A year ago, White Fence was the best-kept secret of California’s hyper-fertile psych-rock scene, turning in a promising self-titled album in 2010 and 2011’s phenomenal “Is Growing Faith.” Somewhere between then and now, Tim Presley started touring regularly, hooked up with Ty Segall– the reigning crown prince of garage-punk– and had his hand in not one, not even two, but three of 2012’s best albums (“Hair,” his collaboration with Segall, and his solo opus, the two-volume set “Family Perfume“), going from secret weapon to star player as quickly as he turns over records. I recently caught up with Presley, who was alternately forthcoming and withholding (I promise you I’m not a cop, Tim) about his hyper-prolific writing process (Hint: It‘s sort of like making breakfast), working with Segall, and why parts of his life are worthy of a Maury episode. — Douglas Martin
I have my own theories, but what do you feel each of your albums– White Fence, Is Growing Faith, and Family Perfume— are “about?” What concepts and themes do you feel are the ones that shine brightest, or would you prefer to leave that open, for each listener to have their own ideas as far as that goes?
The first one is random, a collection, a stream of musical sparks. Is Growing Faith has a mini concept of this new found faith (in myself and others) and energy to make the art and music I want to make, but also for the listener to realize they shouldn’t second guess their inspiration. To just “do”, and keep at it. You’ll find your stride, or way, if you keep at it; never mind your insecurities. Forget what people think. It’s pointless to dwell on opinions. Family Perfume has many meanings. It is basically a diary of 2011. It’s also a basic concept of things that stick with you, or haunt you. Like a dream that hits you a week later walking down the road, or something someone said five years ago and you think about it now. There’s more to it I suppose, but that’s a general idea.
The biggest thing I notice on Family Perfume that I don’t think I caught before is the specificity of the lyrics; they sound deeply personal. Are these songs made-up vignettes spun from your imagination, or are you drawing from reality here? Do you really know a girl who wishes you were the father of her kid?
Yes, it’s all real. I’m not a fiction writer. There’s too much going on with me to have to pull from a made up story. This is the only place I can release demons, [kind of like having] an imaginary therapist. I don’t have money for one, so the mirror and the pen will have to do. That particular song is a long story. Maybe someday with a bottle of scotch, beer and cocaine we can talk about it.
One of my favorite things about White Fence– one of the things I think separates your music from the rest of the California garage re-revival– is your attention to detail as far as sculpting out-there sounds. I just imagine your recording space being littered with cheap keyboards and grade-school flutes and stuff. Are you a super-musical person? Like, can you pick up those instruments and play them in pitch-perfect key, or do you just record the meat of a song and then say, “This needs a flourish that sounds like a metallic falcon flying through Mordor?”
I’ve gotten better at drums and bass, but most of it starts with guitar. I like sampling sounds. But yes, I have cheap keyboards and flutes. You kinda nailed it. Wait, are you in my room right now? There’s a time and place for simplicity, but many other “garage-rock” bands today stop there. Which is fine. But I don’t want to hear that now. I’ll turn the page. THAT’S the shit that’s been done before. I want to travel more into it. I want to see actual cells, not just the bone. I want to fry an egg.
The biggest misconception about psychedelic music is that its makers and most of its fans are high on some serious shit. (I say this because I don’t really do drugs, I’m just really into weird music.) Do you or have you ever recorded extremely stoned? What is the best song you’ve ever recorded while on drugs?
“The Love Between” had a good concoction. In fact, [for] the first LP, I smoked weed on the hour for about a year. I’d like to reveal more, but I still don’t know if you’re a cop or not.
For a long time, most people have primarily known you as a member of Darker My Love. What was the impetus behind recording as White Fence? Did you intend to tour as White Fence from the beginning, or did the project’s mounting popularity force your hand to put together a live show?
The first two LPs overlapped Darker My Love. I felt maybe the group wouldn’t have like those songs, so they became a personal thing. Darker My Love is a band, and White Fence is me. Instead of writing with 4 other people in mind, I could write and record what I have in mind. I didn’t really think about playing live with White Fence. I got a show offer after the first LP came out and my brother (Sean) put a band together in SF. There was no “mounting popularity” at the time, it just seemed like a good idea.
Hair, your collaborative record with Ty Segall, is far better than most collaborative rock records these days can even imagine being. Was there a specific moment where you were like, “This Ty Segall cat is the real deal. I need to work with him.”
He came up to me, and asked if I would be interested in doing a split with him. He was into the White Fence records. I thought, “Yeah, sure.” Turns out he IS the real deal. It took on a way bigger shape than imagined. I figured we’d both record some songs separately and throw it on wax. After I visited him at the studio, he was working at in San Francisco, I was so blown away by what he was doing (as far as sounds) that I HAD to re-record “I’m Not A Game” there with him. Days before, I had written and recorded it at home, but after hearing what he could do at the studio, I HAD to re-do it with him. So I taught him the song in like 30 minutes and he played drums. From there, we played on each other’s songs and wrote some together. It turned into a band, basically, like a band with two songwriters. I always loved the sound of his records, so it was cool to do these songs through his sonic filter. We are similar in many ways, like as far as musical background and musical taste. But also, we have this strange yin-yang thing. I don’t need to explain it, it’s in the difference between each other’s LPs. Different but similar. Different hands, similar heart.
What was it like writing songs with him? I know for Hair, you guys were joined by [former Segall bandmate and longtime friend] Mikal Cronin and your brother Sean, who plays in Nodzzz. What was the recording process like? It just sounds like a really enjoyable, fraternal vibe. I imagine the biggest arguments happening over pizza toppings.
Ha. You’re pretty much correct. It was the smoothest-brain-wave musical venture I’ve ever done. We didn’t have to discuss anything, we shared the same brain. It was so bizarre, yet so natural at the time. It’s not till now, in retrospect, that I think it was bizarre! It was almost like everything he said, I had already thought it, and vise-versa. So what that means is that it eliminated any bullshit music talk, or ego one-upping. He was my mirror. And it we all know its weird to talk into a mirror. For six days or whatever it was in total, we melted together as one person.
Were the songs written for Hair songs you guys had lying around, or did you write them with each other in mind?
I think we both brought out things in to each other, we might have felt weird about [writing] alone. That’s why I liked it . We peeked into each other’s worlds. I tried on his shoes and he tried on mine.
Going back to White Fence, what’s next? Another album? Family Perfume 2.5: The Outtakes? A “lost” album consisting of stuff that you want to release but haven’t gotten around to?
I want to re-release the self-titled LP on vinyl. As far as new shit, I don’t know. I have songs, but am still writing. I’m still digging for gold.