Ariel Pink is not a misogynist. Yes, there was that very public spat when Pink declared Madonna to be on a “downward slide” since her first record, and synthpop producer Grimes labelled him delusionally misogynistic. But Pink insists he’s got nothing against women. “I’m no more a misogynist than Madonna and Grimes are probably misandrists,” he declares, unhelpfully.
What he will admit to is being a total shit-stirrer. “I dare people to not like me,” he says, audibly working himself up. “I want to be maced in the face a million times. I will go further.”
It’s a textbook play from the "no-publicity-is-bad-publicity" school of promotion (he actually uses these words during our interview). But in truth, his natural inclination to troll is the least interesting thing about Ariel Pink. It’s his records you should pay attention to.
Anyone vaguely familiar with Pink will know Round and Round, the wobbly masterpiece Pitchfork called Song of the Year back in 2010. It is, like many of Pink’s tracks, representative of his entire aesthetic in miniature: it’s care worn and grainy, as though beamed via AM radio straight from the past. Musically, it’s unexpectedly complicated – the bassline mutates subtly and the breakdowns come at exactly the right moment. On first blush, the lyrics are pap, but a second listen reveals something melancholy and a little sinister. But above anything else, Round and Round is fucking catchy.
Pink’s ability to braid Gold FM nostalgia with Dadaist erotics – and still come out with a genuine pop song – must have been what pricked the ears of Animal Collective back in 2004. Finding a demo CD on the floor of their van, the band started its label, Paw Tracks, solely to release Pink’s music. The legend goes that before this big break, Pink was an unusually prolific bedroom artist, crafting an entire oeuvre using shitty instruments and a tape deck.
Whether there’s any truth to the origin myth, Pink did arrive fully-formed: despite some changes in production quality, his recent album is remarkably similar to his first. Pink tells me that this is exactly his plan: “I’m only really capable of doing what I do,” he says. “There’s a refining of an aesthetic that I’ve maintained in a very, very narrow sense. Obviously nobody wants to stay in the past – but I do. It’s really just a project of seeing how much resistance I can give to this flow of things.”
Which is why Pink’s latest album feels much of a piece with its predecessors. Trainspotters will pick out the same carefully-encoded influences on Pom Pom as they did in Mature Themes: Zappa, The Stranglers, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy and Hawkwind are a few of the names Pink himself will deign to drop. “There’s a mixed bag – kind of all of the history we don’t feel like acknowledging these days,” he says. “The sort of forgotten middle ground, a lot of lame stuff, too. A lot of just outright bad music.”
According to Pink, he rarely sets off to emulate one particular artist; rather, his influences just subconsciously arise in his music. “I just hear things in my head and they’re obviously formed by certain things that I’ve heard,” he explains. “Almost like a sort of weird memory imprint from a very early age.”
But while on one hand, Pink’s concerned with preserving a particular, long-past era of music, on the other he’s looking to subvert the convivial, radio-ready content of pop. “I’ve always seen myself as not friendly – as being evil,” he says. “There’s nothing friendly about Pom Pom; there’s nothing friendly about being human. I always wanted to make the saddest music, the most despairing, terrible music.”
Pink’s so-called ‘evil’ smacks of more self-mythologising. But there’s something reflexive about his Rock'n'roll posturing. Part of Pink is playing the frontman; the other part watches on, amused. For example: “I was said to be a gender-bending kind of person, but I don’t feel that way at all. I feel like a macho man,” he says. “It just happens to be I’m in this body. If I had my way, I’d be muscle-bound and six-foot four.”
I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be taking him seriously. But then he says, with impeccable timing: “Rock'n'roll has been the perfect place to explore my inferiority complex.”
Maybe’s he’s not kidding after all.
Ariel Pink is performing at the Sugar Mountain Festival on Saturday January 24. His latest album, Pom Pom, is out on CD, Digital and Double Vinyl from 4AD.