ALSO: Check out John Paulsen's Beck Deep Cuts playlist.
Born in 1970 as Bek David Campbell, Beck Hansen emerged in the early ‘90s as part of the alt-rock movement, winning audiences over with his unique blend of different genres, including folk, rock, psychedelia, funk, hip-hop, electronica and even Brazilian bossa nova. Beck’s musical influences are as diverse as the neighborhood in which he grew up (East L.A.), and he has never shied away from experimenting with styles to create something original. It has been almost 20 years since his first independent release – a cassette entitled Banjo Story – and in that time, Beck’s career has continuously morphed, so much so that without his distinctive vocals, it would be difficult to recognize his music from album to album. This style has kept his sound fresh and his fans on their toes. He is certainly one of the most versatile artists of the past two decades, and many would argue that he’s the greatest musician of his generation.
Beck truly announced his arrival in 1994, with Mellow Gold and its single, “Loser,” an unintentional slacker anthem that he wrote prior to signing with Geffen Records. Although other record companies offered him more money, Geffen offered Beck the creative freedom to release independent works concurrent with his Geffen releases. Despite the success of “Loser,” some critics felt that Beck was just a one-hit wonder. After a supporting tour, he met the Dust Brothers – who had recently worked with the Beastie Boys on Paul’s Boutique – and their collaboration resulted in the upbeat Odelay, which squashed the one-hit theory with its singles “The New Pollution” and “Where It’s At.” Both songs received considerable airplay, cementing Beck as a star.
His next album, Mutations, was supposed to be a non-Geffen release, but the company issued the album in 1998 against his wishes. Mutations consists of mostly folk- and blues-influenced songs and was considered to be less accessible than Odelay, though with four songs on our list of Deep Cuts, there is a lot to like about the album. Next up was 1999’s Midnite Vultures, the album Beck felt was the true follow-up to Odelay. On the subsequent world tour, “Debra,” never released as a single, took on a life of its own; audiences responded to it more than many of his other songs that were receiving radio airplay.
In 2002, Beck released Sea Change, a beautifully dreary collection of songs about the different stages of a breakup. Like his other albums, it was critically acclaimed, but it also performed well commercially, peaking at #8 in the U.S. The supporting tour featured the Flaming Lips, and after the tour ended, the Lips’ lead singer, Wayne Coyne, criticized Beck for being disconnected from reality. Such descriptions only play into Beck’s eccentric reputation, and Coyne said he was still a fan when the tour was over.
The Latin-flavored Guero, released in 2005, returned Beck to his roots, bringing further commercial and critical success in the process. Two singles, “Girl” and “E-Pro,” received heavy airplay, and the album was widely accepted by mainstream rock radio. Beck quickly turned around and released The Information in 2006, which he had reportedly worked on for three years. The album hasn’t sold as well as Guero, but it did peak at #7 on the US chart.
Beck is at an age when most rockers slow down, but his wide range of influences and interests should keep him relevant for some time. His forthcoming releases aside, Beck has put together one of the most eclectic catalogs in modern rock, creating his own unique sound (and style) along the way.
Beck on the Web
TV Guide: Beck
Beck Videos, Interviews and More on TV Guide's Online Video Guide
His official site.
Beck’s MySpace page.
Beck’s Wikipedia entry
Learn all about Beck’s history and catalog.
A great fansite with all things Beck.
A list of Beck-approved fansites.
From the Mouth of Beck
On his non-commercial career:
“I think I gave indications early on that mine wasn't just going to be a commercial, er, career. If that were the case, then the first record would have been ten versions of 'Loser.' I always thought it would be interesting if there was no such thing as gold and platinum records, or record deals, and people were just making music. What would the music sound like?”
“I never really had them. I always get the eccentric kids who dress funny and sit and write poetry for three months in their bedrooms...I was going to see tons of shows when I was a teenager, so if I was a girl, would that have made me a groupie? If I wanted to shake Thurston Moore's hand or something?”
On his ability to play the guitar
“I'm not a great guitarist, but I got to a point of ability that I was fine with. I can play the things I hear in my head. I can't do one of those ripping solos. That's one thing I would like to be able to do.”
On “Loser” becoming a slacker anthem:
“You'd have to be a total idiot to say, 'I'm the slacker-generation guy. This is my generation.' I'd be laughed out of the room in an instant. I didn't even connect (“Loser'”) at all to that kind of message until they were playing it on the radio and I heard it, and they said ‘This is the slacker anthem,’ and I thought, 'Oh shit, that sucks.' It's not some anguished transcendental 'cry of a generation.' It's just sitting in someone's living room eating pizza and Doritos.”
On the poor sales of Midnite Vultures in
“We were supposed to tour through the South, but nobody bought the record in the South. So it was like, All right, we'll go north! Cancel Tennessee and Florida!”
On the hip-hop formula:
“I never pretended to be an MC, I always had my own style. I threw many of the hip-hop rules out the window immediately. I didn't even try to be real. There's very stringent rules of how hip-hop is made. It's very protective, almost like the way the Germans make their beer. You can't fuck with the formula at all.”
On the rock star persona:
“To me, rock star conjures up something like a mystic: someone who has the key to the secret that people want to know. The cliché of what a rock star is – there's something elitist about it. I never related to that. I'm an entertainer. I think of it as, you're performing for people. It's not a self-glorifying thing.”
These quotes were found at BeckBeckBeck.net.