but you should be fair and kind.
STEREOGUM: Do you remember a time when you kind of came out of that “young man” thing? What was the first thing that grabbed your attention?
SEGALL: I’ll admit that I was completely consumed by my own emotional distress and consumed by my own problems as a young man, drinking too much and displacing that into music, escaping. And I think when I discovered I could do more than escape by playing music, I kind of had this different experience playing and caring a little less, being a little less sad. There wasn’t one instance. I think it’s just growing up or whatever. Typical insecure young man scared of the world, as bullshit of an excuse as that is.
STEREOGUM: This is your 10th album under your own name, and you officially released your debut album 10 years ago.
SEGALL: I wouldn’t know, but I believe you.
STEREOGUM: Now, you’re 30 years old right?
STEREOGUM: Is it weird for you to think that you’re sort of a veteran at this point?
SEGALL: That is a little weird to me. I was always kind of treated as the young kid, and still kind of am in many circles I run with. It’s weird, definitely. I don’t concern myself with “veteran” and probably never will. It’s cool to have been doing something for this long and not completely failing, so that’s nice.
STEREOGUM: Well, you don’t come off as very elder-statesman-like.
SEGALL: That’s good. When I have some white or gray on me. I can’t even grow a beard yet. Maybe a moustache, I haven’t tried in a while. Every time I do a European tour I don’t shave and nothing happens.
STEREOGUM: You spent a lot of time on this album and it has some refined pop songs. Are you ever thinking, “maybe if we spend a lot of time and really work this song, get to that next level popularity?” Or are you pretty happy with where you’re at?
SEGALL: I don’t really wanna go to that next level, to be honest.
SEGALL: No, it seems like a nightmare. It’d be fun to have an album that people really enjoy and maybe is considered to be… My goal is to make a classic album or whatever… but any kind of next-level popularity or anything like that is totally not for me. I just don’t want to deal with any of that. I feel lucky to work and to be able to do what I do and still be a normal person.
STEREOGUM: You’re playing Brooklyn Steel. I think that’s your biggest New York venue so far. So you’re kind of creeping up there.
SEGALL: It’s kind of an experiment. I’d be blown away if that sold out. This tier that we’re on touring-wise, I really enjoy it and don’t wanna go too much further because then it becomes less intimate. And I really enjoy playing intimate shows. We could always play multiple nights at smaller venues.
STEREOGUM: Do you do a lot of bigger festivals? Coachella, Lollapalooza, that sort of thing?
SEGALL: Not really, I’ve done all that stuff, and it’s not for me. I’ll play festivals for sure, but the really massive crazy ones are a drag. Not fun.
STEREOGUM: Recently the announcements went live for a lot of the big festivals, and people were on Twitter comparing the font sizes. That’s how you can tell how popular a band really is.
SEGALL: That whole world, I don’t wanna pay attention to it.
STEREOGUM: You’re not in it for the second-tier font.
SEGALL: No way, man. All that stuff is all ridiculous. I like to focus on making the music, and the records, and playing good shows. If you focus on the fonts, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.
Freedom’s Goblin is out 1/26 on Drag City.