Ty Segall: ‘Staring at myself in the mirror on the wall and being like ‘What the hell’s going on?’

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Ty Segall: ‘Staring at myself in the mirror on the wall and being like ‘What the hell’s going on?’

Ty Segall
Words by Andrew Handley

Speaking over Zoom from his Topanga Canyon home, Ty Segall is warm and relaxed despite giving his last interview of the day. “It’s just north of LA in the mountains,” he explains. “I love it here, I’ve decided I’m staying.”

His home isn’t far from where he grew up in Laguna Beach, Orange County, where he surfed and skated from an early age. The sun-drenched waves and skate punk videos of his youth shine through the psychedelic garage rock Segall is known for. Though pigeon-holing a musician to a genre can be futile at the best of times, let alone one as prolific as Segall.

At age 35, Segall has released more records than most artists do in a lifetime. He has 14 studio albums to his name, not including the many side projects he’s a part of. 2012’s Slaughterhouse is a wildly noisy rock ‘n’ roll affair, while the next year’s Sleeper has him strumming an acoustic guitar. Some of the loudest music Segall has released has been with the band Fuzz, which has him behind the drum kit, the instrument he learnt before guitar.

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Creating so much music doesn’t seem like a chore to Segall. “I know I’m a prolific musician, I guess, but I never see myself as that because it’s all intentional,” he explains. “I don’t think I’m spending a tonne of time making music because I’m lucky enough that that’s my job.”

“I get to have fun with my friends, and just run around the studio like kids… banging on the drums, and knocking a synth on the floor and seeing how it sounds,” says Segall. “You look up and you’re like ‘oh shit, we’ve been in this room for eight hours.’”

Segall draws inspiration from all around him. “That just comes from everything, I have no idea where and how,” he laughs. “I do feel that I’m influenced by a conversation that I had at a bar, or a drive I had where I’m on the phone to a friend, or waiting at a bus stop and you see someone talking to somebody else, or whatever your daily experience is.”

The pandemic did briefly put a hold on Segall’s creative flow. “I think as soon as I had more normal interactions with people, and seeing people out and about, it broke the writer’s block thing for me, or gave me a bit more inspiration,” he says. “Not just me staring at myself in the mirror on the wall and being like ‘what the hell’s going on?’”

Segall also finds inspiration from working with other people. “I think that I’m a better collaborator than when I’m alone,” he explains. The track Feel Good from 2021’s Harmonizer features his wife Denée on vocals. “We’ve been collaborating a lot lately, especially with lyrics,” he says. “She’s such a great lyricist, and I love having an idea and bouncing it off her, and then we end up in a place that is really unique.”

Earlier this year Segall released Hi, Hello, shifting back to acoustic guitar. “I think they were the songs that were happening,” he explains. “I didn’t set out and say ‘okay, I’m going to write a bunch of songs… that are mellow.’ I think it just became that thing, and then it was obvious that that was the mode I was in, so I went there.”

Segall’s musical acrobatics are on display on Harmonizer, which he released less than a year before Hi, Hello. The slickly produced, synth-laden record heavily incorporates the album’s namesake – a unique instrument that plays back the musical input at different pitches to create harmonies.

Harmonizer was the first record that Segall recorded in his custom-built studio at his home, aptly named Harmonizer Studios. “I actually wrote the record before the studio was built, and then waited to record until the studio was done,” he says. “It was a different experience because that record I had demoed the whole thing out, so I had demos to reference.”

“Hi, Hello was the first record I’d done in the studio where I could go down there and experiment with an idea, and some of those experiments became the foundation of the actual recording.”

Having his own studio is a dream come true for Segall. “I had a studio before, and I’ve always had a demo zone since I was in my 20s, but this studio is the first professional-grade studio, which makes it so my experiments are album quality now,” he explains. “That’s pretty cool to go in there and be experimenting, and be like ‘well it sounds good enough to go on an album,’ instead of ‘I’ve got to rerecord it because it doesn’t sound very good, but the idea is cool.”

It’s not just the recording process that Segall has changed since releasing his first self-titled album at age 21. “I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at writing lyrics,” he says. “I think I’ve tried to become a more confident singer and less scared to hide behind effects and noise, and owning it more.”

His debut record was released by his friend John Dwyer’s record label Castle Face Records. Segall met Dwyer and his band, the legendary Osees (formally Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees etc.) while performing in the same garage rock scene. “He was helping me every step of the way and was like a big brother,” he says. “He just wanted me to succeed, so I was very lucky in that regard.” Segall returned the favour and produced Thee Oh Sees’ 19th album Orc in 2017.

This began a string of good record label relationships for Segall, now primarily on Drag City. “I’m so lucky I’m friends with everyone I work with,” he says. “Everyone that works at Drag City, we’re friends, and I’ve been friends with them since I started working with them.”

“I’ve never had an interest in working with a label that wanted me to change the songs that appear in my record. I’m so lucky to work with the people I work with, and that they trust me and how I want to put out my music, and I trust them. It goes both ways.”

Segall will return to Australia with his Freedom Band in early 2023, for the first time since 2014. Having created so much music in the meantime, remembering the music even seems a challenge. “I think the older I get, the harder it is to remember all the words,” he laughs. “It really depends on the tour.”

“For this tour, we’re going to learn some old songs, because by the time we get there it will be nine years. It’s a long, long time, so we’re going to try and mix it up. Lately, we’ve been doing some pretty harsh sets. I think when we go over there it’s going to be pretty all-over-the-place set, which will be fun.”

Having learnt the hard way, Segall, who has a history of tinnitus, is eager to remind people to look after their ears at his show and every show. “I can almost say that I’m old,” so listen to the almost old guy,” he laughs. “You have to wear your earplugs. Period.”

Ty Segall is playing The Forum on January 21. Ticket info here.