“The only pattern is the idea of no pattern,” asserts Ty Segall about his sprawling new double album, Freedom’s Goblin, out now. “The idea of the record was, ‘Hey, here’s the budget I want, and this is what I’m gonna do.’ Which is, I was wanted to go to as many studios as I could. I wanted to be as different as I could — at first I was thinking about sides. I wanted to do four studios, four sides, and have them be four different personas or something. But then I was like, ‘No that’s some Garth Brooks stuff, I don’t want to do that.’ What was that weird rock record he did? [Garth Brooks in…the Life of Chris Gaines, 1999] I was like, ‘No we don’t need some alternative persona.’ But it became sort of, ‘Let’s just make it as different and wild as possible,’ just a free project with no rules.”
Anyone who’s followed the ascent of one of America’s most vital indie rock musicians over the past eight years would hardly consider Ty Segall an artist overly constrained by rules. And yet most of the records in his ridiculously packed discography (Freedom’s Goblin is his tenth album in ten years, but only in the narrowest sense, with many more singles, EPs, collaborations and side projects to his name in that span) did, in fact, have some parameters to them. 2011’s Goodbye Bread pulled back on the noise of his early releases and put melody and Segall’s voice upfront; Twins, the following year, was all about guitars and fuzz; Manipulator was psychedelic-driven; Emotional Mugger, in 2016, was a darkly ironic garage performance art project that saw Segall frequently donning a giant baby mask; 2012’s hard rock Slaughterhouse and last year’s Ty Segall were full-band, live-in-the-studio affairs.
But Freedom’s Goblin? There’s a little bit of all those sounds on this 19-track beast, making for a wild ride that is schizophrenic in the best possible way. The first recordings for the LP were done in late 2016 at Segall’s home studio in Los Angeles. “And then it turned into more studios, and more sessions, so in the end it was six or seven sessions and it became so differentiated,” he explains. Nearly half the album was recorded by Steve Albini in L.A. and at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, while closing track “And, Goodnight” — a 12-minute, jammed-out revisiting of Segall’s 2013 song “Sleeper” — was done in Memphis with Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell. “It’s kind of the meshing of two worlds,” Segall says. “Whereas the last self-titled record was the band, live, the whole time, and a lot of the records I’ve done have been just me, overdubbing, this one is pretty much those two ideas slammed together. Some of the songs are the band live, some are just me, some of it are half live, half me overdubbing on top of it. It’s like every style of recording possible.”
I’m sitting with Segall in a lounge at New York’s Hotel on Rivington. He’s come to the city for just a day to appear as the first-ever musical guest on Comedy Central’s The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, where he took part in some bits with the host, and played an acoustic “My Lady’s on Fire.” Segall’s association with The Opposition goes back to its debut last year. “Jordan asked me to do the show’s theme song,” he says. “And so I did that, and then he was like, ‘Well, we want to have musical guests, so whenever you’re free.’ And I had known him from The Daily Show, so he had my seal of approval.” Klepper’s faux-conservative satire is just about in keeping with Segall’s own approach to political content—irreverent, but not hit-em-over-the-head didactic.
“I think my general idea with politics in my music has been to be a little more subversive,” he offers. His scowling, big baby character of Sloppo from Emotional Mugger was perfectly prescient—throw some orange makeup and flaxen hair on that thing and you’ve got the man currently in the White House. “Having more of a hidden dialogue rather than something more upfront, like a protest-type song” is how he describes his approach to topical matters. “I feel like I’ve moved a lot in the way that I think about the world when there is more of an open-ended type of discussion.”
While Segall grew up in traditionally conservative Orange County, CA, he was the son of progressives, an artist mom and a lawyer dad who represented small clients against the likes of Disney. And, he adds, his hometown of Laguna Beach was “something of an anomaly” in the OC. “In the ’50s it was a beat town—a huge Beat colony was there, and then became a huge art colony at the end of the ’50s, early ’60s,” he explains. “Timothy Leary lived there, his church The Brotherhood of Eternal Love was based there. The orange VW bus that distributed acid throughout all of California was in front of the Taco Bell out there. So it’s a very strange place that I think is kind of outside of the Orange County thing. By the time that I was in my early teens, the town had changed and became the typical affluent, rich beach community. But a lot of these characters that were still there, and I really latched onto those people. A lot of my friends’ parents and these other characters that were family friends, they were still around.”
If Segall’s politics aren’t explicit, they’re certainly present in the conundrum of his new album title. “I think Freedom’s Goblin is a very political title,” he says. “But I like to leave it a little bit more of a question mark, because I want like people to have a conversation with themselves about what it could mean to them. The idea of Freedom’s Goblin to me leads to a wild conversation. I would hope that father and son, driving home from the record store, could have a conversation about what that title means. Because to me, it’s the duality of being free: the evil and the good, and how it’s a constant paradox.” So, are we talking creative freedom, or something more socio-political? “It’s all the same thing to me, and that’s why leaving it a little more abstract is more interesting, because people need to figure out what it means to them.” The current name used by his longtime backing players Emmett Kelly, Ben Boye, Mikal Cronin and Charles Moothart—The Freedom Band—even predates the album title. “And that name came strictly from the idea of being free in your playing,” he adds.
Freedom’s Goblin is nothing if not liberated. If Segall was a chef then the new record would be his tasting menu, only he’s perfected his signature dishes over the years, and brought some new flavors to the table—none tastier than a foray into soul. You only have to wade three tracks in to get there, in the form of a cover of “Every 1’s a Winner,” the Hot Chocolate chestnut which sports one of the greatest ’70s riffs. “The things is, I love disco!” the rocker proclaims. “People are embarrassed by disco, but I love it. I mean there’s some really shitty disco, but the real disco is really great. It’s a descendant of soul music, what’s to hate about it?” Next up on the album, Segall doubles down on the dance, with a dose of weirdness. “Despoiler Of Cadaver” is Soul Train meets grave-robber-vengeance, with Segall channeling a diabolical voice and eschewing drums for a vintage Maestro Rhythm King, which Sly Stone once called “the funk box.” “I’d been listening to a lot of Sly—There’s a Riot Goin’ On, that record is so good. And I’d had that drum machine for years but never put it on a record. So I started doing this thing and it turned into this jacked-funk-soul-disco thing. I don’t even know what it is!” It’s bananas.
Maybe drum machines are not your thing? Not a problem. As Mark Twain once said about the weather in New England, “If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes.” Freedom’s Goblin is similarly head-snapping in its variety—from gentle and acoustic (“Rain,” “My Lady’s On Fire”) to wild and wooly (“Alta,” a live favorite; “When Mommy Kills You,” pummeling; “Fanny Dog,” a rowdy ode to his two and a half year old Dachshund). You want horns? There are some dirty, bleating ones on “Talkin’ 3” and single “The Main Pretender.”
And then there’s two of the most incongruous back-to-back songs Segall has ever paired on a record: “The Last Waltz”, true to its name a barnyard tune in triple time, followed by “She,” six minutes of over-the-top metal that initially evokes no less than Judas Priest, and later recalls an oft-cited Segall favorite, space rockers Hawkwind. What the hell are those two songs doing next to each other? Simply put, the man gets a kick out of it. “I love that!” he says. “I realize that my listening experience with records has turned into a different thing, because I’ve listened to so many at this point [he’s a certifiable record-head]. But to me, that’s exciting! To me, I think, ‘It’s not that crazy, it’s just a wild move!’ I do think maybe it’s too weird for a lot of people. I’ve only realized that recently in talking to people about it.”
The album even manages to deliver the closest Segall will likely ever get to a riot grrrl song—”Meaning,” a rapid-fire bruiser with a lead vocal by his wife, Denée. He originally wrote the song to sing himself, but decided he couldn’t do justice to the “directness” of the lyric. “I don’t know what it is, cause all those songs that I write for me to sing are abstract in a lot of ways,” he explains. “And so I wrote that song and I tried singing it, and I said, ‘This sounds like shit. This is horrible.’ But then I thought — cause Denée and I have done music stuff together and we’ve even started a new band, and I’ve heard her sing — I just went, ‘It’s got to be her!’ and she just went in there and nailed it.” Ty married Denée, an executive at the L.A. indie label In The Red, in late 2015 after years of dating, and he says there’s no person who’s been more important to keeping him grounded and sane as he’s navigated a career in music. “Oh fully. She’s the stabilizer,” he admits. “I know 150 percent how deeply cynical and negative I can be. I can be very dark and harsh. And if I didn’t have her around in a lot of the really rough parts of my life, doing this job — there’s just no way.”
The Rise of Ty has been something to see — a slow-gestating build over nearly a decade. With each record there’s been an incremental (if not substantial, in the case of Emotional Mugger) rise in the number of so-called ‘mainstream’ fans discovering him. To have seen him play small Brooklyn clubs in 2009 and now regularly command crowds of thousands at festivals is remarkable, and rare. The few bands who’ve transcended mid-Aughts indie rock acclaim to make it to arena-filling status—think Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem—know that can only be achieved by getting beyond your base, and reaching — my words, not Segall’s — the basic bros.
While he’s not yet at those bands’ level, he’s definitely noticed an expansion in the fans coming to see him. “I had a realization of, ‘Oh, now its not just record-heads and punks and stoner metal dudes’,” he recalls. “There was an aspect of ‘normal’, whatever you want to call them, people—a type of person that I’m not used to playing for. Which is great! It’s an x-factor kind of thing where—at first I was turned off by it, because there’s a lot of aggression or people just fantasizing about what a mosh pit is, and just decking someone in the face. But in turn, Emotional Mugger was, ‘Okay, I’m going to test everyone. If I can get them to think differently, with this different type of show, and music, then maybe I can bring them with me to this other stuff I want to do.’”
And there’s the thing: Segall welcomes anyone to the party, provided they come with open ears. As the eclectic thrills of Freedom’s Goblin illustrate, he’s not for the faint of heart, nor the narrow of minds. “I like to test people,” he says. “Or even just say, ‘Don’t come along if you don’t want to.’ Diverse means you’ve either gotta be fully in, or you’re not allowed in the room. You can’t just stick your head in anymore. And I like that. It’s aggressive in its openness. But because it’s aggressive in its openness, you’ve got to get all the way in, or you’re gonna miss out on hanging with the freaks.”
Ty Segall’s Freedom’s Goblin is out now. He plays three record release shows this weekend at the Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles.