Many artists find a formula and stick with it. Although I’m fortunate to listen to an ever-swelling variety of music, I’ve got my favorite bands and am always thinking about what I’d like to hear from them next. That desire seems to fall into two categories: hoping for something similar, but pushing things further; or throwing everything familiar out the window and hitting me with something totally new.
From the musician’s perspective, it’s possibly the same: give listeners more of what seemed popular last time, or take the riskier position and try something bold and refreshing?Sitting within these parameters is the artistic process, an ever-evolving train of thought connected by incremental developments and vast ambitious leaps.
Tim Presley is one such artist in continual metamorphosis, and listening as he plots a course over several albums and under a few different banners continues to fascinate.
Presley played with the hardcore band Nerve Agents, formed Darker My Love, and joined the Fall in 2006 for the album Reformation Post TLC. More recently, he’s recorded several albums under the moniker White Fence; created a singular collection of experiments as W-X; and collaborated with Ty Segall on the 2012 album Hair.
In the last few years, Presley has worked closely with Cate Le Bon under the name DRINKS. Le Bon also produced Presley’s 2016 solo album The WiNK.
The WiNK is an album that still delights and confounds me. The lo-fi fuzzy psych of pretty much all the White Fence albums—all six of them—was replaced with minimally structured art rock. The album retains a timeless quality, so I had to get in touch with Tim to find out more. To explore his work—centered mostly around the White Fence catalog—I asked him questions about specific songs.
I’ll Follow You
OBLADADA: Although this track was on the first White Fence album, it’s got a very pared-back structure. The xylophone and guitar at the end are used sparingly and foreshadowed The WiNK, in a way. What memories do you have of recording that track?
Tim: Honestly, I don’t remember much of that moment. I can thank Humboldt County grass and Valium for this lapse in memory.
As far as building structure, I had laid down the acoustic and then looked around my room for any other instrument in arm’s reach I could find to put on it. The xylophone and a little Jaymar piano were there, so I plopped them on. The very end is a little nod to Love… or Arthur Lee. That’s all I remember.
Buy the album White Fence here
White Fence | Is Growing Faith | Sticky Fruitman Has Faith
A glorious chunk of psych pop, it’s clear this piece grows out of a mangle of tapes slowing down or speeding up. How important is that rough and imperfect surface quality? And as a lo-fi recording, how lo-fi is it? Do you see parallels between your approach between making music and making art?
The rough imperfection, or lo-fi quality, was only out of necessity. After bouncing down multiple tracks over and over, the tape cassette can only handle so much. So then, it’s a matter of mixing it well. Any fidelity can sound good as long as the mix is good.
Not saying I’m that great, but I spent hours and hours at home day and night making it sound to where I wanted it. Sometimes if the sounds are wild, messy, and hard to tame, I try and mix it mono to see if that helps.
I suppose it does parallel making art, because I labor out of love to get something to a point where I want it to sound or be seen and be okay with it. Start something, come back to it, mess with it more, come back to it, finish.That is the luxury of making thing at home.
Edinburgh is my beloved home town. Is this tune about Edinburgh?
It is … and truthfully, it’s about a specific night I had with Mark E. Smith in a hotel room looking out a window overlooking the city of Edinburgh. He used to live there after he split with Brix.
The song doesn’t symbolize that night, but more about starting a new chapter in your life. Big or small. In a new city, town, or inside yourself.
He’d kill me for saying this, but he was rather emotional about his time there. It was important to him. Change is emotional, and sometimes changing is profound and important.
Are your songs about your everyday?
They’re about many things. You’d have to ask about certain ones. I try to write out of experience.
Is it important that the listener has a sense about what you’re singing about?
Not necessarily. I like to be obscure. I like obscure writing. I wish I could write more traditional, topical, or story-telling lyrics, like Hank Williams, Ray Davies, or Bob Dylan. That is hard for me to do. Maybe it’s not for me. I feel more comfortable disguising words up … putting tuxedos on ugly words, and making beautiful words dirty.
Buy the album Cyclops Reap here
It Will Never Be
Of all the White Fence recordings, this track is the longest at just under seven minutes. Generally, your tracks are concise, but this monster spaces out wonderfully. What was your thought process with this track?
All I remember is that I wanted it to be melancholy … or … somewhat … optimistically sad, to match the melody with the subject of the lyrics in the “song” bit, and then the instrumental was an outro, like walking around numb or confused to all the subject matter that came just before it.
What do you think of longer tracks in general?I like longer tracks. If a long track does what it’s supposed to, then it’s never long. You want to listen again and again, because it takes you somewhere for longer than your usual three-minute trip.The “Detroit factory” section has always really jumped out at me. I don’t necessarily have a question, but it’s sad and beautiful, I just wanted to say. Would you ever consider recording a more extended composition?Ha! Thanks. Yea, I consider it all the time.
Buy the album Family Perfume: Volume 1 & 2 here
I love the whole album, but this track is the diamond on that disc. Beautiful, almost hymnal.
Is this an old song, or written with this “new sound” in mind?
I wrote if for that album, or for what would be The WiNK album, so I guess it was new. I don’t think I had any new sound in mind though, it just kinda worked for the album.
How nervous were you about the clearer sound on this album?Ha! I wasn’t at all. I was in the hands of Cate Le Bon producing, so I knew all would be alright. Plus, I thought a clearer, simpler sound was the most punk thing I could do for myself. A lesson in restraint and simplicity, something I thought was a refreshing thing for me at that time.Cate had a vision, and I understood it wholeheartedly.
Who is Morris?
Morris is a cat. Or a self-destructive inner beast or demon. Cats want food, and will do anything to get it.
Did you listen to anything different during the making of this album? In my review, I mentioned Mayo Thomson’s Corky’s Debt to his Father. Is this an album you like?
To be completely honest, I wasn’t listening to anything. I have a problem with that while writing or recording music. I’m scared it will change or influence what I’m doing too much. In regard to Corky’s Debt… that is one of my all-time masterpiece bible-type albums. So, it’s only natural it has rubbed off on me. Mayo is a big influence.
The sound of The WiNK was a concoction of Cate and I trying simplicity in the recording. I think we may have referenced a Richard Hell recording at least once while making it.But I think mostly we were listening to how we could simplify the sounds and arrangements.
Buy the album The WiNK here
Swagger Vets and Double Moon
This makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It’s highly potent rock music. How does playing live with a band transform what was potentially an intimate original recording?
It’s tricky, and you can’t please everyone. There is a type of energy that I get while on stage that sometimes makes me want to rip it and destroy. But I’ve realized you can have the same effect with an intimate song as well.It’s all just very hard to control when you become possessed.
Do you see the ultimate natural setting of your music as a live creature, or a recording?
In my mind, I hope the best setting would be the recording. Recordings are forever, a live gig is not. But! I am a fan of seeing a song played live. Especially if it’s maybe a bit different than the recording, or an alternative version. The nerd in me is always up for debating which version of this or that is better.
All I know is that I’ve gotten so much from listening to music in my room. Alone. Spacing out, or drawing or painting to an album. Your imagination runs wild in that setting, it’s your own universe, and because most of the White Fence albums were made in a bedroom, I would hope that someone would get the same intimacy from that.
Escaping is escaping, whether it’s out watching a show or at home listening to music. It’s up to you, what you prefer really.
Buy the album Live In San Franciso here
I guess you’ve got a lot of stuff that we haven’t heard yet, any plans to release anything else from the Tim Presley vault?
Yes, I’m sifting through so many tracks that didn’t make the albums. I think every White Fence LP could have been a double record, but I didn’t wanna over-indulge. So, yeah, as we speak I’m going through that stuff. The vault is full … if it’s any good, I dunno.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Anything produced by Metro Boomin, late sixties Dion, King Gizzard/Mild High Club, Meredith Monk, Yves Tumor, and I came back to The Rolling Stones recently.So what’s next? Will there be more White Fence recordings?Not sure what’s next. Maybe that oddities album? I think Ty and I are going to try and write another record very soon. There’s a Drinks LP ready to go, so that should hopefully come out soon. I’m just trying to write songs… so we’ll see.
Interview orginally appeared in Brown Noise Unit in November 2017