PRIMER is an ongoing, introductory guide to the varied and often elusive careers of iconic artists. This week we take a look at Ty Segall's daunting catalogue, charting his evolution from garage rocking California surfer dude to California surfer dude with depth, with stops at Epsilons, FUZZ, Ty Segall Band, Mikal Cronin, and more.
Ty Segall might seem like an odd choice for this feature. PRIMER tends to be reserved for icons, lifers, survivors – an entryway into an artist who’s stuck around long enough to amass a major enough body of work to dissect, sort, and rank… not so much a pedal-slinging garage rocker born three years shy of the ‘90s.
But that’s what makes him so deserving of the PRIMER treatment. He may look barely old enough to drink, but Ty Segall is a bona fide veteran who’s put out more music than likely even he can keep track of. Like Thee Oh Sees, his buddies from the San Francisco garage scene, his intense work ethic also acts as a roadblock for people new to his music. He just puts out so much damn stuff under so many different names, in so many different formats, on so many different labels, it’s hard to know where to start.
Not to undermine the beginner’s guide below, but you can start pretty much anywhere and it'll be good. That’s not to say it’s all the same. It doesn’t stray far from that magic sweet spot between garage, punk, and psych, but Ty Segall’s sprawling discography just goes to show that’s a pretty massive sweet spot. Whether it’s the paisley acid rock of Ty Segall & White Fence, the stoner doom of FUZZ, or the in-the-red punk of the Ty Segall Band, you're going to find something that'll get you stoked.
The most persistent criticism of Ty Segall is that he sticks too closely to the time-trodden themes of California garage rock: partying, surfing, girls. And sure he enjoys a good drink, wave, and roll in the hay, but at least he has a sense of humour about it. Take Epsilons, Ty’s high school band (one of many). In “Teeny Boppers” a very young Segall and his pals (who would later form Charlie & the Moonhearts) exaggerate their reputation as floppy-haired slacker youth over a jaunty keyboard/guitar rave-up, before taking the piss out of the more embarrassing conception of Laguna Beach teenagers in the accompanying web video.
Epsilons, "Teeny Bopper":
Epsilons started when Ty Segall was 17 and split by the time he was 19. Before he hit his twenties, he’d play in a spate of other bands, each of which abides by the same garage rock commandments, prescribed by the immortal proto-punk bible, Nuggets: lo-fi production (out of necessity, not style), surf rhythms, catchy hooks, and a religious devotion to the three-chord pop song format. That shrugging just-in-it-for-a-good-time mentality defined his work in bands like the Perverts, Party Fowl, Sic Alps, and the Traditional Fools, but listen carefully and you can hear the careful mix of snotty punk snarl and timeless pop songcraft that form the base of his best songs.
The Traditional Fools, "Street Surfin'":
Party Fowl, "We're Gonna Eat Your Brains":
One-Man Band Era
Ty Segall is best known as a solo artist now, but his smirking interview style and collection of masks suggest he’s always been a bit shy in the spotlight, even if he’s disguised it as sun-fried aloofness. So it only seems fitting that his first foray into the solo singer/songwriter world was an accident. After booking a Traditional Fools show that his bandmates couldn’t play, Segall just grabbed a kick-drum and played the songs he had written in his bedroom. Below, you can see a version of “It” from his 2009 record, Lemons, (the follow-up to his self-titled debut the year before) performed in his then-signature one-man band format, playing a kick drum with his feet and both a guitar and cymbal with his hands.
Ty Segall, "It":
That stripped-to-its-essence setup would categorize his early records, too. Uneasy about using his own name, Ty Segall, as the name of his band, he recorded his first couple of albums (and singles) alone, with the intention of only playing what he could recreate live. You’d be hard pressed to find another musician who can create such foot-moving music without a proper rhythm section.
Ty Segall, "Son Of Sam" (Gun Club cover):
Ty Segall, "Standing at the Station":
Melted and Fried
Ty Segall abandoned that self-imposed limitation on his third album, Melted, but never altered his perfectly simple musical goal: to write a song as timeless as the Troggs’ “I Want You.” Melted reaches that goal many times over, all by pushing his guiding principle: taking a smart approach to, let’s face it, dumb music. But it’s gloriously dumb, performed with zero irony; clear-eyed, fuzz-induced surrender as a path to transcendence. As far as timeless pop songs go, you can’t get better than the John Lennon-with-distortion stomp of “Girlfriend.”
Ty Segall, "Girlfriend":
Ty Segall, "Caesar":
Ty Segall would call his next album, Goodbye Bread, his “mellow” and “serious” record, but those statements are only convincing if you measure them against the rest of his stuff. No matter how much he slowed the tempos, his childlike glee shone through. And though he’d put the focus on the melodies over the snarl, fans still treated his shows like beer-spraying, stage-diving basement parties. In the few times I’ve seen him play in Toronto, he’s scuffled with a security guard, sacrificed his string-broken guitar to a crowd, and hung upside down from the rafters.
Ty Segall, "You Make The Sun Fry":
It’d take him until this year’s Sleeper to make that “mellow, serious” album, though doing so required him to open up beyond his love of tacos and Neil Young. Inspired by the death of his adopted father, his estrangement from his mother, and his relocation from the San Francisco garage scene to Los Angeles to be closer to his teenage sister, Sleeper is both his first fully acoustic album and the first that you could fully describe as "personal." But it’s still Ty Segall, and Ty Segall is never going to be a coffee shop strummer. Sleeper is a psychedelic Syd Barrett head-trip. And it’s as fantastic as anything that requires electricity.
Ty Segall, "The Man Man":
Ty Segall, "Sleeper":
The Mighty FUZZ
Perhaps as a respite from the lay-it-bare honesty of Sleeper, Segall quietly joined a new band that’s not at all quiet. Everything you need to know about FUZZ is right there in the band name: doomy riffs, drum fills and guitar solos galore – essentially Ty Segall Band does Black Sabbath. Segall isn’t taking the spotlight for this one – he handles drums while Charlie Moothart takes guitar – but it’s hard to mistake his voice behind the kit.
FUZZ, "FUZZ's Fourth Dream":
2012: The Year Ty Broke
Let’s back up a bit. Ty Segall already had a sprawling discography, but 2012 was the year it became daunting. That year he released three albums, all under different names, all showcasing a different aspect of what might otherwise seem like a limiting psychedelic garage-punk style. Twins is his solo album. Hair is his acid-drenched, freak-flag-flying collaborative album with flower child soul-brother White Fence. Slaughterhouse, meanwhile, takes his live incarnation, Ty Segall Band, and their aforementioned riot-inducing power and puts it to wax.
Ty Segall Band, "Wave Goodbye":
Ty Segall & White Fence, "I Am Not A Game":
Segall may just want to put his head down, hide behind his blonde mop, and rock out, but his profile is getting too big to duck. And that’s been good news for friends like Mikal Cronin, who plays bass in Ty Segall Band. Cronin’s bittersweet, string-laden power pop is a whole other flavour than Segall’s sun-damaged fuzz, but his endorsement has lent him a platform of his own. Right before his second record, MCII, was released on Merge, In The Red took it upon themselves to rerelease Cronin’s collaboration with Segall, Reverse Shark Attack. Both are worthy of your record collection, with or without the Ty Segall push.
Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin, "Reverse Shark Attack":
Mikal Cronin (with Ty Segall), "Am I Wrong?":