THERE'S NOTHING NEW under the sun—or the studio halogen lamp. This axiom—about the solar body, at least—has been understood since Ecclesiastes' time. Still, not all derivative art is created equal. And, further, some music heavily indebted to rock's past transcends its historical baggage with more panache than others. Take that of San Francisco-based Ty Segall.
A precocious lad who grew up in the dude bro-intensive Orange County resort city of Laguna Beach, Segall began tearing through California's underground-garage-psyche strata as a teen in bands such as Traditional Fools, the Perverts, Party Fowl, Epsilons, and in a duo with Mikal Cronin (his current touring guitarist). Segall's killer instincts for memorable tunes and jagged guitar tones immediately struck a chord with fanatics of dirty, jugular-slitting rock. Sure, the bands' music wasn't innovative, but it was exhilarating—and several cuts above similar upstarts who worshipped Nuggets and Pebbles comps. But, like many in the OC, Segall got into music through skateboarding and surfing.
"Skateboarding was the first thing—I know it's weird to say," Segall says, his voice scratchy and groggy, in an early morning phone interview. He's not even had his first sip of coffee or caught his first wave yet. "The skateboarding and surfing mentalities set my brain up to get to a music mentality. You start skateboarding or surfing, and they seem like they're all that matter. It's like a religion. Music came into my life a year or two after I got way into surfing [at 13]. It was easy for me to understand that belief system, with music being the number-one thing." Segall's soundtrack to surfing and skating was fairly typical. "I heard the Misfits for the first time in a skate video, Johnny Thunders and Minor Threat. But more so, just the mindset. It's like, 'Fuck it, let's go surf. Let's go skate.' That's how you have to be with music, too. 'Fuck it, let's go on tour.'"
Segall moved to San Francisco in 2005 to attend college for media studies, but that was really secondary to immersing himself in the city's fertile music environment and experiencing an intangible uniqueness that was vastly different from the OC. . "There's a weird, not-real, trapped-in-time kind of feeling in San Francisco," Segall says. "I fell in love in a second."
At 20, Segall met Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer, which eventually led to him getting a deal with Goner Records. "I was a big Coachwhips and Pink and Brown fan. Then I got into Thee Oh Sees right before I met John. He came to a Traditional Fools show. I had broken my wrist two weeks before. I was wearing a cast and stuck a drumstick in it so I could play the drums. After the show, John was like, 'Hey, man, that was rad.' I was like, 'Whoa, thanks, dude,' and we became friends."
In San Francisco, Segall went the one-man-band route, cutting five albums in the last few years, and cresting with 2009's Lemons (nerve-shattering, melodious garage rock) and 2010's Melted (rugged, noisy, glam-inflected rock). With 2011's Goodbye Bread, Segall made the leap to revered indie fixture Drag City. As many have noted, Goodbye Bread represents a slight softening of Segall's most ornery instincts, although one heard hints of this gentler, more accessible approach on Lemons' "Rusted Dust."
Segall's recordings reveal his deep knowledge of rock history, and Goodbye Bread exudes the brash sensuality and loucheness of British glam-rock icons T. Rex and Gary Glitter, as well as the bile of John Lennon's edgiest solo material. "You Make the Sun Fry" and the title track have hit-single potential, while the glum ballad "I Am with You" is capped by a mad guitar solo that lifts it out of the doldrums. Album-closer "Fine" echoes T. Rex's "Life's a Gas," and possesses both a sense of resignation and the feeling that everything's going to be all right. Segall takes us through plenty of extreme feelings, but there's a satisfying resolution to it all.
"It's a positive record," he says. "It's a comment on some weirdness and some bummer stuff, but I think there's a general positive outcome at the end of it."
There's some sarcasm in there, too. There are definitely some intense songs there lyrically. You don't want to leave listeners thinking, 'Man, that dude's pissed.' It's like, he's just working stuff out and it's cool by the end.
At 24, Segall is already a seasoned rock vet, and Goodbye Bread is his most mature work yet, but he views it as just another phase in a career destined for chameleonic progression.
"I want to constantly do different styles of stuff. It's not fun to make the same record twice. I started working on a couple of songs for the next one. They're really heavy, sludge rock, kind of like 'Finger,' but way heavier and tripped out and sleepy."
Surf's definitely up.