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Ty Segall on an almost-triple album and the joy of writing dog songs

California psych-garage-rocker Ty Segall should need no introduction by now. The talented multi-instrumentalist and producer has issued consistently great albums under his own name, as well as with bands like Fuzz, Sic Alps, the CIA, GOGGS and more. He can play fingerpicked folk and frenetic fuzzy guitar rock alike, and it never seems weird from either side of the spectrum.

In the palette of Ty Segall, his shade of “weird” is something to be expected and utterly enjoyed. On one of his latest singles, “Void,” he goes a little both ways, even getting a bit prog-y for good measure with a creepy acoustic guitar line to take us down the road of an deliciously winding song that amps up ’70s-style fried-out harmonies while quietly brooding in the background.

On Three Bells — his new album for Drag City — Segall worked with his C.I.A. bandmate Emmett Kelly and wife Denée Segall on many of the songs, while also enlisting his own “Freedom Band” to fill out the sonic corners. Producer Cooper Crain, who worked with Segall on the 2022 acoustic record Hello, Hi and 2021’s Harmonizer, also returns.

The full album, despite its winding ways and vast dynamics, is very much a ripper and well worth traipsing through the 15 tracks in full, one right after another.

I sat down with Segall ahead of the album’s release to talk about musical meditation and relationships, harmonizing and devoting songs to delightful dogs.


The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I'm so excited to talk to you about your new record. Three Bells comes out officially this Friday. That's so, so exciting, and I feel very grateful that you're talking to me the week of. Are you ready, or do you still have loads of stuff to get done before Friday comes?

Well, Friday's kind of actually, you know, getting the record out. It's kind of … the work isn't really about that. It's kind of more practicing and getting ready to play and getting everybody rehearsed and those kinds of tweaks and stuff. That's what we're doing now. But, yeah, definitely ready. I'm psyched for it to come out.

I loved listening to the full record. I often get a sense of place from your songs, even without the location references all the time. Do you feel like California really figures into your musical identity and your overall sound?

Yeah, I think so. I was born and raised in California … lived in California my whole life. So I think it's safe to say I'm a Californian. It’s part of me. I think there is a Californian sound a bit, you know? It's a pretty broad sound. It's a pretty wide sound. There’s a lot to it. But also I’m influenced and inspired by my daily life, and that it in California. So it's hard to get away from California when you're here every day, which is a great thing. I love it.

So the record, Three Bells, shares some heavy elements of prog and intricate rock and roll. And the 15 songs on this album kind of swing between some shorter, psych-ier rock moments, even like interludes, and then longer, more exploratory jams. Did ordering these songs into an official final playlist prove tricky for you in any way? Or was there like this natural flow that made itself known clearly?

Well, I'm kind of an obsessive person when it comes to track order. That's like, to me, kind of the whole trick to making a record, and I've been obsessed with it.

I got more and more into it the more stuff I made, but it's a pretty essential part of making a record, and I'm constantly working on the track order when I'm writing, and it's constantly changing. And that really kind of dictates if a song is going to make it or not. There will be a good song maybe that is cool, but if it doesn't fit in the track order then it doesn't go on the record, you know?

So to me, it's a really important puzzle. And it’s cool! You can present a record in different ways, depending on the track order. It's very, very interesting. But I think there were a couple of moments writing that were kind of some big question marks, which is cool. And it kind of helped me go into certain songwriting places to fill spots on the record that I thought needed to be filled.

I actually tried for a triple record on this one, but I cut it down to a double, which is a good thing because I think a triple would be a bit much.

Well, you can always aspire to do a triple down the road, right?

I don't think it's possible for me. It's kind of wild. I don't know. It might take me … who knows?

You described Three Bells as this 15-song cycle that takes a journey to the center of the self. Is music your meditation, or do you also practice some other form of meditation regularly?

I do not practice meditation. I'd like to try. To me, I have other nature-based kinds of activities that are my kind of place of relief or peace kind of. I surf, and I like to run even though I kind of have an injury at the moment.

Certain kinds of physical exercise help the meditative thing, but drums and the kind of “experiential” side of performing is a cathartic thing. Although I think that I've moved on a bit from that in my life. I think that was a little bit more of a place I was in in my early to mid-twenties. But yeah. It is a nice, cathartic thing to do.

"Three Bells" cover art.
"Three Bells" cover art.

Yeah, it seems like your music, especially on this record, feels meditative. It takes its time, if that makes any sense.

That's cool. That’s a good thing.

And the themes of the record, to me, overarchingly feel like the “Self vs. the World” or “Ty Segall vs. the World” … just trying to figure things out as they are, you know? So what was the nugget or spark or the main themes of the album? What kind of set everything off?

I'm not even sure if I'd say vs. the world. I'd say it's the kind of theme that I've been working with for years a bit, which is just really reflecting on oneself and more the relationship to oneself … whatever that means for any individual.

I do love that idea that everyone has a relationship with themselves. And it's a cool concept to kind of sing about, really — a concept everyone can kind of understand and put their own kind of relationship into that a bit. And I think it's kind of a bit more of a philosophical or deep dive into the ego, into oneself, kind of an album where I tried to write … well, I have written a lot of songs that kind of deal with that. But, to me, this was kind of the point of this one was to go as deep … deeper … go deeper.

It seems like you achieved that for sure. It feels like a very thoughtful record.

Cool. Yeah, I appreciate that.

You worked on Three Bells with Cooper Crane, who engineered, mixed, and co-produced the record, and you've worked with him before. So how has your recording relationship grown after working together with Cooper on a few records, including Harmonizer and Hello, Hi?

It just has grown deeper and more connected. I've said this a bunch, but I feel this way: We have a bit of a hive mind where you get to a point when you work with someone a lot, and especially when you work with someone in a really productive and great way where you kind of start to finish ideas that someone started or sentences. Or you kind of have this similar, creatively fluid thing happening, and we kind of have that where he’s almost doing the thing I would ask him to do before I even ask him to do it.

It's a really cool situation in the studio, and it kind of opens me up to do a bit more of the performance and arrangement-focused stuff instead of figuring out how to mic the guitar. It's cool. It's great. He'll let me do whatever I need to do to get an idea to where it needs to be, and that's really, really great.

It sounds like you've built up this trusting relationship over the past three records you've worked together on.

Yeah, we have trust, and it's awesome.

It's not always what you're going to get when working with someone, but that's the reason why you go back to them again, right? You know you can build something with somebody.

True!

You also worked on the record with your wife, Denée Segall. What's your work relationship like compared to your actual relationship? Does it feel seamless or frictionless to work on songs together?

Yeah! There's no ego, first and foremost, when we're working on a thing. And also we're just honest with each other, and there's no kind of stake when we work with each other. It’s an honest, real kind of thing that's just great, and it's very similar to our relationship. There really isn't a difference. We’re just honest and try to be real with each other, and that's all you can be.

It sounds like you had the most awesome tools and people to make this record. That’s exciting.

I'm lucky to have people in my life that support me. It's great.

‘Cause the life of an artist is not always easy, so it's those relationships, sometimes, that really help you keep going. 

So what’s your favorite song that you two have collaborated on, on this record? You did … what was it, five songs collaboratively on Three Bells?

I'm partial to all of them, but I think “Eggman” is pretty cool just because it's so weird and kind of gross, which I like. And I like disgusting and harsh songs, even just from a sonic standpoint. It might not be everybody's cup of tea, but I love noisy stuff. I like what Denée did. Yeah, it's cool. That one was an outlier where I was like, “Oh yeah, cool. Nasty. It’s nice. We need a nasty song on the album.” So I like that one.

Guitars obviously dominate on most of your records, and this one's no exception. However, to me, when I was listening through, there's some really interesting sonic layers. Was there anything new, instrument or effects-wise, that you played around with in the studio for this record?

Not really. This one was pretty traditional in its instrumentation. Really the main instruments were drums, bass, acoustic, electric, a little bit of Mellotron, some keys, a synth drum for one song, you know? Some phaser, some echo, some harmonizer — there wasn't really any, like, “I got this different instrument to bring in.”

It was very much, “Let's keep the instrumentation classic, but how we use the classic instruments, let's try to do it differently a bit.” So room mics and screwed-up, blown-out stuff, but not a ton of it, you know? It was more about the dynamic range and the peaks and valleys of things.

And kind of like you said at the beginning of the interview, I didn't want to make a record that was just kind of full-on, everything up to 10 from the beginning of it. I wanted to have it be a slow burn and get there eventually, but definitely not right away.

Yeah, it's a compliment to you and Cooper that y'all use the same instrumentation and effects pedals and all that, and it sounds like there's something different. 

You mentioned moving mics around and “blown-out amps” or whatever, but yeah, it's a … what I would say is a very intriguing record, sonically. And part of that intrigue is that I've always enjoyed your vocal harmonies and the layering on your recordings. But I always want to question people who play with vocal harmonies: How do you know when enough is enough?

Well, one thing I learned early on is you can always put too much on, and it's always cooler to have less. That's just something I think. Especially with vocals, I really feel like less is more, and it's hard to stick to that rule, especially if you have a part in your head or a thing you want to achieve. But that was kind of a thing Cooper and I talked about, which was we want the lead vocal to be mostly a single lead vocal, and then the other parts that come in, they need to be great or they shouldn't be there.

I think for all the songs, it was like, “Should it be there? Okay. If it doesn't need to be there, then it's not going to be there.” You know? It needs to be affecting, so I don't think I did things like that, or I don't think I thought in that way on previous records as much. It was kind of like, “If it sounds cool, it sounds cool.”

So it's a hard one because there is an argument to be said that more is cool, and it does sound interesting. So I really don't know. It's a case-by-case kind of thing, but Cooper is a great person to talk to about that. And that is one of the kind of amazing things we have going on is the conversation of, “Should this thing be there?” And he definitely let me go down the vocal wormhole, which was pretty epic on this one. But when it was time for me to be like, “Well, I don't know about this part,” he's honest, and we figured it out.

Yeah, it's good to have a second opinion. Because sometimes, the things you think in your head, like, “I want it to sound like this,” you kind of start getting away from that. [sound of dogs barking]

Ope! There are the dogs!

I was gonna just ask about the dogs, too, that's funny!

Well, they were like, “Hey, why aren't you talking about us?”

I was thinking about the song, “My Best Friend,” because 88Nine just added it to our rotation. And the first time I heard it, I loved it. It reminds me of a Shocking Blue song that I love so much, in the best way. Clearly, it's not like it, exactly.

Which song?

“Love Buzz”?

Yeah. Classic.

I love it. It makes me really happy when I hear it. And the song's about your two dogs, and dogs are such worthy song subjects. What inspired you to devote a song to your two dachshunds on this particular record?

So actually it's just about Mr. Herman, one of our dogs, and I had written another song for our other dog Fanny, “Fanny Dog,” and I just felt like Herman needed his own song.

I agree 100% with what you say. Dogs are the most deserving of songs. They’re great. They fill our lives with joy. It’s a nice way to think about them. Spread the joy around a bit.

So, you know, there's some heaviness to the album. There's some darkness and deepness, and I felt like there needed to be some lightness and a kind of happy song, a joyous song. And what better way to do that than sing about your dog, you know? And Herman is a very bouncy, happy, goofy dog, so I was like, “It needs to be a happy, fun, bouncy song.” It's a Mr. Herman song.

Do your dogs like rock ‘n’ roll more than any other types of music?

Well, Herman's a rocker, for sure. He likes Judas Priest. He likes Blue Oyster Cult, some Zeppelin, some Sabbath. He likes to rock. Fanny is a bit more into all kinds of music. I think Herman just likes eating some food and rocking out, you know? Which is awesome.

Did they ever come along with you on tour?

No, they haven't. They're homebodies. I think they prefer to be at home, anyway. I miss them when I go on tour.

So what does the release of this album hold for you in the immediate future? I know you've got tour dates announced, but what does the next month or so look like for you?

Practicing, getting ready to tour, and then playing the tours. Most of the work for the record goes into everything before it comes out, and then you just play, play, play, you know?

I'm psyched to go play. We're pretty much playing almost the whole record in full on the tour, which is cool. Haven't done that in years. We usually kind of go out and do like a kind of grab bag of everything. The new record is really fun to play. Very fun. So, yeah, just gonna go play.

That sounds really epic and the best way to hone your skill set for playing this full record. By the time you end your tour, you're just going to be ripping through it like nobody's business. Have so much fun. I really appreciate you talking to me today, Ty Segall. Three Bells is going to be out on Friday the 26th on Drag City Records. Ty, thank you so much for talking to me.

Thank you!

88Nine Music Director | Radio Milwaukee