By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Debra” is one of the key songs on Beck’s current album, Midnite Vultures, a lavishly produced homage to funk that represents his attempt at a full-on dance record.
“As a producer, Beck never uses anything in its entirety — he picks things apart and uses elements, and that’s his genius,” says Hormel, who played on the record. “The title of this album, Midnite Vultures, says it all — Beck approaches art like a vulture. He waits, then when he sees something he wants, he goes in and gets it. √Ę The weird thing about Beck is that he can also sit down with an acoustic guitar and write a beautiful folk song worthy of Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash.”
“The fun of playing with Beck is that he’s so diverse that I got to try my hand at lots of different styles of music,” says Waronker, who also played on Midnite Vultures. “Beck has the amazing ability to get an idea and just do it, without second-guessing it, and he’s totally fearless in that way. He has gotten a bit more self-conscious in the last few years, because when you’re on magazine covers you have to think about the possible repercussions of the things you do.”
While working overtime to learn how to keep a major career on track, Beck struggled with another radical change — he wasn’t poor anymore.
“It was a big adjustment for Beck to have money, and at first he sort of ignored it, because I don’t think it seemed real to him,” says Harris. “Now he’s working so much that he doesn’t have time to spend it.”
“The minute you’re on TV, everyone assumes you’re a millionaire,” Beck laughs, “but I’m not living any better than my neighbor up the street who owns a flower shop. There are certain things I don’t have to worry about anymore, but I just traded those things in for 10 other things.
“The life of a musician isn’t as exalted as it seems from the outside, but entertainers are supposed to help maintain the fantasy that it’s a special kind of existence. It’s not healthy.”
Asked if he could recall the weirdest rumor he’s heard about himself, he says, “I’m not a gossip at all, maybe because I’m a Jew, and Jews believe you shouldn’t talk shit about people. I’m the same way about stealing — I’m absolutely unable to steal. My family weren’t observant Jews, but I wanted a bar mitzvah, and when I was a teenager I used to go to synagogue and study Torah with a friend who lived in Tujunga. If I have children I’ll raise them as Jews, because it’s a great religion. I like to look at things from as many different angles as possible, and one of the things I love about Judaism is that it gives 100 different interpretations of a single line of Torah.”
The weirdest rumor everybody else has heard about Beck is that he’s a Scientologist. Nearly every source contacted for this story confessed to having heard that rumor, then added that they’d never seen concrete evidence that there was any truth to it. For the record: Beck is not a Scientologist. His biological father, David Campbell, has been deeply committed to the Church of Scientology for several decades; however, Beck’s parents divorced when he was young, and he was largely brought up by his mother, who’s been with artist Sean Carrillo since 1984.
“I’m at a crossroads,” says Beck, “because I have lots of ideas, but you’re only allowed to put out 10 or 12 songs every two or three years. I’ve lost count of how many songs I’ve written — it could be up in the thousands — but if you put out too much music it tries people’s patience.
“I had an obsession with R&B, and I got it out of my system with Midnite Vultures. I know that record wasn’t exactly what a lot of people wanted to hear, but I loved making it, and I have a whole other album’s worth of songs we recorded for it. I also have several tracks I’ve been working on with the Dust Brothers over the last two years, and we still have unreleased stuff from Odelayin the can. I want to do an album in Spanish, and I’ve wanted to go to Nashville and do a straight country record since I first picked up a guitar.
“I also have a record of solo acoustic finger-picking songs that I’ve been working on for 10 years. Then I have an obnoxious rock record I’ve recorded, and there’s a record I want to make with Kool Keith that we’ve finished three tracks for. I’d also like to do a covers album. Then, my favorite thing is to just go into a studio with nothing in my head and see what comes out.”
Being in the studio is obviously where it’s at for Beck, but he realizes it’s a privilege he earns by being on the road. He loves performing, but at this point he’s performed everywhere in the world with the exception of South America, India and Africa, and the novelty of touring has worn off.