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A Chat with Beck Hansen: part two of two

Beck Hansen interview conducted by Rob Jovanovic on behalf of Record Collector magazine
On the phone from Denver, Co.
August 7th 2002

RC: You did some stuff with The Automator, is that for the album to follow Sea Change?
B: Yeah, a lot of music has already been recorded for the next record, I'm probably going to have some time off in December and January to finish it.
RC: Is that going to be more of an upbeat kind of album in the vein of Odelay or Midnite Vultures?
B: It's maybe more of marriage between some of the experimentation on those records and some of the song writing on the new record. I'm probably due to do something more in the Odelay vein, that's my sound and the last three albums anytime anything gets a little too close to that I just start going in another direction.
RC: A non-musical collaboration was on the Southlander film - was it strange playing the part of yourself?
B: One of my old friends Steve Hanft, who directed the Loser video and Where It's At, I met him when I was about 19. He was part of a bunch of art students who were going to Cal Arts that I fell in with, he was always making films and did music for his first film, this was 1990, '91. When he finally got around to making another film, about three years ago, he wrote me into it but he wanted me to play myself like how he remembered me when he first met me.
RC: Was how he remembered you accurate as to how you thought you were back then?
B: Well you can't go back.
RC: Did you do music for the film as well?
B: I did, I don't know if they're going to release a soundtrack. They premiered the film at an art theatre last month, I don't know what the status is with it.
RC: One thing I'd like to ask, I don't expect you to be able to reel of the answers right now, maybe you could email or forward some replies when you get off tour - what are the ten rarest records you own?
B: I'd have to look, because I don't remember all the names. Yeah I could look when I get home. I was collecting a bunch of rare 'new music' from the late 50's early 60's, I knew this collector at the Record Swap Meet was going over to France and getting these records that only 100 copies existed and one of them I had, from the late 50's, this composer had built these steel rods that vibrated and the whole record is just these rods vibrating. It cost me $150 copies, it was sealed too, so it was in perfect condition. New music composers, those are the type of records that I have that are probably worth the most. Then there's a few odd things like these Christian Puppet records, there's one called Walking With Jiggers and some of these other children's records. Don Bolles, he used to be in the Germs, has a booth at the Record Swap Meet and he has an incredible collection of weird children's records, the more demented ones, it appeals to him but he's passed a few of those on to me that are really rare.
RC: So would it be possible for you to take a look when you get back home.
B: Yeah, I definitely will.
RC: So where do you like to buy your records from, or CDs, or both?
B: I buy a lot of CDs now, just out of ease. I put them on my computer, I have a little hard drive that's about the size of a cigarette pack and I can put 50 gigs of music one there. But when I collect vinyl it's just at different record stores when I'm travelling. The best was when I was touring with Sonic Youth because they knew where all the great vinyl stores were. Thurston would take me out to some amazing store in the middle of nowhere, he'd flip to the racks so fast it was like lightning and he'd rip out one and say "Here you need to get this." Usually with me, I've read a fair bit about music so I know what I'm looking for. A few years ago I was collecting a lot of rare Brazilian vinyl, Caetano Veloso, Os Mutantes and I would go to the Record Swap Meet, that was my favourite place, and get there at six in the morning because literally there's these hip-hop kids and Japanese there at four in the morning helping them unload their trucks and they're going through the records while they're still in the trucks and they just skim the best stuff. So when I 'd get there at 6.30 in the morning and they'd all be leaving so I felt a little bit defeated. It gets real crazy, you have to get up at 3am and even at that you're elbowing the guy next to you. So much of this stuff is now being re-issued on CD, I'd love to have it all on vinyl but it's such a competitive littleΣ
RC: Do you buy much music from the internet?
B: These days I do.
RC: You probably end up spending more than you set out to do.
B: Yeah and there's a website that has all the used record stores on a database.
RC: It almost takes the fun out of finding something rare in the back of a record shop.
B: I know, you're right.
RC: Moving onto the new album, I interviewed Nigel Godrich a few weeks ago. It was actually for a book I'm writing which is the official story of Pavement. B: Oh, cool I really love Pavement.
RC: That's the only reason he agreed to do the interview.
B: I just played in Portland, I was going to call Steve to come and do some songs.
RC: I know he's been recording recently so I'm not sure he's even in Portland at the moment.
B: He usually isn't there when I am.
RC: So the new album, I know Nigel worked on it. Was it like the Mutations sessions where you did a song a day?
B: It started out that way, yeah. Then it turned into a song every two days. Mutations we recorded and mixed in two weeks, this was probably three and a half, but we got a little more ambitious I think because we had orchestral arrangements and different musicians coming and going.
RC: So who actually played on this? Was it more based around the band that recorded Mutations?
B: It was the same band yeah. Joey played drums but he had to go off to Hawaii half way through, so half of the record is a guy who played on a lot of the great soul and funk records, he played on Bill Withers records. So he added a new dimension. We recorded in the same studios, it was a reunion of sorts. It was something we'd been planning for four years, talking about. 9/11 happened and then people weren't working as much, I think we originally wanted to do this record a year and a half ago but it took a while for people to line-up.
RC: So had these songs been sitting around for a while, I know obviously one of them has?
B: Most of them are around two years old, I'd say about four of them are from the last year, they'd been ripening.
RC: You mentioned the string arrangements, I just got the album and was listening to it for the first time today and they really stand out. Who arranged them?
B: That was me, well me and my Father. I pretty much, well I went over there he'd have a rough sketch out, some chords and some melodies and yeah. I think the idea with the orchestra was that we really wanted to feature the orchestra and not just use it augment a pop song. Just bass, drums and then let the orchestra fill the rest of the space, really use it dramatically, not just as padding, use it for all it's worth.
RC: On the website I saw a track listed as Ship In A Bottle, is that just going to be for the Japanese CD, it isn't on the British version?
B: I don't know, that was the super-pop song of the record. I think it was a little too corny, I mean it was heart-felt, but since then people have been telling me they really liked it. At the time I thought it was kind of an Elton John type song, older Elton John. I don't know what the fate of that will be. I like the recording, it was very cool. I think we felt that the album was so long already.
RC: You're on tour now, just yourself and Smokey, how's that going?
B: Great, really, really good.
RC: Any plans for the UK?
B: Not with this tour, it's mainly just me on acoustic guitar, fooling around and telling stories. The songs have been pretty emotional but the bits in between have pretty silly.
RC: Like going back to the early 1990s?
B: Yeah, you know just getting to do what I used to do. Without the band. But the next tour is going to be with the Flaming Lips as my band, so we're going to rehearse in September and then go out in October, so by the time we get to Europe it'll be the Flaming Lips' show, more of the full on extravaganza. I really like their new album.
RC: I noticed you did a Big Star song, are you a big fan?
B: Yeah I am.
RC: I've not heard of you doing a Big Star song before.
B: No, I wanted to do different songs at every show and keep each show different, so it doesn't get into a routine.
RC: Picking songs that work with just one or two guitars.
B: Yeah, and picking songs that I thought weren't obvious but were great songs.
RC: Any singles planned from the new album?
B: I think they're gonna put out Guess I'm Doing Fine. Most people tell me it's their favourite song.
RC: I like Paper Tiger.
B: Yeah me too. That's Nigel's favourite song too, so you guys are the tastemakers!
RC: Ok, I'll put that in the article! So you went back and did It's All In Your Mind again.
B: To be honest I just started playing it. Before we would start a new song I would sit in front of a microphone and play different things and I started playing it and Nigel was like "What's that?!, What's that?!" He said "We have to do that." He really took to it and thought well it's just languishing on that single.
RC: It's quite a radical re-work from the original.
B: Well some of the songs, especially from that period, I was still writing the songs or had just written the song on the spot, so the lyrics weren't even finished. Feather In Your Cap was re-recorded, in the original version I'm singing about phone machines and whatever came off the top of my head. A lot of those songs from that time I've developed over the years and they're evolved songs.
RC: We mentioned Pavement and I saw on your website the list of Bands That Will EndureΣ
B: He's just a great songwriter.
RC: I know you played together on Lollapalooza, was that the first time you'd met?
B: No, we'd played shows before. On my first tour I met them, I was a fan and Steve was always kind to me and encouraging although he would always have some sharp aside in interviews, they'd always be some jabs in interviews, but to me, he'd always come and stay with me when he was in LA. He was kind of person you don't see for a couple of years and you suddenly see them and it's like you see them everyday. They're so wilfully obscure I'm sure they're not going to make it easy for you to sift through the mythmaking. I just remember all-day and all-night ping-pong sessions. You'd hardly ever see Pavement people walking around because they'd be locked away in their dressing room in the midst of fierce ping-pong matches.
RC: Or Scrabble! OK, well thanks very much for your time.
B: Ok, you take care.
RC: You too.
B: Bye.

(much thanks to Rob and Beck and Record Collector - Deborah, The Beck Site)