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WHO: In less than a decade, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ty Segall has already amassed a catalog so extensive that it would shame most artists who have been around twice as long. In addition to nine solo albums and more than a dozen seven-inch singles, the 27-year-old Southern Californian has made records with Fuzz, the Epsilons, Party Fowl, the Traditional Fools, Sic Alps, White Fence and Mikal Cronin, all of which bear elements of Segall’s obsession with the garage rock and psychedelia of the 1960s, and the space, glam, punk and hard rock of the 1970s. Manipulator, Segall’s latest solo excursion, is his most accomplished yet, a fuzz-driven romp through 17 conceptually-linked tracks that variously recall everything from the Stooges and the Seeds to T. Rex and Tommy James and the Shondells, all filtered through a 21st century lo-fi sensibility.
THE CONCEPT: Subtitled “The Ballad of Sue Thumb or the Faker Wants Your Place,” Manipulator is something of a concept album, though perhaps not in the traditional sense. “I don’t like to spell it out too much,” Segall says, “but the whole record is like this particular universe or world, and all the songs are from the points of view of different characters that live in this world.” While he didn’t start writing the album with this idea in mind, Segall says it came to him pretty early in the writing process. “I’d written maybe five or six songs that were keepers, and I realized three or four of them were about a specific character. It was like, ‘This is weird — I don’t know why this is happening.’ But since they all seemed to be connected, I was like, ‘Let’s see where it goes.’ And then eventually a loose story or theme shaped up, involving paranoia, manipulation, power struggles and destruction.”
AXE AND YOU SHALL CONCEIVE: Segall wrote and recorded much of Manipulator using a 1977 Gibson ES-335, a guitar he bought specifically for the project. “I’m kind of superstitious,” he says, “In that I like to get a new guitar to write a new record. If there is a specific sound to it that you’re not used to, it definitely affects your brain and your creativity, and makes you have a more open mind when writing new songs. This guitar has a coil-tap switch on it, which means you can switch the humbuckers to single coils, so there’s like four different sounds you can get out of it.”
HERE COMES THE FUZZ: Segall’s favorite guitar effect is fuzztone, and he traces his love back to his initial discovery of ’60s garage lords the Music Machine. “I was maybe 14 or 15, and I heard ‘Talk Talk’ for the first time, and I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s rad!’ The fuzz on their records was so fucking nuts, and they were just the coolest band; they were dressed all in black, they all wore one black leather glove, and they all had these weird haircuts. I was like, ‘Who are these guys?'” Though he’s forever in search of arcane fuzz pedals, he sticks with the Death by Audio Fuzz War pedal for his live shows. “I can’t play a show without that thing,” he says. “It’s the perfect blend of single notes and power chord fuzz; it’s like what a Big Muff should sound like, you know? Plus, I break stuff too much, and I don’t want to depend on things that are hard to find, so I’ve got like ten of ’em — there’s always another one in my amp if I break the one I’m playing through.”