Music

Ty Segall And Director Matt Yoka Discuss ‘Emotional Mugger,’ Digital Addiction, And Living In The Wrong Time

Ty Segall’s 10th solo album, Emotional Mugger, dropped late last month and with that release came a 14-minute music video — directed by Matt Yoka and produced by F. Bermudez, Constance Melkonian and Segall—that has been described as “Troma’s version of Thriller.”

The longform clip combines multiple tracks from Emotional Mugger (remixed for the video by Segall and Bermudez), as well as songs recorded exclusively for the video’s score. As it turns out, Ty’s latest album, and the 14-minute epic, bring to light questions on our current relationship to media and self-driven content, the plight and anxieties of living in a modern society and its re-packaged experience as told through the media, and our addiction to it all.

Segall and Yoka’s collaborations started in college, at the University of San Francisco (where I first met both artists), when Yoka made a stop-motion promotional video for the school using Ty’s song “The Drag.” Things really evolved in 2011 when Yoka directed Segall’s video for “Goodbye Bread,” and then in 2014 created the interactive “Manipulator” with coder Simon Wiscombe.

Fast forward to a few days after the death of David Bowie, I got a call from Matt Yoka asking if I could be an extra in Emotional Mugger. I didn’t ask what the video was about, as I like to go into things blind, and being involved in a music video seemed like an interesting way to mourn the death of Bowie. My only direction from Matt was to come dressed like Steve Jobs. Upon arriving to the shoot in Highland Park, I was further fitted in a head brace where my phone could fit snuggly right in front of my eyes, as it showed two big and glossy green eyes twirling around on its screen.

Much to my surprise, Ty was transformed at the shoot with a face bloody and peeling, one eye drooping towards his mouth, with wisps of dry stringy hair coming from his mostly bald head. In this particular scene, my character, Sad Phone Face, runs into Ty on the street and drags him to the wine and cheese party where more phone-faced people are dancing about, vaping, wallowing in their misery, singing doo-wop tunes, and trying to reboot their dying eye phones. It’s just one of many stops Ty takes throughout his journey, one that begins with him witnessing the oddest form of police brutality and ends with a pure moment of respite at the beach.

So, what is “Emotional Mugging?” Ty asked us in an short clip that was released leading up to the album’s debut. To answer that and so much more, I met up with Matt and Ty shortly after the making of Emotional Mugger.

Where did the idea for the Emotional Mugger video start?

Ty Segall: The music video, for us, started in 2006.

What was that exact moment?

Segall: We were stoned watching Easy Rider.

Matt Yoka: And then stoned watching Frank Zappa interact with the static on the TV.

Segall: Baby Snakes.

Yoka: Yellow Snow.

Segall: Oh yeah, right.

Yoka: Your roommate was in there at the same time, that’s the hair that broke the camel’s back for him. He’s like, “I can’t handle you guys,” [laughs].

Segall: And he split. Where’s he from?

Yoka: We just went back to your room and his stuff was gone.

Segall: He could not hang.

Yoka: But I remember Ty was like, “You gotta check out this Frank Zappa album,” and I had never heard Frank Zappa before. So, we sat down in his room and he put on Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow and then it just so happened that the TV was on and it was static. And then Ty turned it up loud and the noise frequency was penetrating the television static, and the static was rhythmically responding.

Segall: There must have been a ground issue in retrospect. Some electrical issue between the two devices, but because of that, the electronics of the television were connected to the stereo, and I don’t even know why the TV was on.

Yoka: [Laughs] That’s just how your room was. A TV and a lightbulb swinging at all times.

So, the 2006 incident of watching that static with Frank Zappa inspired what would become this 14-minute music video.

Segall: Kind of. To be more serious or whatever, we’re both media studies people. Figured a lot of shit out while we were in school together then went our separate ways in the media world. Matt did a lot of journalism and freelance film work, and I started touring and playing music. We both got the experience of seeing how the media affects people in the real world and continues to build and become a bigger part of everyone’s consciousness. And I know that both Matt and I have respect for that, but are also skeptical of it. It’s the informed weariness of the modern media world that went into, not just the video, but the music we’re working with. The whole perspective of the whole thing. It’s not just a horror flick or slasher thing, we wanted to have people think about what it means to be connected, what connection can do, how people are actually disconnected. All of these effects of communication, interpretation, blah blah blah.

Yoka: I think also, your last album in particular, is about those modern problems, but also our addictions to them. I was thinking about that every now and then with this video, each sequence portrays a different modern addiction.

Segall: It’s all across the board because, to me, it’s really interesting if you look at the generational difference between people alive today and people in the ‘50s. Someone could be a sex addict then and it would have a different effect on them. Legitimately a different effect on them than being a sex addict now. It’s an interesting discussion to have of how to move forward and how to survive in the modern world where addiction to sex, addiction to fucking whatever kind of content, self-driven content, like Facebook addiction, fucking Instagram. Those are all minor things, but when stacked on each other, it’s an interesting change of pace for the world and it’s positive, as well. But addictions are addictions, and you can get into some real world shit, and it’s more of trying to step back and look at it from a different perspective instead of being in it all the time. Because I think a lot of people are in it all the time and don’t take the opportunity to get away and re-access. I’m guilty of it, too. That’s the thing, we’re all guilty of it. I use these things.

Yoka: I mean, I posted the picture [from Emotional Mugger] to Instagram [laughs]. I am a hypocrite.

Segall: I drink, I take drugs.

Yoka: Yeah, you do!

Segall: [Laughs] You know what I mean?

I know what you mean. The technology shift is interesting. And when you think about when you two met, in 2006, so much has already changed in the way we operate and socialize. And, for me, it can be disheartening, but I’m in it and sometimes depressed by that. I’m curious who Ty is in this video and what it means for you to become more and more visually disgusting.

Segall: It’s my take on the modern human where they’re innocent. People are innocent, they’re inherently innocent, but they cannot change their situation or their perspective or what they’re born into or whatever. My situation, what I was born into, is a lot like that person. My generation, I feel like a lot of them, they’re that. They’re going along and they’re seeing these fucked up things. You’re hyper connected to something, you’re hyper informed, and you can’t do anything real, really, except keep watching.

Yoka: I remember back in high school being upset about all of the stuff I was watching in the news. And I think, to a certain extent, that continues and it’s gotten even more acute because of the way we experience media. These updates you get on your phone about something horrific happening. And it’s real, you want to know about these things, because the assumption is if we collectively know more about horrible things, we can then do something about it. But we end up doing shit about it and we’re getting inundated with horrible things happening and addicted to learning about it.

Segall: We’re addicted to the negativity of it all. And it’s an interesting line of being informed, which I think is one of the most important things in your life, to be an informed conscious person of the world. It’s also good to be questioning where the other side of where the media is coming from and why you’re paying attention and what you’re paying attention to, really, and how it’s affecting you and the whole sphere of the media itself.

Yoka: To that extent, Ty’s being the guy on the street witnessing all this stuff, and that’s where it’s personal, about being in a major city and just living your life in a city and the things you see and the people you interact with. But also the same could be said about just following the media and being on the phone all the time.

Segall: Even getting information from a friend on a Facebook feed and seeing what content they choose to show you about their life, opposed to knowing them in real life. It’s hard to gauge what kind of degree of reality or separation that is. And it’s always been that way in the media with newspapers. That’s what people have given you, chosen, to digest as the information. But now there’s so much self-driven content, or other forms of content, that it’s a difficult landscape to figure out where everything fits and what’s real and what is your actual relationship to it.

You’re reminding me of the way we learn about major life events from people, as well, how that has changed. This gentleman I knew from high school, he died in an avalanche. I remember shortly after he was in the accident, at the time I was at home visiting my family and we were not sure if he had survived. So, I thought I’d check his Facebook and saw that people were already posting R.I.P. messages. So, that is what ultimately confirmed his death for me.

Yoka: The post-mortem Facebook pages, those are wild. Therapeutic, also.

Segall: That’s the difficult thing. With the commentary we’re trying to say, and I feel like most of the stuff we do, we leave to be obtusely defined and that’s very important. You throw some ideas and subject matter and just think about it. That’s all we’re asking you to do, just think about it. We don’t have any strong answers to any of these things we’re bringing up. It’s more just think about it.

Yoka: Absolutely. And on that note, ideas are so fleeting that it seems that to make any strong specific statement, it’s immediately going to be untrue or inaccurate.

Segall: Especially with the subject matter that’s constantly being re-defined. How could you have a definite anything about it at this moment, as it’s changing?

Yoka: That’s kind of what the giant Google turd was.

Segall: Google turd.

That Google turd that I stared at hypnotically, not even realizing what it would become.

Yoka: Can we talk about your cameo in this piece?

The party, being involved in that part of it, I got a sense that we were meant to be people so addicted to our phones that our phones are now a permanent part of our bodies. That’s what we’ve become. And there’s truth to that. Then we were in that room later, staring at the Google turd, and that’s essentially what everyone at the party had been looking at the whole time. Right?

Segall: It’s up to you.

We we’re having a great time and the funny thing is, the reality is, that all of us we’re having a party without our phones because they were being used as props. I sometimes feel regret about not living in the right time. Are you two the kind of people who wish they could live in a different time, or feel regretful about missing out on a certain decade? 

Segall: I feel like everybody would have that. You’re living in the ’20s you’re like, “I want some beer! I wish I was living in the ’10s.” If you’re living in the ’60s, then you’re like, ‘These goddamn kids, driving me insane! The ’50s were so much better.” But then the ’90s, “These goddamn kids, driving me insane! I wish I was back in the ’80s.” No, I feel like I would have loved to have lived in the ’50s, just because I have such nostalgia for Americana. That turning point, ’60s would be cool, but I feel I would be worse off. The ’90s for my job would have been a good thing.

Yoka: Same for mine!

Segall: It would be easier for both of us.

Yoka: It would be like, “Alright, 100 grand for a music video, we’re gonna shoot a big one!”

Segall: I’m really happy to be living in the time I am.

Yoka: There are things that I really like that are now.

We live in a good time. Okay, you know what, no regrets.

Yoka: I like how this conversation’s gone from, “Well, the time we live in is basically decaying our bodies,” to “hey, it’s pretty cool, though.”

With Ty ending up on the beach at the end, what does that mean to you?

Segall: To me, it was this person who is trying to do what people do. What is a person born to do? Either live and die, and find something beautiful along the way. It’s the inherent nature of people. It’s a lifeline, to be more of a powerful thing. To me, it’s L.A., California, the beach means a lot to me and it’s one of the only pure things left in the world. We needed something pure at the end.

Yoka: One of the unique things about Los Angeles is it’s known as a sprawling city, but the sprawl never makes it beyond the ocean. It’s symbolically and literally the edge of the city. So, by the time he’s gotten there, he’s traversed the entire town. And there’s no place left to go. And it just so happens that it is a pure, simple place. Should we say the real plan?

There was a different plan?

Segall: I was supposed to climb into the ocean and die.

Yoka: But I fucked it up.

Segall: No, I fucked it up.

Yoka: No, no, no, no. You didn’t. I did. I framed it wrong.

Segall: Well, the mask was too buoyant and I couldn’t get under the water. And it was so shallow for way too long.

Yoka: But the shot of him coming out of the ocean, it’s so good. Once he was in the ocean, he came back and was like, not even trying, he was working his way out of the water and has this mask and it’s bloody and torn. You look like this creature coming out and I was thinking that could be the sequel.

Are you going to make a movie? Is that the next thing?

Yoka: We should make one. I’m ready. If anyone wants to help us out there.

By the way, my mom really liked the video.

Yoka: I’m glad to hear that moms are liking the video.

Moms are loving it.

Segall: They’re loving it! I feel like that’s all that matters that if the moms like it. Or either if they hate it or love it. If they think it’s fine, then it’s bad. If they’re like, “Turn that off, you’re going to hell!” Good job. If they’re like, “Wow, this is amazing,” great job. “Yeah, that’s cool,” you did it wrong.

Yoka: Either a mother’s approval or a mother’s disgust.

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