Before surf-y, garage rock bands were a dime a dozen in Orange County, Laguna Beach multi-instrumentalist Ty Segall blazed the trail. With a distinctive fuzzed-out tone, an ear for experimentation and a knack for songwriting, the axe-wielding psych-rock prophet has been one of the genre’s most prolific artists for more than a decade. Segall has proven his versatility over the course of more than a dozen solo albums and a myriad of collaborations, playing loud and heavy rock & roll, acoustic glam rock and everything in between. However, his latest album, First Taste, released earlier this month, is his most unconventional work yet.
The concept behind First Taste is fairly straightforward: an entire album with no guitar. For Segall, this is unexpected, especially considering his blazing six-string has been at the center of nearly everything he’s put out over the past 11 years. But it also seems to be the next logical step for someone who has consistently pushed creative boundaries.
Segall came up with the idea when he started playing a bouzouki. “[It’s] a Greek instrument,” he explains. “There’s also an Irish one, but I got the Greek style. I just wrote a song on it, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool. . . . This feels different from writing on a guitar.’ I just kept writing and pretty much figured it would be a cool idea to try to write a whole record without a guitar and see what that feels like. I eventually got more and more instruments I didn’t know how to play and that were kind of strange to me, and yeah, I ended up with these songs.”
First Taste is packed with textures and melodies that are uncommon in rock records. But thanks in part to the album’s overall production, it still sounds unmistakably like Segall’s work. He was able to achieve his signature tone with some unlikely instruments. “They’re all kind of run through different pedals or amp setups,” he says. “Some of them have the same setup as my guitar rig; others have D.I. [direct inject or direct input] stuff going on—it’s all over the place. There’s definitely some acoustic stuff, as well.”
From the bone-crushing, synth-driven first track, “Taste,” to the stripped-down “Ice Plant,” which sounds like something Harry Nilsson and Brian Wilson might have written together while passing a joint, the album is as cohesive as it is diverse.
While Segall’s past rock influences have been somewhat obvious, it’s significantly harder to pin down what he was moved by when he wrote this album. “I was listening to a lot of Fela Kuti, Aphrodite’s Child, a lot of funk and soul—you know, a lot of percussive world music,” he says.
Despite the international flavor, First Taste is still an American hard-rock album at its core. A great deal of its heaviness comes from the two drum sets (recorded in stereo) that give most of the songs a lush, thumping backbeat. This is most apparent on tracks such as “I Worship the Dog” and the almost-Zappa-esque “Self Esteem.”
This was a way for Segall to maintain some level of familiarity in otherwise-uncharted waters. “I love playing drums, and I wanted it to still be a heavy record,” he says. “If I’m not going to play guitar, I’m going to make sure there are a ton of drums all over the place on the record.”
Though Segall recorded several instruments and a few songs by himself, First Taste does also feature the Freedom Band. The group have served as Segall’s primary backing band in recent years and include some of his longest-running musical collaborators, such as Mikal Cronin and Charles Moothart. Since high school, the three have worked together on a plethora of projects.
“If you’re playing with people for a really long time, you’re going to grow together and create special dynamics and special musical relationships,” Segall says. First Taste is a perfect example of these connections at work, as members of the Freedom Band often switched instruments throughout the recording process.
Ty Segall is currently in the middle of a weekly residency at the Teragram Ballroom in Downtown Los Angeles. Every Friday through the end of September, he and the Freedom Band will be playing First Taste along with a different album from his catalog in its entirety. “The LA [gig] just sort of started out as me and the band wanting to stay at home for the summer,” Segall says. “So we kind of devised this scheme of playing 10 shows in LA, and then when that started getting discussed, we thought, ‘Well, what if we play different albums and make it more interesting?’ And that snowballed, and then it became, ‘Okay, let’s do that everywhere.’”
In October, the band leave for a three-day stint in New York, then they’ll embark on a quick European tour, with each show featuring a mix of new and classic material. “It’s interesting. It’s an experiment for sure, but it’s fun. It’s a ton of work learning all those albums,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s really worth it.”
Ty Segall & Freedom Band play at the Teragram Ballroom, 1234 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles, (213) 689-9100; teragramballroom.com. Aug. 16, First Taste + Goodbye Bread, with the Intelligence; Aug. 23, with Oog Bogo; Aug. 30, First Taste + Emotional Mugger, with Lamps; Sept. 6, with the Orange Man; Sept. 13, First Taste + Manipulator, with Ruth Garbus; Sept. 20 & 27, with DMBQ. Shows, 9 p.m. $28. All ages.