Interviewing My Hero

Tim Preseley

by by Robert Merritt

illustration by by Lizzie Davis

I met Tim Presley in New York a few years ago while I was pretending to be a reporter. It was strange to meet someone that I had only known from listening to again and again while driving and walking and sitting in my room. Tim Presley is really cool and I really needed someone to look up to. He’s been making music for ages. White Fence is his solo project, and he’s been in bands as different as Darker My Love and The Nerve Agents. In April he released a collaborative LP with Ty Segall and last month he started his own record label, Birth Records, just so that he could release Jessica Pratt’s self-titled LP.

Months later, after a show in Boston, my friend and I were talking to him and asked what it was like to perform at a show far from home when no one is dancing.  He said to me something like, “It’s kind of like being on stage and someone pulls down your pants and you can’t stop to pull them up because you’re singing and playing guitar in the middle of the whole thing and everyone is staring at your dick.” But some of us were dancing that night even though this buzz dog and his girlfriend were half drunk and shouting at us. It is important to dance.

Tim Presley is the spiral. His music is an archival deepdive that picks up and leaves off from places that you think you remember in music history.  But somewhere along the way, the referents are lost and swallowed up by the middle of it all. White Fence is a channeling of genre; listen as he cleans out the stables. Read the lyrics if you can’t make it out from the recording. Markets inside that keep me following you.


The Independent: I know that my song-writing process tends to vary from song to song, sometimes a melody or larger song structure comes to me when I am walking or something and other times I sit down and improvise a melody over chords or a rhythm. Do you write your lyrics before or after the musical portion, or do your words help to shape the tune’s direction as it evolves? What’s it like?

Tim Presley: I do both. I used to cater more to the melody, and what words or phrases sounded best over the music. But now I care more about the lyrics. Usually I’ll write a lot of thoughts very late at night for some reason. It all boils down to achieve a point, whether that’s a good lyric or a beautiful melody or harmony. Sometimes you get all of those. I think that’s what they call “a good song.”

Indy: Do you have a group of musicians that you consistently work with, or do you spend more time writing alone?

TP: I write everything alone. Every day and night. No studio. Just my room. That way, I don’t have to compromise any decisions or worry if someone there is bored. I don’t like the pressure of someone sitting there waiting for “the magic” to happen. All that can do is force you into bad decisions or make you lazy and say, “Oh, that take is good enough.        ‘ However, working with Ty Segall and Eric Baur at the Baur Mansion studio was very easy. As far as studio recording, I would do it again with them any day.

Indy: White Fence seems to incorporate a lot of historical referents that lead to interesting and surprising melodic choices. Sometimes it seems as if you are very deliberately and effectively reappropriating a lot of different influences since the ’60s and creating a collage.  You create melodies that seem collapsed from multiple time sources. I mean time sources both metrically and historically. Certain tracks even feel as if you slowed down a George Harrison song and mixed it with Syd Barrett. Who are your influences? What kind of stuff did you listen to as a kid?

TP: I have so many different influences, and it’s always changing. I think all those influences shape your musical decisions, like how your parents hopefully shape you to have manners and be a good person. I realize I lean more toward the ’60s but it’s not really a conscious thing. For example, when I was recording with Ty, we both just feel and know what something should sound like. We didn’t reference anything specific. We never said, “Oh, lets have this sound like the Pretty Things,” or, “Do this like the New York Dolls.” It was all just unsaid. People know what sounds appeal to them. As a kid I really loved Nirvana and that opened up the door to punk. I feel very lucky to have been at the young impressionable age I was during Nirvana. It’s probably very similar to a teenager in the early to late sixties with The Beatles. I mean, what do kids have now? Muse? Coldplay? That screamy emo shit? Fuck all that.

Indy: I know that your brother Sean is musical. What of the rest of your family? How has Sean influenced your playing over the years?

TP: He has influenced me in many ways. He always has. Whether in showing me new music or being supportive of my music. When he was playing in Nodzzz, we would send each other demos or random recordings, and that had an effect on me as far as writing. That’s basically the way White Fence started. The first LP was songs I put on a CD for him to check out. I never thought much about it. Then it became a serious thing.

Indy: You are a graphic artist and attended an art school.  Does your music effectively translate your intentions—as a graphic artist, how do the different production modes complement one another? Do you spend time thinking about these relationships with different mediums or am I just being a foolish critic?  How much self critique is performed in your work?

TP: They are two different things. I can say something entirely different with music. I can say things in music that I can’t say on paper with a paint brush, and vice versa. I used to be very inspired by music and tangled it up with my art. But looking back, it wasn’t proving anything real to me. The best artwork I’ve done was not inspired by music, also the best music I’ve ever made was not art-inspired.

Indy: You have been in several other musical projects, including the Nerve Agents (as Timmy Stardust) and more recently Darker My Love and collaborations with Ty Segall, and I’m sure more. How does White Fence fit into this arrangement? Have you arrived at a point where you feel more confident or steady as a working and producing solo artist?

TP: I’ve been in bands all my life, so working alone (or at times collaborating) is what I want to do at the moment. I love the band mentality, but I feel confident in what I’m doing right now.

Indy: How do you feel about your live performances versus the production on the albums? For example, it’s hard to double track vocals or guitar parts while playing live. Is there anything that you could do differently or change if you wanted to ?

TP: Sure. I’d like to have the 1988 San Francisco ’49ers on stage while I play. I also really like simple rock and roll. And if you can pull that off live then you have achieved something grand.