Smile Politely

The misconception of Ariel Pink

From an audience’s perspective, Ariel Pink appears to be a strange individual. Whether you’re paying attention to his lyrics in his music, or the construction of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and their slightly strange on-stage outfits, or the band’s weird cover art, amongst many other examples, it feels a bit odd at times. These are the things I was thinking prior to my conversation with the singer-songwriter last week, which I quickly learned, is a misleading image of Pink and his band.

Behind the pink hair and stage costumes lies a musician constructing bedroom and psychadelic pop that has been growing in popularity over the past few years and compiling some impressive accolates (especially this one). Pink, merely 34 years of age, has been touring and making music for many years, collaborating, recording, and touring as so many other musicians do. But for some reason, all of the stories I had heard of Pink and his style frame him differently from many other “average” musicians. Sure, he is a bit unorthodox in his appearance at times, and he makes music not easily consumed by most, but for the most part, Pink isn’t far off from being a normal, straightforward touring musician.

Perhaps the internet dictates the narrative, but I was among many who was in the dark about what Pink is really like behind this constructed ego. Up until the introduction of the full band known as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, alongside the great success of the 2010’s stellar Before Today, it just appeared to be a one-man crew.

As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. Well, this is one of those situations to a certain extent. The dominant narrative of Pink and his progression as a musician over the years has long been understood to be his movement as a solo artist to a full group performing songs writen and constructed by PInk. But I quickly learned that those narratives are slightly misleading, as he pointed out when I discussed the shift in sound and the success of the band’s last two records, breakthrough Before Today and last year’s Mature Themes:

It hasn’t been much of a shift at all, band-wise. It’s been the same band for I don’t know how long now. Any kind of talk about me and my early days is just some people reading from Wikipedia. We don’t have a manager or anything like that who updates that, and we don’t update any of the things going on often. Especially with writers, they just kind of take history and just repeat it. Just ancient history. Really, it’s just a matter of us not really making any new stories or headlines like Deerhunter or something like that. There’s nothing too bombastic happening in my world. It just kind of seems like the only story there to pick up on is ‘Oh Ariel, he’s finally got a band now!’ And it’s like, no dude, it’s actually been a band for the past eight years. I’ll never get sick of hearing people and correcting them and all that stuff. It’s what I do best.

The band has added members here and there, but mostly, Pink’s crew has stayed the same through their tours and over the years. In the short discussion I had with him, he came across much differently than I had expected. He was just a normal guy on tour with a band. Nothing too glamorous. The stories on the internet fabricate Pink and what he does musically:

I’m very blue collar. Everything is very, very blue collar about what we do. We’re traveling salesmen. We show up to the place; we have our little briefcase we pull out with records and stuff. Then we travel and get on our way. It’s a nice little life — I recommend it.

The band is touring in support of their last record, hitting the Midwest at a time when the weather hasn’t exactly been cooperating over the past several weeks. Rain, rain, and more rain has tormented the Midwestern folk awaiting summer. Pink hails from California, so his experiences of the Midwest are much different than the coastal regions.

The band was in Minneapolis when I spoke with him, travelling into Illinois in the following days with shows in Chicago and Dekalb prior to their stop in Champaign. Pink is fairly well known in the realm of indie rock music, but C-U is a market that isn’t exactly heavily populated like Chicago is, and sometimes a show like this one could be under-attended. Pink discussed the Midwest, but wished the band was recognized more in the region outside of the major cities:

It’s pretty fucked up in my opinion. I don’t cry about it. I love traveling, but nobody knows about me out here. Chicago is fine and everything. Minneapolis is fine, too. It seems to be a doozy everytime. But I think the weather is terrible. We had some freezing rain; it was just awful. I’m from California, so it’s kind of like a giant fortress that you have to penetrate in order to get to the east coast. That’s kind of how I feel about it. But really, I hope people in Champaign will like me if they find out about the show.

Of course, it’s a little frustrating and it gets very frustrating sometimes. But I appreciate how it works, you know. Music is for kids — for kids by kids. And I’m not a kid anymore, so I’m happy to be doing it for as long as I have been doing it and to still to be doing it. I’m really grateful. I’ve had an extended adolescence and I love it.

Pink’s experience has led him to refine his and his band’s craft over the years, refining Haunted Graffiti’s sound into more digestable music than how some bedroom psych pop or lo-fi indie rock can be sometimes. He attributes his time performing songs and touring to the development of the band as time goes on:

Hopefully, I get better at [making music]. I’m a slow learner, so I’ve had all the time in the world to get it right. I always kind of feel like we’re always out on the road and practicing for the giant gig that won’t ever come, really. It is kind of just a matter of playing it and we’ve played these songs so many times. A lot of them I recorded in one night ten years ago or more. You have to breathe new life into it every time. You never know if you’re wandering way off the mark or if you’re approaching what it was supposed to be.

I don’t know what I’m doing, so that’s the first indication that I’m doing it right everytime, you know what I’m saying? [laughs]

Although our conversation was brief, after we finished up the interivew, I realized Pink is much less complex than the rest of the world makes him out to appear. As he discussed, he wishes his work was recognized to a wider audience, but is grateful and appreciative of what he has been given. His talents lie within his music, which should determine his success or failure, rather than people on the internet recreating stories about Pink and his legacy. Tonight’s show should be indicative of his and his band’s ability to put together a memorable performance that just might change the way you think about them. They seem willing to supply their own narrative in person; it’s just a matter of seeing it for yourself.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti performs tonight at The Highdive with Purple Pilgrims. Tickets are $15 and the show starts at 9 p.m.

Related Articles