Tim Presley’s New White Fence Single is a Stunning, Sparse Left Turn
"I Have To Feed Larry's Hawk," premiering today on Noisey, is a chilly intro to the new White Fence record. We spoke to Tim Presley about San Francisco, harm reduction and the ambient suite that closes his new record.
L: Supplied / R: Ashley Goodall
Tim Presley’s White Fence project has always been mercurial, even for a psych band. Across his eight records as White Fence (including two collaborative albums with Ty Segall, Presley slips between delicate folk songs and garage thrashers and winsome pop and multiple combinations thereof. I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk, Presley’s new White Fence record due for release in January 25th on Drag City, is something else entirely: a 14-track, hour-long record built mostly around the piano, an instrument Presley has barely used in his music before.
IHTFLH draws from a different palette of references to older White Fence records. The album is sparse and crystal clear; there’s no mistaking it for a lo-fi record. It is also a lot more meditative than previous efforts by Presley; the record is built around a bold, emotive ballad centrepiece (“I Can Dream You”) and generally feels more heavily weighted towards Presley’s lyricism than ever before. The more traditional rock songs on the album are as wonderful as ever, but it’s quiet, insular tracks like “Indisposed”—built around a mesh of drum machine and live drums—and the hymnal “Fog City” that make the most impact. Opener “I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk,” premiering today on Noisey with a video by Melbourne designer Ashley Goodall, feels like a riff on John Carpenter’s classic Halloween theme, with its hauntingly solitary central synth line, and centres on the monotony of the song’s protagonist’s central task: feeding Larry’s hawk. The action of feeding the hawk, for Presley, is tied to the idea of feeding addiction, whatever that kind of addiction may be, describing the motif as relating to “the constant loop of repetition or recurrence or feeding a ‘beast’ of any kind.”
IHTFLH closes with “Harm Reduction (A: Morning)” and “Harm Reduction (B: Street & Inside Mind),” two outliers on the record and in Presley’s body of work as a whole. A suite of warm new age music in the vein of Suzanne Ciani or Hiroshi Yoshimura totalling just under twenty minutes, “Harm Reduction” comprises soft arpeggiating synth lines that repeat and build for their entire runtime. To call the songs a left turn would be underselling how completely, radically separate they are from any other White Fence music. The songs are designed to be peaceful—music for mindfulness, to use an awful buzzword. It’s a shock to go from IHTFLH right into the “Harm Reduction” suite, but as I’ve listened to the record over the past month I’ve found that these are the songs that I’ve been going back to most. The songs feel like a very necessary salve from the darkness of the past year, and will undoubtedly provide respite from whatever horrors 2019 might hold.
Watch “I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk” and read our interview with Tim Presley below:
NOISEY: San Francisco is very important to I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk. Why do you think the city had such an impact on you?
Tim Presley: After living in LA for over ten years, I came back here [to SF] as a refuge to myself. I wasn’t doing well. I needed some help. I had been strung out for years and needed to dry out. Because i was so focused on myself, I was able to see SF, ‘the city’, in a different way. I suddenly saw architecture, I saw people, I saw moving parts, I felt like this city was a womb, the fog was a blanket, and the noises of the city as a white noise maker. Being from the Bay Area, I suppose it felt like a good retreat, or a place I knew that I could get better in. I still love Los Angeles, and always will. I simply needed to change. I had a[n] illuminating moment where I looked at the Golden Gate Bridge, and saw it as if it was the first time I had ever seen it. [In] years previous, I suppose I’d taken it all for granted. So I guess in a way, this album is a half-sober, half-mentally stabilized written love letter to SF and harmony. Amongst a few other things.
Piano plays a very big part on this record. Why did you choose to feature the instrument so heavily?
I felt that piano encapsulated my mood perfectly at this time. The piano is very soulful, and can be very sad or very happy. It can be a very dramatic or emotional instrument. It seemed like the best tool to express how I was doing. The piano and its notes evoke voices your tongue never knew it had. I remember listening to the Rise Above album by Epic Soundtracks years ago and thinking he was saying so much with the simplicity of words and piano. I suppose I took a tip from that memory. The problem is I can’t play piano very well, even though I wrote it on piano, I had to have Jeremy Harris (who also recorded the album) learn and lay down most of the parts.
What does the hawk—or Larry’s hawk specifically—represent to you?
Feeding addiction, love, misery, excitement, the day to day, the ego, wellness, enthusiasm. Basically it’s the constant loop of recurrence or repetition or feeding a ‘beast’ of any kind. We all do it. In different ways.
The final two songs on the album amount to essentially 18 minutes of ambient synth music, almost in the style of Suzanne Ciani or Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Why the choice to end the record with the “Harm Reduction” suite in that way? And what drew you to that kind of music?
I really wanted to have those two on the record as meditations, or sounds you could start, or end your day with. I had remembered how listening to records from Terry Riley, Sun Ra, Mary Jane Leach, Hiroshi Yoshimura and Suzanne Ciani made me feel. How hypnotic sounds helped me get to a good mental state, or at least ease my mind while making paintings at night or while just drinking coffee in the day. it acts as a soft inspiring equalizer for me.
The phrase “Harm Reduction” carries a lot of meaning in society and politics but obviously these songs are free of lyrics—what’s the relationship with harm reduction in these songs?
Well, kinda like I said, sonically it’s a mental equalizer, which I needed so desperately at this time. Reducing all the stress, pain, confusion and guilt I was carrying. Repetition can be illuminating, but at the opposite spectrum can be [a] problem. It’s an interesting thing, loops. I named them after a drug program here in SF. I had a disagreement with a previous strict rehab center which I left, and the SF Harm Reduction program seemed to fit or agree with my situation.
On a worldly scale, these are trying times. There’s a lot of pain and polarization. I think if some people reduced their own baggage they’d be happier. They’d have a more clear understanding of self, which could only help them understand or empathize with their fellow human. Everyone is fucked up to a certain degree. I understand this… It’s if you want, (or are ready for) change is the question. I also understand how hard it can be to un-fuck yourself. As cliche[d] as it is, I truly believe love, compassion and empathy will help all things, [at least] for yourself.
Why did you choose to work with Ashley Goodall for this video?
I saw a short clip she had made, and thought it would perfectly capture the mood of the song. I reached out and hoped we could work together, and was so happy she was into it. Her art in the video is so amazing. I truly love it. I don’t know if we could’ve matched a more perfect visual to that song. We are currently talking about working to do another one.
What kind of vibe or mood were you going for when commissioning the video?
I only had mentioned a couple ideas, set a vague stage, but she took it to place it needed to go. She really took it to the next level. It was like she read my mind, but really she just intuitively interpreted the mood perfectly. I was blown away by what Ashley came up with.
Tim Presley's White Fence release I Have To Feed Larry's Hawk on Drag City next month. Pre-order the record here.
Disclosure: Ashley Goodall is a designer at VICE Australia. Her employment at VICE did not affect Noisey's decision to cover this video.