Love the Smell of Methane and Bananas in the Morning
In the final hours of editing Midnite Vultures, Beck calls at high noon on his telly ready for a brain-picking session with MEAN'S nicest. It seems that the post production diarrhea that was conceived on his couch and on tour over the last year has left Mr. Hansen doing quite a bit of mopping. It took a few minutes for the nasal-voiced great white hope to blend into my waters and recap his whirlwind of a year: a year that had him jamming with Tropicalia hero Caetano Veloso and MEAN cover girl Beth Orton on his off time, popping up on the Rosie O'Donnell show to teach all the mommies about "phat" and "mad science," releasing a book with the legendary Fluxus artist/late grandpapa Al Hansen, and still finding time to appear on random award shows. He casually floats through L.A., attending live shows and eating at trendy restaurants, surprisingly unapproached like Patti Smith walking around the Village. On the phone, Beck speaks from illusions, as if he's deciphering abstract paintings hanging in his medulla oblongata.
So, Midnite Vultures, Beck's "official" follow-up to 1997's Odelay, is an explosion of beats floating through loops, cracking taboo lyricism and Fat Albert's shadow screaming, "Who stole the soul?!". "Sexx Laws" (ODB defied them, now Beck defines them) sets the mood for a human train ride of "bizooty" shakin' freaks swarming the dance floor in Casino Royale and migrates underneath satin sheets with a bedful of dank funk hosted by a gang of squirrels drunk from Southern Comfort on "Peaches 6 Cream." That's only after you've finished sweating out the "no-doz" to "Nicotine & Gravy," "Mixed Bizness," robo-pop locked through the revolving doors of "Get Real Paid," and bobbed your head to the Kool Keith-singed "Hollywood Freaks." Next, you'll be escorted into the soon to-be-favorite topless-bar anthem "Milk and Honey," where you'll get that wet-jean feel after you hear "I can smell the VD in the club tonight" juxtaposed with the homoerotic catch phrase, "Excuse me please, would you tell me how to get to the Soviet embassy." After the night of festivities, you're left door side ready for that good-night kiss with a slow jam entitled "Debra."
Where did you write the lyrics for Midnite Vultures?
On the couch at home. I had two engineers with me, and I did a couple of the songs ("Debra" and "Hollywood Freaks") with the Dust Brothers.
Where did you record it?
My house. I got my own gear, and I hired a friend of mine who did a few remixes for me and had him engineer it-pretty simple.
What are "hepatitis contact lenses"?
They're those things that those industrial and goth people wear that turn your eyes yellow and white. I couldn't figure out what they were called officially, so I just gave them a name. They make your eyes look kind of sick and demonic.
In "Sexx Laws," you sing, "I'm a full-grown man and I'm not afraid to cry," and fade away with the same line on "Debra." Is this album a declaration to all sensitive men, and what were you doing in JCPenny?
It's not really a declaration, it's just some lyrics in the song that felt good to say. It was something I used to just say in between songs in our concerts. There's all kinds of things I say to the audience. Secondly, I was buying some undergarments.
Did the Henry Mancini horn department influence "Sexx Laws"?
I don't know if he was an influence on that. I think it was the L.A. Rams. I used to watch them when I was growing up, and it just reminded me of Monday Night Football in 1978.
Have you ever thought of doing a straight soul/R&B album in the same fashion as “Debra"?
Yeah, that's something I've been working on for a long time now. I do have half a record done already, and I was going to save "Debra" for that, but the record company heard that song, and it was their favorite, so I figured I'd put it on this, but it was originally meant to go on this R&B record that's been marinating on one of the back burners for a while.
Is the guy screaming in the beginning of "Nicotine and Gravy" a sample?
No, that's somebody who was hanging out and had something to get off of his chest.
Was there an alternate album title for Midnite Vultures?
There were a few scribbled on the walls in the studio. I think one of them was I Can Smell the VD in the Club Tonight.
From "Hollywood Freaks," I'd guess that you have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood.
I love L.A., but there's certain elements that are repelling to me, but at the same time I enjoy it, I love to hate it. As a musician or somebody who works creatively, you tend to take things from your environment that bug you or disturb you and try to reassemble them the way you see fit. That's one of the licenses you acquire when you start writing songs or making movies. You're able to do odd things and rework the world as you see it, so I took the liberty to do it with Hollywood because it's taken liberty with me. It's a two-way relationship.
Did Kraftwerk have an influence on "Get Real Paid"?
Not initially. Later on we went on and added a Kraftwerk element. If I played you the initial version of it, it doesn't sound anything like Kraftwerk. There's one or two little things, but that's five percent of the song; there's the other 95 percent that doesn't sound anything like Kraftwerk.
Who are the "boys with the bulletproof vests" and the "girls with the cellophane chests"?
They're just hired individuals that wear that kind of urban armor, and cellophane chests are the girls with the racks imported from Switzerland.
Does the line "he wants to be your lover 'cause he looks just like my mother" imply an incestuous theme?
I think it's just a revolving door. None of the lines are specific to each other; you don't know whose relationship is whose.
Who's your favorite No Limit Soldier?
Well, Master P is the master, but I do enjoy Mystikal.
What's your relationship with Kool Keith? Did you ever meet his escort service?
No, he came solo.
What's your favorite all time Power 106 slow jam?
Well, I like the
uncensored version of "I'll Be Fucking You Tonight" by R.
Did you make "Milk and Honey" for strip clubs?
No, but that could work.
What's your favorite lullaby?
I don't really know any lullabies, but I kind of like environmental-sound records. I like the seashore and the tropical rain forest-those are the kinds of things that put me to sleep.
When's your favorite time to make love?
I'm not really on a schedule.
Do you have a favorite song to make love to?
I don't really need music when I make love. I got a beat in my body. I got an 808 in my pelvis.
Who do you think has a better sex life than you and why?
I don't know, but mine's pretty all right. I don't know who's really playing that hard, but sex isn't really much without love. I know people who have diversity in exotic locations. It's a position of the thighs, the elbows and the triceps. It's a defiant stance.
Are you into yoga or something?
No, I haven't done it today. I didn't do it last week. But I didn't do it last month either. I do 800 push-ups a day.
Do you still work out at the Y?
No, why? Did you see me there?
I used to take ID photos at the Y.
What sexual subject would you love to talk about, but can't?
Something that would be too personal.
I'm a doer, not a talker.
Describe a sexual experience that pushed all your buttons and threw you into a meltdown in record-breaking time.
Oh. It was a steamy night in Bangkok, and I had too many electrodes attached to my left buttock.
What kind of electrodes were they? Were they connected to some big android?
It's a lawnmower, running on methane and bananas. It smells like bananas.
Do you like bananas?
Yeah, I like soft ones though.
You don't put them in the refrigerator, do you? You know if you put them in the fridge, they turn brown.
No, I keep mine at room temperature.
Did your bandmates have a hand in the production of this album?
No, they were just hired musicians to play on certain songs. We got a thing going, but I'm pretty dictatorial, and I tell people how to play, when and how. Usually they can play it better than me, and sometimes they rip on what I do and come up with something else, but most of the time I play it for them, and they just replay it, or I'll sing things for them and have them play off of that. Occasionally with Roger I'll just send him my Pro Tools and have him play some organ on it or something because he's got his own keyboard studio elsewhere, so it's not as much of a drag for him to bring all his gear down. It takes three people to move some of that stuff.
Did you direct the "Sexx Laws" video?
Yeah, I usually come up with the idea and co-direct. I did "New Pollution" myself, but "Where It's At" and "Devil's Haircut," I came up with the ideas.
Was DJ Swamp supposed to be like a demented Yoda in the "Sexx Laws" video?
No, he's just a monk.
Will you eventually do scores in the future?
Yeah, I'd love to do that. The films that I like don't have any music in them. I tend to get annoyed with a lot of films that have too much music. I like that guy who did Celebration, Lars Von Trier, and his cohorts.
Would you do a Dogme 95 film?
No, I like some of the tricks, I like cinema. I do appreciate the purity of those films, but I cant really abide by rules. Sometimes to achieve an effect, you have to go to extreme measures.
What do you envy most about women?
Certain women I envy. I think I envy the way women relate to each other. They don't have as much of a wall that guys do. They don't have a sort of facade of "everything's cool." There's more of a camaraderie and instantaneous connection that's cool.
Do you wrestle?
Yeah, I'm not one of those, but I do know a lot of people who like that, actually. I remember guys in the locker rooms wrestling a lot.
What do you eat for breakfast?
I like to have some fruit, eggs, a big piece of toast, I can do some cheese.
So, you're not lactase intolerant?
No, I'm very lactose tolerant.
What about the "lazy left eye"?
It's just a novelistic flourish that conjures up a character study.
Who's the character study on in the song?
It's a little movie, they all kind of are. It's imagery, and there is no linear beginning, middle or end. They're just atmospheres and impressions from a story. Actually, they're probably more of photographs.
What was it like meeting John Tesh?
It was kind of cool, I guess. I've taken the piss out of him onstage a few times. I was on tour at the time and he was on the hotel cable a hunch. I had some fun with him. but I guess he was sort of asking for it with all of those gymnastics and keyboard solos, He seemed like a friendly guy.
When I hear "Debra," I hear a little bit of "Benny and the Jets." Will you hook up with Elton John any time soon?
It's funny you say that because two years ago I was doing a song with Puff Daddy, and he wanted to do "Benny and the Jets" for a loop. It was a couple of years after I wrote "Debra," so I don't know if it had anything to do with it. It didn't really work out, so it ended up on the Mary J. Blige record, and he took my vocals off, so...
Do you like Puff Daddy?
I like his tracks. I can't really get a read on him, I think he's more of a presence than a personality, but I haven't really listened to his records, so I couldn't say I've given him a fair shake.
I have trouble getting a read on people. Do you?
It depends on who the person is, really. Most of the people I know are fairly open books. I guess it kind of depends on how you carry yourself. I myself wear my heart on my sleeve, so people are pretty open with me.
Would you want to start having your music played on slo-jam and hiphop stations instead of "alternative rock" radio?
I think that was a fantasy of mine three or four years ago, but I'm coming slowly to the reality that it's not going to happen. I really made an effort to make that a possibility on this record, and I really wanted the shit to sound like an R&D jam, like Erykah Badu. I wanted it to fit in the context of R. Kelly or Missy Elliot, but I don't think anybody really is going to see it that way.
Did you feel obligated to stick with a certain style to officially follow up Odelay?
No, I think the territory we were covering with that was so exciting at the time, but so much time has gone by now. I followed through with it on some of the songs like "Sexx Laws" and "Mixed Bizness," but there's so many hands coming out now that just topped it. There's no more point after the Wiseguys record and stuff like that, or fucking Fat Boy Slim-they did Odelay more clean and more professional. Time has passed, and I think if I had a chance to do it in '97 I would have, but it's '99 now, and I've definitely moved on. I did make an effort to make some of the songs here follow through on that sound a bit. My head's at a totally different place now, you know, it's like four years later for me.
You had some drama after Mutations with your record labels?
No, that was just a hunch of paperwork. I had a few heavy meetings, where I had to go in there and stand up for myself, but other than that, it was extremely peripheral, it wasn't a big deal.
Did you have fun recording this album?
I think the first couple of months were a blast. I had more fun than I had ever had, and then the last ten have just been like paddle across the Atlantic in a canoe with two holes in it. It's that cliche of one percent inspiration, 99 per cent sweat, but this was sweat, blood, gristle, manure, foliage and aerosol. It was very tedious, though, I have to say because I was attempting some things that were a little off the heat and path, production wise...I wasn't making it easy on myself, but I'm glad I did it.
I saw you at the Beta Band show at the Roxy when they were out here. What do you think of them?
I heard a few things I liked. People told me to listen to them because they sounded exactly like me. I mean, they sound a little bit more like a Pink Floyd version of me, but they got their own thing, and I'm not going to claim anything. There's definitely some inspiration there. I thought what they were doing was what I was doing with Mellow Gold, and people gave me so much shit back then for playing loops with the hand and going into noisy stuff and experiments, and people had no patience for it about six or seven years ago. I guess I envy bands that can just come in and people eat it up because now people are conditioned to hear that kind of stuff, and it makes sense to them when they hear it live, but I remember distinctly in '93 trying to play stuff like "Hotel City" or "Steal My Body Home" and the stuff from Mellow Gold that was in that vein and people thought it was a train wreck because they didn't understand where it was coming from, or the idea of beats and clubby elements mixed with folk and blues.
I take it you're a perfectionist?
I'm kind of half and half. If I have an idea I believe in. I definitely want to follow through on it. I've put out some half-baked stuff though, I think.
About half of all my other records. I'm not putting them down, I'm just saying that's the truth. I got an idea and kind of went with an atmosphere and a flavor, and I just let it hang. It was more a sketch of an idea than the fullspectrum color pallet ultimate ideal version of it, but I think there's something cool about that too.
Have you ever thought about doing a song with L'Trimm and "The cars that go boom"?
Yeah, I did actually. We hooked up an 808 beat with a loop from the Frogs, and then we had Bunny and Tigra on top-it's an outtake from Odelay. I doubt it'll ever see the light of day because it just costs too much money to clear a sample these days.
Is there a new genre in music that you haven't covered in the past that you might step into in the future? Will you conduct your own symphony?
No. I can get pretentious, but I'm not that pretentious. Maybe when I'm 50 and I've had my mid-life crisis and I've moved to Spain and started to smoke opium and taken to wearing silk shirts.