live’n’loud: Beck: Confessions of a Song Reader...................
BECK’S word of the day is ‘‘discombobulated’’. He’s feeling it too – 42-year-old Beck Hansen is rattled.
‘‘They’re retiring the space shuttle so they’re flying it around California today, right over my house!’’ offers rock ’n’ roll’s ageless manchild from his villa in Silverlake as the heavens shake ’n’ bake.
‘‘I could hear this hellacious sound of behemoths flying overhead and I had a comedic episode of trying to get my door open and it got jammed. It was like missing the whale,’’ he says.
He regains his composure. Beck’s back, thinking fast, talking slow.
‘‘Are you in Sydney?’’ he asks. Melbourne actually, a place where your scribe once met Beck and gave him a bottle of Yarra Valley shiraz and some jellybeans.
‘‘Oh yeah? That’s a winning combination,’’ he twangs back.
Beginning his career proper(ly) in 1994 with ubiquitous slacker hit Loser, many pegged Beck as a lo-fi busker who was in the right place at the right time. That is kind of true – he was living in squalor and riding buses around LA’s concrete jungles, sitting in the back seat and playing his heart out to the annoyance of most passengers. The lo-fi thing doesn’t stick though. Beck was quoted at the time Mellow Gold came out that he was trying to sound as hi-fi as possible, he just couldn’t afford it. Now 12 albums into his career, Beck is changing it up again: he’s gone no-fi.
Beck’s Song Reader will be published (not recorded!) by McSweeney’s in December, a collection of sheet music with titles like Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard, Mutilation Rag and Old Shanghai. How did he know when the Song Reader was finished?
‘‘That could have gone on for another decade. I’ve been toying with it for years since 2004,’’ Beck replies.
‘‘The concept was inspiring to me but also intimidating. A part of me wants to tinker with it for another year. It’s engaging with the idea of songwriting in the classic songbook style, tin-pan alley: Nashville, Motown, British Pop, ’60s pop, singer-songwriter stuff, the whole thing.’’ Along the way, Beck made some discoveries. ‘‘Half the sheet music produced between 1915 and 1940 has ukulele notations. There was a ukulele revolution happening in society, people would be thoroughly surprised it was so prevalent,’’ he chuckles.
Ukulele popped up on 1996’s Odelay, incidentally an album Beck has been revisiting. ‘‘This band toured Odelay for three years and knows that record inside out so I’ve been taking advantage of that.’’ Don’t expect the white boy funk moves though. ‘‘My days of doing the splits are behind me.’’ And so are the ’90s. Beck’s happy about that. ‘‘The ’90s were a much more confrontational time. I had giant plastic vats of urine thrown at me.
‘‘The lows are equal to the highs,’’ he counters. ‘‘There was the time in a dirt field in the middle of Spain at 4am with the whole audience singing E-pro . . . after we’d left the stage. Large audiences in remote locations can do strange and amazing things,’’ he opines.
Attention Harvest Festival punters, don’t act discombobulated, Beck is here and it’s your time to reap what he’s sown. Odelayheee-hooo.
Beck, Sigur Ros, Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane, Grizzly Bear, Ben Folds Five, Santigold, Beirut, The Dandy Warhols, The Black Angels, Chromatics, Ozomatli and more play the Harvest Festival, at Brisbane City Botanic Gardens, on November 18.
Beck Hansen is changing it up again: he’s gone no-fi.