Everyone’s Favorite Alterna-Hottie Is Making Waves – Again
If Beck Hansen appears to be an eternal child, then Los Angeles is his sandpit. It is where he collects his shards of inspiration and turns them into toys to share with the rest of us. On his first album in three years, Sea Change (Geffen Records), the boy wonder returns to an innocent simplicity, leaving the sonic somersaults on the shelf. The night before this conversation, Beck invited his interviewer, Jack White of the White Stripes, to join him onstage in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
JACK WHITE: Well, since I've never met you before, Beck, (Beck laughs] it's nice to finally be able to talk to you. I'm going to use Chuck Berry's 13-question method.
BECK: I didn't know he had a method. 1W: He had a song called "Thirteen Question Method." So, question number one: When recording an album, how involved are you in what the other musicians are playing? B: Well, my first few albums, I was playing most of the instruments myself. But I have been known to sit in front of a musician, singing to him what he needs to play.
JW: Question number two: Do you respect Bob Dylan and Devo equally?
B: [sounding forlorn] Oh ... yes.
JW: [laughs] All right, question number three: Chocolate mousse, antilock brakes, Stratocaster, 18-wheelers, plastic flowers, action figures and lottery tickets?
B: All necessary.
Question number four: You used a phrase on Midnite Vultures, "Keep
B: Uh ... well, yeah, in one respect it is. I'm coming home, it's the dark section of town ...
JW: (laughs] OK. Question number five: If you had to choose one thing in life, would you rather be constantly entertained, spiritually fulfilled or truly in love?
B: I think they all engender the same warmth.
JW: Question number six: When should an artist stand by a gut feeling, and when should an artist play the game?
B: Well, it's like Mr. Kenny Rogers said
JW and B: Sometimes "you got to know when to hold 'em"
B: -"Know when to fold 'em."
JW: (laughs] That's good. Question number seven: I once heard the comedian and piano player Victor Borge say, "I wish I'd have become a concert pianist, because anybody can tell jokes." What are your thoughts about humor in music?
B: I wish I'd become a concert pianist.
JW: (laughs] These are quick answers, Beck. (Beck laughs] Question number eight: Is it inspiring or disheartening to live in L.A.?
B: [pauses] A bit of both. But I mostly enjoy it.
JW: Was it more inspiring as a kid?
B: I think it's better now, because I have a car. But I had a bus pass before that, and that was the golden ticket; that was inspiring. I collided with so much life on those buses. I remember when I was trying to be a blues man, I'd carry my guitar around everywhere. I was about 15 or 16, and my bus went through South Central. So these old black guys were calling out, "Hey, what you doing, Axl Rose?"
JW: (laughs] Question number nine: Do you know any fundamentalist Christians who speak in tongues? I heard they go into a trance and speak other languages.
B: Yeah, I know some tongues.
JW: It'd be interesting if musicians could get into that while recording, especially rap artists. I think when rappers freestyle, it's like speaking in tongues, because it's going by so quickly and ideas are forming-it's like running as fast as you can through barricades and tires, you know?
B: Like boot camps. You can't stumble or fall.
JW: There should be freestyle boot camps.
B: I think there are. On the streets, my friend.
JW: (laughs] Question number 10: I would love to own a pet chimp. But, I recently heard that they cost $40,000. What do I do?
B: OK, when you're renegotiating the next album, you instruct your legal advisors to add an addendum to the contract. The wild game clause.
JW: Have you had any problems with nonrecoupable monkeys in your contract?
B: I have! And I have a few unsecured zebras, too.
JW: OK. Question number 11: If someone puts an album up on their wall, are they doing it because it looks cool or because they love the music on that record?
B: Well, it's a cheap way to decorate. I think it's ... I don't know the word. [pauses] Hi-lo.
JW: Hi-lo? What does that mean?
B: Highbrow, lowbrow.
JW: Oh, I get it. Question number 12: If your fans perceived you the same way your loved ones do, What Would happen?
B: [laughs] You're good at this, Jack.
JW: (laughs] Oh, I'm just learning. I went to freestyle boot camp. I wrote this down ahead of time, so I cheated.
B: I write down all my freestyles, too. [laughs] I don't know, I guess we'd be going on trips to the shore. We'd be exchanging voicemails in anonymous locations. And, we'd be, uh, hugging.
JW: Last question, number 13: Your new album is about to come out, and I hate to ask, but What can We expect?
B: [long pause] It smells like ... a Sharpie ... scrawled on a pink wall. It's called Sea Change. That's where the storm hits the sailors, and they didn't know it was coming. I thought it sounded like one of those Patti Smith records. You know, with those titles that are right on the edge of being pretentious, but they're kind of poetic.
JW: She's good at that.
B: I know. I love that. I like the arty thing, but in L.A. and the punk rock scene, there wasn't a lot of tolerance for that.
JW: Hi-lo. Well, that's all my questions.
B: Oh, I want more.
JW: Well. I had a couple more, but I didn't Want to ruin Chuck Berry's 13-question method. OK, one more: Do you think people held albums in higher regard in the '60s and '70s?
B: I think the idea of albums has been demeaned by so many bad albums. But time weeds and sifts out all the plastic.