Segall's father taught him how to surf when he was ten. Most summers, he and his friends would wake up early, run to the beach and spend the first few hours of the day on their boards, coming back inside to munch on fresh donuts and watch Bruce Brown-directed surf films that the older, leathery contingent would recommend to them. They would repeat this cycle several times throughout the day, and those same older guys would introduce Segall to a wealth of surf music and Orange County punk that's informed everything he's done musically up until now. "It's all we did," says Segall. "We'd walk everywhere barefoot, buy tacos. All we knew was the beach."
But as Segall grew older, he also began to fall in love with records, opting to buy vinyl instead of CDs. And that's when he swapped late-'90s modern-rock radio for the more sinister hard rock sounds of the '70s; a neighborhood girl helped spur his interest by gifting him a stack of Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath LPs just before she moved away. "For me," he says, "music was the only thing I could really rely on. Records. I could always put one on and it'd make me feel better. I'd be in a different place. Sabbath? I'm in a satanic church. Ziggy Stardust? You're in outer space with Bowie doing cocaine and it's fine and no one cares. Different rules apply in the world of records."
Though he's reluctant to discuss the details, Segall is adopted. His biological father, with whom he says he now has a "great relationship," is a real-estate agent in Northern California who was once a drummer himself. His adoptive father, a lawyer, has been battling oropharyngeal (base of the tongue) cancer for the past 16 years, since his son was nine. "I grew up with it," says Segall of death, "lived with it close by. But you end up just wanting to live life, you know? You should try to be there. I'm not searching for anything or trying to find some greater meaning. I'm pretty sure I've figured it out in my own mind: there is none. All you have are the people around you: your friends and your family. When I was a kid, records were my religion, the glue that brought together like-minded people, people who feel that connection with something. To me, that is God. That is all religions, that is everything. Ozzy Osbourne is Jesus. Arthur Lee is the Divine Spirit. That's the point: keep it alive, spread it around. I want to make records you don't have to think about."
But Segall, a disciple of Neil Young (whose first name he recently inked across his right bicep) seems just as uncomfortable discussing his life as he does intellectualizing his work. Since he began releasing records under his own name, Segall has uncaged five staggering full-length studio albums in four years, adding to that tally a slew of singles, collaborative efforts, and compilations. And while nearly all of those records were haphazardly recorded in what Segall, a self-described "crammer," calls "a mad dash," it's his most recent work that boasts an attention to craft and detail that time constraints hadn't allowed him before. That craft was first heard on last year's Goodbye Bread, his relatively gentle Drag City debut and an album whose emotional origins and lukewarm reception he's only recently begun to confront.
"It's in the past couple of months that I realized, 'Wow, I was really having an intense time,'" he says of writing and recording Goodbye Bread. He’d just graduated from college and moved in with his girlfriend, a photographer, teacher, and ex-bassist in his band. The arrangement didn’t work, and he quickly moved out. "I mean, I definitely like that [album] the best. It's different, it's special, it's an extremely personal record and one of the only moments when I've ever felt like I've really tried my hardest. A lot of my friends who make music are super into riffs and rocking and shredding and that's so cool, but there's more to life than just playing loud, obnoxious music. It's so hard to try to make a classic song, a song that in ten years, will still be a good song, you know? I was really, really in a bad place when I wrote it. I was fucked up, not happy at all, and listening to it can be very real. There are things in there I never would have, willingly or comfortably, done before. I should have had a filter."