Ty Segall: A Garage-Punk One-Man Band

Ty Segall: LemonsTy Segall: Lemons (Goner Records, 7/14/09)

Ty Segall: “It #1”

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Ty Segall is too cool for school.

At 17 years old, while still in high school, he and his band, Epsilons, recorded two frenzied electro-garage free-for-alls for Los Angeles’ Retard Disco Records. With their frantic live shows, they made an impact on LA’s all-ages live-music scene.

“With the Epsilons, we really had no idea what we were doing,” Segall says. “We couldn’t tour for over a year because we were all underage. It was kind of an experiment of a band. We all learned together as we went, but had lots of happy accidents.”

But soon, nationwide touring followed (over spring and summer break, of course), including shows alongside garage-punk stalwarts like Jay Reatard.

“My mom is a bit of a worry worm,” Segall says. “But she’s the most wonderful and caring person I know. It’s a parent’s place to worry when their kid’s out on the road playing shows, but they trust me, and they got used to it eventually. Now it’s no big deal.”

But like high school, that’s in the past. Epsilons called it quits, and Segall went solo to college in San Francisco. He hasn’t kept quiet; in 2009, he released his first solo self-titled nugget for Castle Face Records, the label operated by John Dwyer, formerly of nouveau garage-noise innovators Coachwhips. Now 22, Segall recently graduated from college with a degree in communications, just in time to get going with serious touring for his new solo record, Lemons, recorded for Eric “Oblivian” Friedl’s Goner Records in Memphis.

“I can’t believe Goner is releasing Lemons — the same label that put out Guitar Wolf and the Reatards,” Segall says. “I was shocked to get the phone call. John [Dwyer] passed some stuff I was working on to Eric at Goner; I E-mailed them, and that was it. That’s insane. That kind of thing doesn’t just happen, but here we are.”

Two solo records recorded for two of modern garage rock’s crowned heads before the age of 25 is no small feat. But Ty Segall is the real deal, playing every note with the kind of passionate, sweaty, hormonal swagger brandished by the best of the black- leather rockabilly cats of yore.

“John [Dwyer] passed some stuff I was working on to Eric at Goner; I E-mailed them, and that was it. That’s insane. That kind of thing doesn’t just happen, but here we are.”

Like his first solo foray, Segall plays nearly every note on Lemons. But whereas his self-titled release was truly played as a one-man band (i.e. recorded with guitar in hand at a drum kit) — resulting in the kind of spastic, sleazy madness that can only come from the peaked crash-and-burn pace of a fevered mind set in full motion — Lemons favors cleaner production, more cohesive songwriting, and more varied song styles. However, at the core of everything here is the cranked Hasil Adkins bender-bash Ty Segall has come to call his own.

“I like to think this record is a little more serious,” he says. “I really tried to work on writing what I think are better songs and to get a wider range of sounds. The production is a lot less ‘garbage-can rocky.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I just wanted something new and more dynamic.”

The results on Lemons cut a wide swath, pulling equal doses of tumbledown, back-porch rockabilly, swampy country blues, and rocket-fueled basement-punk-show frenzy. The rhythms are simple and familiar: he is, after all, playing all this himself, and should you venture out to see him live, you’ll see one man, one guitar, and one altered drum kit playing everything you hear here (though he has been known to play with friends backing him up).

But there’s a primal, heady momentum injected into these songs that’s a rare find in today’s slick, Pro Tools world. From the first bucket-beat fuzz-tone crackle and ghastly wail of the opening track, “It #1,” Segall’s genuinely unique voice, which is a rare and important aspect for any rock band, shines through.

The sheer variety of rock styles covered in less than 30 minutes is staggering, but it flows brilliantly, with each diversion bearing Segall’s trademark sonic stamp.

“Lovely One,” with its heart-beat drumming and keening backwoods Everly Brothers refrain, begs for some action on the dance (or basement) floor, while “Can’t Talk” is a spastic-lamentation, Mod-style rave-up. “Rusted Dust,” with its eerie falsetto vocals, calls to mind a lonely escaped convict, pining out of a boxcar somewhere on the prairie. Some of his greatest moments are without Segall’s otherworldly croon, such as instrumental “Untitled #2,” with its jungle drums, acoustic acrobatics, and creeping bass riffs slipping past at breakneck speed.

Though the record isn’t without its missteps (the unnecessary Captain Beefheart cover, “Dropout Boogie” comes to mind), Lemons is a glimpse at what one can only hope turns out to be a lengthy and fruitful career, and at 22, Segall ought to have plenty left in him.

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