SF Chronicle: Ty Segall makes most of classic rock rootsJanuary 11, 2016
One week out from two great nighttts with TY SEGALL & THE MUGGERS! Tickets on sale now. Check out the Chronicle’s recent preview…
When Ty Segall takes the stage at the Fillmore for his upcoming two-night stint, there’s little doubt he’ll be feeling pretty proud about headlining a venue where any number of early 1970s rock ’n’ rollers performed. Though born in 1987, Segall’s open love of the era is part of his approach and appeal, as much as it is his love for scuzzy below-the-radar noise from later years.
There’s also the Orange County-born Segall’s general connection to the city. His long-term friendship and professional collaborations with local figures like John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees — himself only fairly recently relocated to Los Angeles — was instrumental to his initial burst of wider attention at the end of the last decade.
But asking Segall more about all this wasn’t possible before his two San Francisco shows on Jan. 18-19. His latest album, “Emotional Mugger,” appears on Drag City Records on Jan. 22, and he’s choosing not to do any formal publicity for it, interviews included. But in an era of maximum social media exposure and surprise releases, he’s taken approaches from the not-too-distant past instead.
News of “Emotional Mugger” first surfaced with a VHS promo tape that appeared last year; it was a treat for those who still had a player around. There was also a website,www.emotionalmugger.com, featuring Segall and his band performing a song wearing baby masks.
Finally, there was a phone hotline set up at (800) 281-2968. It featured a looped message from Segall saying things like “I am itching to hear how I can fill the holes in your ego. Do you need a daddy? Do you need a baby?” in the tone of voice most associated with a psychological thriller. It included various crying and weeping moans, and more creepy sounds. It’s definitely not your standard press release.
All of this would only be so much indulgence if Segall had nothing to show for it. But after a variety of teenage efforts with other bands, he released a cassette debut, “Horn the Unicorn,” in 2007, followed by a formal self-titled album the following year on Dwyer’s Castle Face label. And Segall hasn’t really stopped since, with a steady stream of split releases, collaborations, singles and more appearing every year.
To give a sense of what he’s been up to lately, consider three recent releases, all appearing within months of each other. In November, a band Segall formed with Charles Moothart in 2012, Fuzz, released its second record, “II,” via In the Red Records, along with doing a short tour that included a night at the Chapel in the Mission.
With a black-and-white cover that looked like a nightmare combination of a bad acid trip, Cthulhu and 1980s stoner high school art — in the best sense — “II” is a enjoyable indulgence in heavy riffing and, unsurprisingly, plenty of fuzz, with song titles like “Jack the Maggot” and “Silent Sits the Dust Bowl.” The slight twist is that while Segall sings lead along with Moothart, he plays drums, not guitar, in the band, and does so with a sometimes frenetic explosiveness reminiscent of any number of proto-metal bands at the dawn of the ’70s.
Also in November, Segall released a collection of Tyrannosaurus Rex and T. Rex cover songs on Goner Records for Black Friday, called, perhaps inevitably, “Ty Rex.” Perhaps even more so than David Bowie, T. Rex’s lead figure, Marc Bolan, is Segall’s most direct glam predecessor.
While never shying away from a melody, Bolan’s own near-constant churn of albums and singles before his untimely passing also had everything from wonderfully strange lyrics to trippy arrangements ranging from folk rambles to heavy rock stomps. There’s also Bolan’s own distinct falsetto warble and whisper. Segall doesn’t attempt to directly clone that, but over nine songs — drawing from both earlier tribute singles and new covers — he definitely brings his own strutting, slightly fried edge to the source material.
Then there’s “Emotional Mugger” itself. If “Ty Rex” was all good-spirited craziness, this album is the comedown — or at least a place where everything is going a little wrong. Segall’s T. Rex appreciation in general certainly has a place on this album, but the feeling is often more like that of a much earlier group on the Drag City label, the snarling bummer blues of Royal Trux.
Add in song titles like “Squealer” (and “Squealer Two”) and “Baby Big Man (I Want a Mommy),” in combination with the cryptic public campaign for the album so far, and the result is an album that’s not always the easiest of listens. Nonetheless, it is definitely distinct from his most recent efforts.
What face — or faces — Segall will show onstage may be something else again (almost certainly more songs and releases are already coming together). But Segall’s kept up a good run in recent years and it’s increasingly interesting to see where he’ll go next.
Ned Raggett is a freelance writer.
Ty Segall and the Muggers, with CFM: 8 p.m. Jan. 18-19. $27. The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F. www.thefillmore.com.