By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
For the first time in his career, Ariel Pink finds himself at the junction of art and commerce. And, contrary to what his fans might expect, he's ready to make some cash.
His newest album, Before Today, is the slickest, most cleaned-up record he's ever made. Diehards will miss the sound of his previous efforts, which have contained some of the world's weirdest music, but now, after years of grueling tour schedule after grueling tour schedule, the Los Angeles freak-folker has decided that a change is imminent.
"I need a break from myself every once in a while," Pink says.
It's easy for one to get the feeling that there's a strange guy behind all that strange music, but as it turns out, it's just the opposite. Pink comes across as genuinely sincere—even when he's being facetious, which happens to be quite often.
"I hate success," he says. "I can't stand it. I shrink from it as often as possible. Again, I'm being sarcastic. I mean, what else is there? I've always wanted to be more successful."
But a statement like that calls into question every unmarketable record he's released since 2004's The Doldrums. It was one of the first records he ever released, but it was also the last solo record he worked on until the Before Today sessions. Until 2004, Pink was in what he calls "a never-ending recording session," where he recorded hundreds of songs over what he says felt like a limitless time span. Before long, the members of Animal Collective discovered his oddball sound and immediately signed him to their Paw Tracks record label. They began releasing his previously recorded material while he traded recording for traveling on a nonstop six-year tour.
His live performances were less than impressive, though.
"I didn't take playing live seriously for a while," he says. "I got a late start and my opportunities started to dwindle after two years of playing live and not giving a shit."
His partnership with Paw Tracks was turning out to be a financial wash, too. Being on Animal Collective's label put him on the national indie-rock map, but he never made enough money from records to keep him off the road.
Touring became his only source of income, so naturally his backing band, Haunted Graffiti, needed to improve for survival's sake.
"I've just been trying to get the live band to a point where I could generate some interest for real labels to take me seriously," says Pink.
His plan is finally working: Indie super-label 4AD Records signed on to release Before Today, and they've now put Pink on the biggest tour he's ever done. And with a catchy, irresistible freak-folk sound with plenty of pop elements to boot, he's right on the cusp of commercial breakthrough.
But, Pink says, he knows that won't come without a lot more work.
"People will forget you the second that you don't remind them that you're there," he says. "I've pretty much had to fight for any attention that I get, ever."