Interview and Photographs by Angie Gray
WHITE FENCE could easily be considered one of the most prolific and enigmatic artists of his generation. In spite of an output of hundreds of songs in merely four years, Tim Presley the man behind the moniker, will probably manage to surprise again. His latest album “To the Recently Found Innocent” drops July 22, courtesy of Drag City.
CITY: LOS ANGELES
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Los Angeles then my family moved to San Francisco when I was around five years old and that’s where I lived for most of my youth. I moved back to L.A. in 2003. I wanted to do art but also wanted to start a band. After going to college for art, I started Darker my Love.
Do you remember a moment when you decided you wanted to be a musician?
I never thought about it. It was just something I did. Music just kind of fell upon me. It’s like a gravitational pole and it often means compromising other things like family vacations or another job but I guess I’m just wired that way.
Do you do a lot of reading poetry, novels?
I haven’t lately. I don’t like to read poetry too much because I feel that it would make what I write “bad”, like too much influence. I want to be like an idiot. I don’t want to be too versed in writing because I want to write pure. It would be the same thing with music. If someone is listening to other musicians all the time, how can they make their own good music? With such a wide variety, there would be too many influences. I guess I’m saying to just let it happen.
Like stream of consciousness?
When you started your new project separate from Darker My Love, what made you chose the name White Fence?
Not exactly sure but I like the paradox of that name. For instance, there is this pretty well known, violent street gang in East L.A. who call themselves White Fence and then you have the more suburban meaning of the white picket fence with all of it’s connotations of the safe typical suburban family. The paradox I think is cool. It’s like a yin-yang basically.
You seem to be un-stoppable! You’ve now completed your 6th or 7th White Fence album?
Yep, 6 or 7 I lost track .
And this new album brings another collaboration with Ty Segall?
Yeah, we collaborated in the album “Hair” (2012) but this time was a bit different. I had a lot of songs to choose from and he took care of the technical aspect of it. I decided which ones to play and he recorded them. He just really understands what I would want to hear in a record. He’s the perfect collaborator in that sense.
Do you usually write songs alone or with other people ?
In Darker My Love it was me and Rob Barbato who wrote the songs and then the band shaped them. White Fence is different in that it’s basically just me. I don’t know if that makes me a control freak (laughs), no but I don’t think I am.
You were doing lo-fi recordings by yourself in your bedroom?
Yeah every day and every night. I still kind of do that but I wanted to see what would happen if it was recorded somewhere else. It sounds good, but it’s still not overly polished or produced. It’s just a notch up from the bedroom.
Can you tell us a bit more about the making of your new album?
After working on my own for so long I was a little scared to work with someone again but Ty is so good and we’re kind of similar people so it just worked out.
Also, working with Ty it was as if I’d been given a task, a creative task with him lighting the fire under me. I had to rise to the occasion which was a very refreshing thing. He put his trust in me with the songs and then I put my trust in him with recording it and making it all sound cool. The next record could be totally different, it’s just a matter of what the best output would be and figuring out what I need to do to get to that.
It had to happen. I had to get out of my bedroom. I had to leave and do something else. I couldn’t make another record if I wasn’t feeling inspired and this new way of recording forced me to be inspired. I had to try different avenues. It’s almost like being in the care of someone else. I don’t know, it had to happen.
How did you and Ty meet ?
We met outside the Hemlock in San Francisco and he told me ,“Your records are cool, I want to record with you” and that was that.
The titles of your songs….are sort of cryptic ..
They’re open for interpretation. That’s the best part about them, they all have meaning, my meaning… but hopefully everyone can give them their own meaning.
What comes to you first the music or the lyrics?
It’s like a vicious cycle. Sometimes the music comes first and then I put lyrics to that but sometimes at night ….I’ve been writing a lot of stuff and it just comes to me whenever. I could be walking down the street and think, “Oh that’s good” and put it into a song I’ve been working on. It’s never always music first then the lyrics it’s different with every song. Then there’s a song which obviously has a certain musical mood to it, then the lyrics should fit that mood. If there’s a lot of minor chords in it then it would probably be best with sad lyrics…
Could you tell me more about your process for writing songs?
It’s close to meditation. I try to have nothing on my mind. That’s why I stay up until 6 in the morning because there are no distractions, no emails, no phone calls, maybe just the sound of coyotes. Then, I can completely get into the mood of a song which is very important. Sometimes in a band there can be too many people. I love people and I love bands working together it’s a beautiful thing but for a certain type of person like myself, I need to be alone to be able to figure it out.
It’s more important for me to make time for it., to be devout like a monk with no distractions. Even eating can be a distraction. I hate it when I get hungry because I don’t want to stop!
Do you do you still do your band art work and album covers?
Yeah. I haven’t been doing a lot of art though lately. It’s all a matter of inspiration and I don’t want to force it. That’s when it gets bad, you know?
But the music I do everyday is like an exercise. It’s like mixing paint. You can get a new color that you didn’t know would exist before. Everyday I’m learning something new. I’m not that technical. I don’t know how to read music, really. For me, it’s more about finding sounds, like a scavenger hunt, an adventure. Today I could go back home and could find the bass could sound like this or that. It’s just constantly tweaking stuff like an adventure.
You’re self taught then right? How many instruments do you play?
Mostly string instruments,bass, guitar. I can play a little drums, but very badly.
Do you have any guitar heroes ?
It’s weird because I like both ends of the spectrum. There’s people like Jimi Hendrix on one side then the Shags on the other. There’s a beauty in all of it, in both the simple and the technical. There’s also guitar players that have a cool style, you know, even if they don’t play that great, they look really cool. That’s another factor. But no I don’t really have a guitar hero.
Do you like playing live ?
Do you like writing better?
Yeah. The thing I don’t like about playing live is the anxiety of preparing for it. I don’t get nervous at all performing, it’s like I’m ready to play! You get to the venue and you sound check at 4 o’clock and by 7 o’clock you want to play but you don’t play till 11. But once your on stage, it’s awesome.
Do you prefer to play more intimate or larger venues?
Definitely intimate. There was a couple of times towards the end of playing with Darker My Love, when we were supporting these bigger bands that played huge places. It was so lonely, the dressing room is so far away and you just feel so lonely and if you’re just hiding back there in your room, it makes you feel like you’re playing in the symphony or something, it’s just way to serious feeling and it sucked the fun out of it. Intimate shows are better because I like talking to people either before or after the show whether it’s friends or just people who want to say “good show”or buy your record. I like to talk to them and hear what they have to say. It feels more like a full experience that way.
What do you like to do for fun?
That’s a good question. I don’t know!
Well, it sounds like you have fun writing music.
(Laughs) That’s it. I’ll be somewhere nice and I’ll just be thinking about music the whole time. .
I don’t do anything. It sucks.
It’s like a fucking curse. I just want to go home and record some music.
How about movies? Do you like Horror movies?
I just watched the new Paranormal Activities but I don’t really like horror films.
I went to Catholic School until the 8th grade and I remember seeing the Exorcist in the 4th or 5th grade and because it dealt with the church and all that as a Catholic boy, I was really scared. Catholicism in general is very scary.
But it can be a good source of inspiration for artists.
Yeah like History. I do really like History, anything, every period.
I do really like Mythology. That’s the one class I got A’s in, in college. The only one. Every other subject I got C’s.
Your music gets labeled with the term psychedelic a lot. Do you agree with that description?
I don’t know. I grew up in the punk scene in my neighborhood and that, obviously
has kind of lost its meaning, it’s so vague now. People can call me anything they want. I’m not offended by it. I just think it is an uncreative way to describe a group.
Personally, I think someone like Ariel Pink is more Psychedelic than 80% of the bands that are considered Psychedelic. It’s all relative. Just because you have a little reverb and a space echo, that doesn’t really make you psychedelic. I don’t know
This issue we are also talking about the link between psychedelic drugs, fairies and aliens. Do you think that aliens exist and if so, what do you think they are?
Yep. I think they’re already here among us in different human bodies checking us out.
Have you had any experiences?
With aliens, no.
Would you like to?