Beck has rarely been shy about pushing the boundaries of his own musical ambition, or even alienating audiences at the expense of artistic expression. From a traditional upstart in the coffee houses of NYC, to a symphonic country balladeer on the 2002 release of Sea Change, Beck’s legacy is destined for a dominant whisper nestled in the blowing winds of American music.
Standing as a pioneer whose records are a statement of constant originality, his acclaimed compositions have sparked legend of an ever maturing musical genius. It hasn’t been all devil’s haircuts and turntables that catapulted Beck to the forefront of the popular musical landscape. It was a love of roots music and a commitment to keeping his art pure which earned Beck the respect and admiration of his peers within the artistic community.
While growing up in Los Angeles, CA, during the later part of the ’80s, his love for music was spawned at a time when the cultural climate of the US was going through a dramatic shift.
“I remember not really getting into music or becoming a fan until I was in my late teens,” says Beck in a very deep and warm tone. “Music was always around, but I can remember taking a liking to the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, Dylan, the whole ’60s folk revival, and traditional music—Hank Williams, Jimmy Rodgers, Skip James and a whole bunch of Delta Blues artists.”
The purist standard of the late ’60s had ballooned into a paradox of decadence, glam, and unstoppable excess in the ’80s. A nation was under the grip of a “New Wave” spell while naively struggling to fight a decade-long rampant cocaine epidemic.
Making a name for himself as a young singer/ songwriter didn’t exactly fit into the mold of bands originating from the Sunset Strip.
“It was a bit of a challenge starting off. If I was in a band it probably would have been easier,” explains Beck, as laughter follows.
“Los Angeles was pretty minimal. I don’t remember finding any like-minded people in that city. Everything seemed to be very middle of the road,” shares the, now 36 year-old, musician. “Nobody was listening to Woody Guthrie or Blind Lemon Jefferson in those clubs.”
“If I were ever to play the blues people would just equate it with a Budweiser commercial or the music you hear when tumbleweeds are blowing by in the background,” continues Beck, as laughter again ensues.
“I was more a purist and into traditional music at the time. I couldn’t seem to find anybody who was adhering to a style of rural blues. So once I turned 18 I decided to move to New York,” says Beck. “There still wasn’t a scene for me there but there were places for you to play and be appreciated. They ended up being coffee houses and a few bars.”
Despite the hurdles Beck forged forward and landed a record deal with Geffen Records in ’94. Beck began to mix an eclectic range of musical styles which included folk, blues, and the increasing influential hip-hop.
“There is very little music that I don’t like or don’t admire in some way,” explains Beck. His debut single “Loser” off the Mellow Gold LP, launched his career.
By the time Odelay was released in 1996 Beck had solidified himself as a key player of the vanguard. Odelay earned him a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance and featured the tracks “Devil’s Haircut,” “New Pollution” and “Where It’s At.”