Catching Up with White Fence
I caught up with Tim Presley, the man behind White Fence, at Phuzz Phest before his set that night at Krankie’s Coffee. We sat down by the railroad tracks and talked for a while about his writing and recording process, punk ethos, the DIY aesthetic, and some other cool stuff. He just announced his new album, To The Recently Found Innocent, which was produced by Ty Segall and is due out on Drag City July 22nd. Check out the full interview below:
Michael (WKNC): How are you doing today?
Tim Presley (White Fence): I’m doing very well. Thank you very much.
M: So what brings you out to Phuzz Phest? How did this come about?
T: I got an email about us playing it, and it seemed like a cool thing to do. I like looked back at past events. It seemed cool. We don’t really play North Carolina besides Asheville. And so it just seemed like a fun thing. They flew us and treated us good. You know it sounded like a good idea.
M: Yeah there are some really great dudes who run this festival. They are doing some cool stuff and it gets better and better every year.
T: I actually kind of know Anthony. Is that his name? From easy tiger? He runs the record store.
M: Yeah, yeah.
T: I met him a long time ago in San Francisco because that’s where he was living before here. So that was like some small world shit. So yeah then I saw that No Age, who we know from Los Angeles, and Kool Keith were playing, so it seemed like the deal just kept on getting sweeter.
M: Yeah. So is there anyone you are going to get a chance to see tonight that you are excited about?
T: Ex-cult from Memphis. They are friends of ours too and they are a great band.
M: Yeah they always put on a heavy show. So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your recording process. You were in a couple different bands. You were in a punk band starting out, The Nerve Agents, then the psych band Darker My Love. So what made you want to take off and do your own thing?
T: What made me change? I don’t know, I like music and I thought at that time the whole punk rock thing got swallowed up and became too many rules. And I liked a lot of other kinds of music anyways. So in my heart, I’m like a hardcore punk dude. But I don’t know, I don’t think there is anything applying that ethic and ethos to any type of music. And as far as like DIY, I believe in that and that’s what White Fence is pretty much. I record the music at home and I don’t have to answer or compromise to anybody and to me that’s kind of like punk in a way. You know? Music is music; it’s good or it’s bad. It doesn’t need to have a label like that.
M: Yeah, yeah definitely. You can have a difference of lifestyle and music. They don’t have to be the same.
T: Yeah, yeah. And as far as changing musically, I just thought that I could apply this aesthetic to any type of music. I mean I know hardcore dudes who act like fucking rock stars. You know what I mean? It’s all weird. I’m still like a punk dude, I think.
M: Right. So you’re from San Francisco right?
T: Yeah the Bay Area.
M: Alright so how would you describe the music scene there?
T: Well I moved to LA 10 years ago before everyone started moving there (laughs). And like back when I did it, people probably considered me kind of like a sell-out for doing it and now everyone is doing it so I guess someone’s got to be a martyr (laughs). So to be honest, I don’t really know because a lot of the music that was from San Francisco moved down to LA. But there are still awesome bands in San Francisco you know? So no love lost there really. It’s still good.
But yeah there’s still a lot of awesome bands you know? Just because a couple dudes move doesn’t mean that music is dead. And in fact, I think because a lot of people are moving because of financial issues because it is becoming very expensive to live there that’s almost like a good thing. Like almost like how Reaganomics was in the 80s. And that’s a horrible thing, but it will make for good music I think. Because people are pissed and angry people tend to make good music.
M: Yeah, yeah that’s definitely been true throughout history. So you’ve released records on a couple different labels? How did that kind of come about?
T: Well, the first record was put out by a friend Eric and it was on Make A Mess, the first LP.
M: Yeah that was the self-titled right?
T: Yeah, he just pressed a 1000 of those and he just wanted to put it out which was awesome. And then Woodsist wanted to do the next one and then our relationship kind of started from there. And then I did a couple records with them, then did a record with Castle Face, then just finished a new one and that’s going to be on Drag City.
M: That’s awesome! So how did you meet the Woodsist guys, how did that relationship form?
T: Oh, well it’s not a very good story. I think it was like over the computer. (laughs) You know? Like they dug the record and contacted me over email.
M: That’s awesome that someone believes in your music that much to just reach out to you over the internet and want to put out your stuff.
T: Well I had met Kevin, who’s the bass player in Woods and he has this band The Babies and he has his own Kevin Morby solo thing now. But he was kind of like the broker between me and Jeremy, the owner of the label and he’s also the main dude it Woods. So yeah, it’s not that good of a story.
M: (Laughs) Well that works. So you mentioned earlier the album that was released on Drag City which was the collaboration with Ty Segall. How did that collaboration come about?
T: To be honest, I think he was just a fan of the first two white fence records and he came up to me and asked if I would be interested in doing a split record. So I was like, “Yeah sure whatever.” And it was kind of always in the back of my mind. Then I ran into him again and he was like, “We should do it,” and then we were just kind of like, “Yeah let’s do it!” And I just thought it was going to be like, he takes the A side and I’ll take the B side kind of thing. But then we got together and started writing songs and it turned into a total collaboration as if it were a band you know? And it’s kind of like a band basically, between me and him. Like its total equal creativity which is awesome, seeing as I thought it was going to be totally separate you know? But it turns out that we work really well together
It’s really strange like… Like we could speak different languages. Like he could speak French and I could speak Ethiopian or something and it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter because when it comes right down to the music part of it. It’s totally like the same language, and it’s like really strange. It’s rare.
M: So did you know him at all before you started working on that record or was that really your first experience with him?
T: I mean kind of but not really. I mean I had seen him play a couple times and met him in bars. But we weren’t like chums you know?
M: Okay so that collaboration was kind of your first experience together. So what was it like, meeting each other in a studio like that?
T: Well like I said, we didn’t really talk that much because there wasn’t really much to talk about besides, “We’re going to do this.” And that was all that needed to be said. Then we just got together and sat down and wrote a song. And it just kind of went back and forth. You know? Like the first song that we worked on was “Scissor People” that’s on that record. I was like, “Check this riff out.” And he was like, “Cool, check this riff out.” And then we just turned it into a song you know?
M: So was the record done all in the same time frame or was it done over several different periods when you had free time?
T: Yeah but it all went down in a matter of a couple of weeks. Not consecutively, you know but like 6 days here. Or how did it go? I don’t even remember. It happened so fast, I don’t even know. But it wasn’t a long drawn out thing, it was pretty quick. And that’s another thing; we both record and create shit similar. Like write the song. Get it on tape. Done.
M: Yeah because both of you guys write and put out a lot of records in a short amount of time.
T: Yeah and like with that theory of making music, that’s how we both click that way. It’s real easy and fast.
M: So the quick song-writing, is that just something that happens naturally or do you feel this pressure to do that?
T: Well I’ve been on both sides of the coin with that. I was in a band Darker my Love, where we took a lot of time writing a song and a lot of like pre-production and a lot of basically just like dissecting everything. And there’s something to be said for that, but I think I’m the best when I can just get it down immediately. Like for example the other night, I was like going to bed and I thought of an idea. Some would just say like “I’ll remember that tomorrow.” But instead I jumped out of bed and went home and put it down on a little recorder real quick. I have a horrible memory, so I’m just afraid of losing any kind of thing or inspirational moment. You got to get it down as soon as possible or else I’ll just forget. And if you let it go too long, you lose the initial pizzazz that it had. The longer you wait; I feel like the more watered down an idea gets. I don’t know that’s just me though.
M: Yeah I mean it definitely seems to work for you. I love the albums. So how does the writing process work for you?
T: I wake up, walk down the street get coffee, go back to my apartment, smoke a cigarette, and play guitar. And if a song happens, then it happens. And if it doesn’t happen, then I’ll just go back into some old recordings and tweak it more.
M: So how does the recording process work, after you have a song fleshed out?
T: A lot of it, I would say 70% of it, is written on the cuff. Just have a little idea, like maybe a verse or maybe a verse and a chorus, and then just like put it down on tape. And just keep building throughout the day and night or for however long it takes. Yeah that’s the process. It’s different for every song really, but most of the times I try to get it all down before the moment is gone.
M: So do you ever enlist other musicians on the records?
T: No it’s just me. Like if I can’t get a certain drum part right, I will try every means to make that happen. Whether it’s banging two carrots together or something you know? I just try stuff. It’s good, experimenting with what you have or my ability. And I also chop up old drum beats too, which is a secret, but not anymore (laughs). And then tweak them to sound different so I don’t get sued.
M: (laughs) I gotcha. So do you think that has played a lot into your music; the fact that you might not have everything available to you and that it’s just you, as opposed to having everything at your disposal and being able to do whatever you want?
T: I think that part of being creative and inspired is figuring stuff out on your own. So if fit was all there for me, it would take the fun out of it. And plus, when you’re figuring stuff out on your own, you come across happy accidents that you couldn’t calculate. It’s just the moment you know?
M: Yeah. So the final mix on the record, what goes into that? Is it a lot of those spur of the moment recordings where you have an idea and you go down and record it or do you come back and revisit those and re-record them later?
T: I do both. Most of the time, it’s the spur of the moment trying to get the idea down and then add things to it later until it sounds right. But there’s other times where I’m like, “Ah man I wish I had added another chorus or another verse or something.” And then I’ll go back into it. I’ll sometimes re-record but most of the time it’s just spur of the moment. “What you hear is what you get” kind of thing. That was the thought of the day.
M: Okay. You’ve been doing White Fence for a good number of years now. So has the process changed at all during that time?
T: No, I think I’ve just gotten better on the 4 track (laughs).
M: Okay so you’re a big believer in recording that way, just straight to tape.
T: Yeah, yeah. I just think that if I wrote a bunch of songs like normal people and waited a month to go into the studio to record it, I think I would be deluding myself. I think it’d be deluded. Like oh shit there’s a flute right here, I’ll grab it and play it. Or like there’s a shaker here. No one has enough money to get really experimental and weird in the studio, you know?
M: Yeah I really like that idea of getting as close to that point of original inspiration as possible. I think that’s really cool. I think it makes the music more honest.
T: I think so too. Yeah because that’s the emotion and the feel that you have at that second and hopefully it comes across that way on the record. Instead of waiting and like watching the fucking Wire for a week, and then recording.
M: Yeah and I’ve seen it happen to a lot of bands. You hear demos and you see them live and it sounds great. Then it comes out on a studio album a year later and it’s just been so watered down.
T: Yeah see that’s the thing. A lot of people who like good sounding records will think White Fence just sounds like a bunch of demos. And that’s fine because that’s what it is and that’s when the song was hot in the mind. So fidelity wise, if they don’t like it, they can just fuck off, you know? I don’t care. But at least it’s the honest way it should have been, I think. So I don’t really care, I just know that at the end of the day, that’s what that song was supposed to sound like. Whether it sounds like trash or whatever (laughs).
Like you said, you listen to the demos and you’re like, “This is cool.” But by the time you get to the studio record, it’s watered down. That happens all the time. A lot of the times you notice, you get like old records with like bonus tracks which are demos and those sound awesome you know? Sometimes those versions are better.
M: Yeah definitely. So ideally, how would you like someone to hear White Fence for the first time? Would you rather it be at a show or in their room listening to the record?
T: I don’t know, in my mind I’m still like that 22 year old dude who smokes grass all day and listens to albums. So that’s how I would rather it be. I would rather have someone like smoke some weed or something (laughs) or whatever. But just like listen to the album at home whether they are drawing or like they’re knitting or whatever. You know? I’d rather that. Live is another thing. Live is a whole other beast. Like live is like more of a rock and roll thing. Sorry maybe we should pause this.
*train goes by
T: You ever jumped a train?
M: No I haven’t, have you?
T: It seems doable though.
M: Yeah especially this one.
T: Well I think that like the live show is more designed for like a rock and roll show. If I’m at home, I think the vibe is set a different way and those are the records. Live I feel like, if someone is drinking a couple of beers or they’re stoned or they are just there to have a good time, if you amp up the energy a little… To me, that’s what I would want to see I guess. It’s hard to say. But then again and I’ve said it before, but once you get on stage, you kind of get this jolt of like electricity, and you kind of want to rock. Rock is a weird word. I don’t know. The energy is different.
M: Right because the crowd is all into it and you feed off that.
T: Yeah, yeah. It’s just a different energy. At home it’s a more vibe-y thing than live. There’s electricity when you go out; people are talking, people are hanging out. You know? There’s loud music.
M: Yeah. Now is the live setting you think about at all when you are recording or is that something you just worry about when it’s down on the record?
T: Never, never. I used to work like that, and I don’t know if it worked or not. A long time ago, I used to do that like in punk band stuff. Like, “Oh this would be good live.” But I don’t do that anymore.
M: So you just sit down once the record is done with the band and try to translate those songs into the live setting rather than worry about it beforehand?
T: Yeah, once I’ve made the record and we’ve got to play a show. We just kind of go through what songs we think would be cool live or what songs are doable live. Because there’s like a lot of weird stuff going on in the recordings and it’s kind of hard to manipulate you know? So I mean we’re not like Radiohead and we don’t know how to do that shit (laughs). But I think there is a cool beauty to be a little stripped down and add like a rock and roll element to like the live show. It’s kind of like the best of both worlds really. That’s why the live record was cool, because it was a rerecording of those songs that were on the album and they just sound really different to me. I mean you could do that thing where you try to recreate the record, but I feel like that would be really boring and like pretentious or a little too artsy or something. I don’t know.
M: Yeah and I like the fact that the record and the live show are two different entities. Well this is a question that I like to ask all of the bands. So if you could describe the White Fence sound as a room, what would be in the room and what would it look like?
T: Okay hmm. Well I would say one of those Midwestern downstairs basement rooms, carpet, shitty orange couch, amps, a table for drawing, an easel for painting, a cat, and a coffeemaker. (pause) And a jacuzzi, an indoor jacuzzi in the room.
M: (laughs) I could listen to a White Fence album in that room.
T: (laughs) Definitely.
M: Well it’s always interesting to see where people take it. But thanks again for taking the time to talk with me and good luck with the show tonight!
T: Yeah dude. Thank you man. It’s been rad.