Back to Beck
Following up unexpected hit single 'Loser' with album of the year Odelay is only one of BECK's feats of musical magic.
He has also managed to turn his melting pot of sounds into
a live phenomenon. The List pins him down in LA. Words: Holly Coles
10 THE usr 2‘15 May 1997
Beck: king of post-modem pop
THE FIRST TIME Beck played Glasgow — King Tut‘s. a Sunday. a couple of years back — he was rubbish. On that wee stage this wee guy with the massive hit (‘Loser‘) and the huge mantle (‘Spokesman for Degeneration‘) tore around. bashing at his guitar. thrashing his head and blaring on a moothie like he was trying to blow it apart. Somewhere within the tumult was the odd recognisable song. but it was more ‘odd‘ than ‘recognisable‘. The set was ragged. hoary and generally not very good.
‘Yeeaaah.’ says Beck now. casting back his slow voice and contemplative mind. ‘It was very aggressive,’ he concedes. ‘That‘s the way I reacted. first of all because it was the first time I’d had my own band and I wanted to freak out. | always wanted to keep what I was doing pure, in the sense that if I was going to play acoustic. it would be completely acoustic. not James Taylor chords. And if I was playing rock it was gonna be garbage can. It was gonna be gut—bucket. If you saw me play four or five years ago. before I had a band . . . Trying to break out from that spectre of the coffee house singer. which is a rather stifling spot to be in as a musician. I used to do all kinds of things . . .‘
Is this what modern musicologists are calling your Leaf—Blower l’eriod'.’ ‘Yeah . . that one came about when all these record company honchos started coming down to my shows in a local dive bar or hole-in-the-wall. The kind of place where there was a big pole in front of the stage. And all these limos would be pulling up with these industry people. People would be saying. “they love your song. they‘re coming down. they want you to blow them away". So I thought I would get a leaf-blower onstage and really blow them out of the room. The ones that survived the exhaust fumes from the landscaping machine. when the smoke settled down. that's how I found people I could work with. I guess. Put 'em to the test. heh heh.’
This. of course. was all a long time ago. Beck was the LA prodigy who recorded an ironic. country-fried. hip-hopeless track called 'Loser' in a friend‘s apartment one afternoon. saw it spark off an avalanche of record company interest. hooked up with Nirvana‘s management. then negotiated a mould- breaking deal with Geffen Records. This last event allowed him to honour his outstanding indie deals with K Records (who released his second album. the rocking-chair-musing ()m' ["001 In The Grave) and Flipside (who released his third. the often unlistenahle Stermpuﬁzctir: Soul Manure). Eventually. after both of these. he would record his ‘first‘ album. Mel/0w Gold.
‘The stuff on Mellow Gold was afternoon demo songs.‘ he says. ‘very slow and not very energetic. not very conducive to playing a rock show in front of an audience that was excited and anticipating something. I dealt with that by making the shows an onslaught of all kinds of things. So I created this weird dynamic. because the audiences would come not expecting what we were doing at all. It was an experiment. And. as any experiment goes. good and had come out of it. It is definitely evolved into this other thing where the assault factor is honed. And it‘s more effective.‘
Evolution in his head. Between Mel/mi- Gold and last June’s 0(/(’/(l_\'. something