There’s No Substitute for Knowing Me: An Interview with Ariel Pink
If you search Ariel Pink’s name on the web, especially on a music website like Pitchfork, you’re just as likely to find stories about his meltdowns onstage or his recent remarks about Grimes and Madonna—which have been referred to as misogynistic by critics—as you are to find reviews on his records. From a media standpoint, he’s unpredictable, and his music is consistently just as surprising. Pink’s off-kilter brand of pop, which mixes influences as familiar as Brian Wilson and as strange as Frank Zappa, reveals something about his personality that’s entirely appealing and even slightly addicting. It’s in Pink’s music that we’re given a glimpse into his true nature. There’s adventure, glee and loads of sarcasm, [albeit truth] at times, layered beneath both frightening and fantastical music.
Regarding his most recent album, pom pom, “I would say it’s my most accessible,” says Pink. Pom pom is one of my favorite records of the year, and I let Pink know as I impersonated the cartoon voices from opening track, “Plastic Raincoats in the Pig Parade.” Pink responds, “It’s a happy record.”
Pink will be bringing that record to life at Urban Lounge on Feb. 13. I was curious to know how Pink felt about playing in Salt Lake City as well as his most recent Internet drama with label-mate Grimes. Their drama led me to ask Pink whether or not he thinks knowing a person’s beliefs is necessary to understand and appreciate their music. “Music speaks for itself,” says Pink. “You don’t need to know a person to appreciate their music. It adds color, though, to know that there’s a human being behind the lyrics and not just some algorithm.”
The Internet travels at the speed of light, leaving barely any room for mistakes, and Pink has often experienced firsthand how damaging a person’s statements can be in our digital age. It may be a lesson that’s taught Pink to live with an open mind. “I wouldn’t pretend to know what other people think,” Pink says. “If anyone assumes to glean everything about me through my interviews … They can if they want, but there’s more than meets the eye. If they feel like they’ve heard enough about me, that’s perfectly fine with me.”
Pink’s right about one thing: His music speaks for itself. Pom pom is one of the most creative and dynamic records of the year. Pink’s ability to blend his pop sensibilities for melodies and catchy hooks with sounds that recall TV-show themes and pop pastiches from bygone eras is unmatched. “Put Your Number In My Phone” has the feel of something soft and soapy from the late ’70s, and its hook is irresistible. If you listen to the entire album, it’s hard not to become fascinated with the person who could create such a smorgasbord of pop and rock.
Imagine the kind of tension that comes as a result of doing what you love, and being praised for it. Fame has led to the downfall of several pop stars, but for Pink, it’s mostly led to feeling alone. “There’s no substitute for knowing me,” Pink says. “You either do or you don’t. You either know about somebody via hearsay or you’ve lived with somebody and you know them. I’m not on Conan O’Brian every night. You can’t just eavesdrop on me, unless [you] go to YouTube. Some people have lived with me for what they feel is 10 years, or even longer than that. … I might be a stranger to them or I might not be.” It’s easy to see why Pink finds it hard to trust people in our day of so-called transparency. You can catch glimpses on the hour of someone’s everyday life via social media, but rarely, if ever, do those glimpses tell the real story.
Talented musician John Maus has played in Pink’s band, Haunted Graffiti, and recently psychoanalyzed Pink in a post on Twitter. In it, Maus referred to Pink as a “nymphomaniac, a little girl and a dog” in somewhat of an effort to clear the air on Pink’s personal beliefs. “I thought it was an astute statement,” says Pink. “Whenever he mentions my name, I’m honored to be on his mind at all. Always happy to hear his perspective, and he’s right: I’m not a misogynist. If I’m a little girl or a dog, that’s fine.”
I asked Pink what was next for his career now that he’s released his first solo record, which some critics have called his best work to date. He responded quickly: “Same thing, only better, hopefully, or I don’t know—more of the same,” he says. “I’ll keep doing this as long as they want me here. I’ll probably be under different terms of contract for the next record. Hopefully, that’s a good thing. I’m sure it’ll be a markedly different affair. Hopefully it won’t be too long in coming.”
It’ll be a fine evening when Pink comes to Urban Lounge on Feb. 13, and I hope he feels the love. After all, not every city gets a direct invite from Pink to attend his show as he gave to SLC when I asked him for any last words. “I want to see you come out to the show,” says Pink. “Tell your friends and show us some love. Tell your family, too. Bring out the hootenanny. Bring out the whole pack.”