When I moved here 10 years ago, Beck’s Odelay was a constant companion, like the sun, the smog and the Tapatío sauce in which I’d drown my tacos.
Being a newbie, it seemed necessary to me that I digest Odelay, in the same way that other arrivistes feel like they have to read City of Quartz. It wasn’t that I loved all the kitchen-sink sampling and polyglot cultural poses so much; sometimes, as with the city itself, I wondered what, if anything was at the center of all that shiny stuff. But Odelay was such a part of the landscape, I felt like I needed to understand it if I was going to understand my new home. What’s that reference? Who’s he talking about? Am I supposed to understand this?
Then there was the matter of Beck himself: the young, flaxen-haired waif; the wide-eyed, backpack-kid-turned-improbable-boy-wonder who had pockets full of fairy dust and eyes that pierced your heart. The smart chicks wanted to take him home, and the smart guys all had stories about knowing him, you know, before. Everybody loved what he seemed to represent. He was an icon for the new, golden age of discovery.
The landscape has changed immensely since that time — much more than a mere 10 years gone by would suggest. Los Angeles doesn’t feel as wide open as it once did to me, thanks to dot-com crashes, gentrification’s relentless drive toward homogeneity, a culture that holds celebutante status as the pinnacle of aspiration and a post-9/11 Bush era that has instilled gloom into the atmosphere in equal parts with the sun and the smog (and the Tapatío sauce). Musically, the golden age of discovery seems to have given way to the golden age of pale imitation. All the young dudes have gone missing. Hell, even the Beastie Boys packed it up and headed back to New York. Remember when Grand Royal, the magazine and record label, were the height of fashion? Hip-hop has died and gone to hell three times since then.
For me, coming to termswith Beck now is like coming to terms with Los Angeles now. Some of my wide-eyed wonder is gone — how could it not be? — but L.A. is home now more than ever. And Beck is still a native son, the one you took in all those years ago, even if he’s no longer the one on whom you project whatever it is you once projected on the make-good kid who didn’t seem all that different from you. No, he’s not that anymore, not after the personal troubles and trappings of adulthood and success — the house in the hills, the wife, the kid — and especially not after his return to the fold of that ascot-wearing superfreak L. Ron Hubbard, from which he had seemed so headily to stray.
Instead, he’s transformed in our minds from innocent wunderkind to lightning rod. People take sides: One person will mention his Scientology leanings and call him a charlatan. Another will insist upon his unwavering genius. Still another maintains he’s the same as he was when he was playing in front of disinterested crowds with just a guitar and a mike while the real band was setting up.
Why do we still care? And lots of us still do, despite his uneven and sometimes inconsequential output since Odelay. Is it Beck, his art or the trajectory of our own lives in this city that we’re concerned with? Is it because he’s become such an indelible part of the story that we can’t help but read some of ourselves into it?
Part of me knows the confusion has more to do with my own penchant for cheap romanticism and threadbare myth making than with him. It’s a lot to throw on a guy who couldn’t weigh more than 130 pounds in scuba gear. But in some ways it can’t be helped, because the heart still beats and the music keeps coming: five albums since he shocked us in that summer of ’96, the latest being his just-released The Information, following closely, if not hotly, on the heels of last year’s Guero.
Sometimes that music has seemed frustratingly frivolous, a cluttered box of empty jive, and I’ve wondered if he (or we) have any of that old magic left. But other times, like when I recently drove around Elysian Park on a burnished afternoon listening to the beautiful “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” and “Cold Brains” off Mutations — it’s like riding shotgun with an old friend. And the magic is back. On another occasion, as I was heading back from the ocean on a full-moon night, playing Sea Change from start to finish, it felt like Los Angeles itself — the thing that will always break your heart and keep you coming back for more. Those are the times when the music melts away the layers of projection and prejudice laid upon it over the years, and I believe once again that there has to be something sweet in the center of this Tootsie Roll Pop.
Ten years after he stunned us with Odelay, and five years to the day since some lunatics in airplanes gave George Bush license to fuck up everything he could possibly fuck up, I met Beck. He showed up at the offices of his management company on Seward Street near Melrose an hour late due to a last-minute appointment with a chiropractor. Apparently, he’d tripped on an uneven patch in his walkway on the way to the car — casting doubt, for now anyway, on his ability to walk on water.
With long hair and wearing a bowler hat, Beck was disarmingly apologetic as he placed an ice pack on the small of his back and we sat across from each other in desk chairs in someone’s glass-walled office. He looked a little like Underdog. A huge, demonic-eyed poster image of Jack Black stared down on us from the wall. Despite being severely jet-lagged after a European tour, and in obvious pain, Beck, in his slow, quiet manner, was quite talkative. The interview was arranged to promote The Information, but the record itself, which sounds initially like an amalgamation of all he’s done so far — the great, the good and the not-so — was of less consequence to me than seeing what, if anything, was in that center. And if that old magic is fleeting, maybe we'll find something else that lasts.
L.A. WEEKLY: You went nearly four years between Midnight Vultures [’98] and Sea Change [’02], and now you've put out two records in two years. Why so productive lately?
BECK: I finished the tour for Sea Change in the fall of 2003 and I just went right into the studio. Usually you come home and take off about a year, but I just went right back in because there’d been such a gap [before] Sea Change, and I just had so many ideas. You always have more ideas than you have time to get down and record, because there’s always so much attached to doing a record . . . like flying to Europe for six weeks to do interviews. And then the record comes out and you have to do it all over again and tour. You know, it takes two weeks to a year to make a record, and a year to three years to do all the other stuff. What I see artists doing now is putting like 25 songs on a record. It really should be two records, but there’s so much that goes with it, they put like four years of work on one record and do it all in one shot.
What do you think about how music is distributed and disseminated these days?
I think it’s healthy. I think it’s good. Most people get it word-of-mouth, get it on the Internet. For myself, I feel like I find more music than I ever did. I mean, I was always into whatever was coming out. Me and my friends were always digging through crates and passing stuff around.
Has it affected the way you approach making music, now that the “big record company” album is less a factor than it used to be? Does it feel more organic in a way?
I think it does, yeah. We’ve been operating off this model of the late-’70s, early-’80s blockbuster record, and every record has been sort of operating off that model, you know, whether it’s going to sell 10 copies or 10 million. The whole thing is structured that way. Maybe this is a way of returning to — well, the way people talk about it is selling less of more, which is the way it’s been in Japan for years. I remember being on tour in Japan 12 years ago, and at Tower Records we’d find [compilation] CDs of all these thrift-store records . . . they’d print a run of 100 of them. It was so specialized. Now if you like one thing, you can find 10 other things like it. That kind of thing used to take years, to find your way through a whole genre.
Do you miss that experience, though, of going out with buddies and sifting through thrift stores and record shops? Do you feel like something’s lost there?
[Smiles.] Yeah, that was a weekend thing — exactly like what you describe, going out on a Sunday and going to Pasadena and wading through those pockets of records. I can’t tell you how many records we bought that we probably never even listened to. But the ritual of it, yeah, that is lost, that feeling of finding some old record with a really fucked-up cover and showing it to your friends. Finding it and talking to the guys. Yeah, I miss it.
I think of the scene here when you were coming up as being part of the found-art movement — making art out of stuff you find on the street, or in thrift stores, or graffiti?.?.?.?
Yeah, there was a lot of that. I think back to when I was growing up and going around to different events and art shows and concert kind of things in downtown L.A. or here and there. Yeah, that was basically the approach [with] the way people dressed, how they were making music, art — all that stuff, absolutely. And, you know, the various clichés about L.A. — the wide cultural array, the mélange of cultures and styles.
Where does inspiration come from now? You don’t live in silver Lake anymore, do you?
No, I live in Hollywood, but I’m there [in Silver Lake] every day.
Yeah, it seems like Sunset Boulevard, from Silver Lake up into Echo Park, is becoming like Brentwood?.?.?.?
It’s changed radically. It still shocks me sometimes, seeing how extremely things have changed.
Does that bum you out?
I mean, you can’t help feeling a little bit nostalgic, but at the same time it’s growing and it’s evolving, and that’s good.
In what ways?
The scene’s growing. There are more places to play. There’s more happening, there’s more bands. It felt to me like it was a scene of about 50 people in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Everybody knew everybody, so there was some community. But you were in a bit of a no man’s land, compared to a London or a New York. But there was something beautiful about that too. You could sort of make it whatever you wanted. It seemed like the guys that were like 10 to 15 years older were like these jazzbo beatnik types, and then you had the downtown art people, and there were the poets and the Cacophony Society people and the whole Onyx scene [around the old coffee shop and cultural roost by the Vista on Sunset], and downtown was Al’s Bar. There were these focal points.
Looking back on it, I guess it was small — you and the Dust Brothers, Beastie Boys and Possum Dixon — but now, you can’t even afford to?.?.?.?
Yeah, even live there. I know. Totally. I moved out. [Laughs.]
You got priced out?
I couldn’t find a place. It got to the point where we [he and his wife, Marissa Ribisi] were looking around, and it’s shocking. I mean, isn’t that the pastime now? Everywhere I go, people are talking about how they can’t believe their house has, you know, doubled in value. Yeah, that part of it is kind of bad. It did feel like that neighborhood was this little secret. You’d talk about the Reservoir and nobody even knew what it was.
Or you could cut over from Glendale Boulevard on West Silver Lake.
Nobody knew about that! Or Beverly Boulevard. You could get to the Westside in 10 minutes. That was before the Grove. [Laughs.] I was talking to someone recently and he told me developers are putting $1.5 billion into Hollywood, in like Whole Foods and shopping centers and five-star hotels. I almost want to do a Ruscha thing and go down Hollywood Boulevard and take pictures of all that before the little bit of seediness that’s left in there is gone.
What does that do to you as an artist who is so inspired by the local landscape? Have money and fame made you feel removed from all that?
I don’t think so. When I’m driving down the streets, it’s not much different, except I’m not on an RTD bus anymore, so . . .
But you can’t get out of the car now.
Yeah, I can. Are you kidding? People don’t care. I mean, when you’re local there’s no . . . I go to all the same places and I do all the same things. I get my groceries the same way. I mean, the places where I used to live back in the day were really sketchy. I used to live down on Silver Lake Boulevard in a $300-a-month apartment, and we had these drug-addict truck drivers living over us, you know? I mean, it was characters down there. It was definitely the wrong end of town, and something that I thought would have taken 30 years to do has just happened like overnight.
These last two records [Guero and The Information] seem almost like a return to that collage-art approach, whereas there’s a personal feel to MUTATIONS and SEA CHANGE. Where are you getting your ideas from now?
I think with the new record, The Information, it was an attempt to bring those opposites in my music together. In songs like “Darkstar” and “We Dance Alone” I made a real attempt to bring some of those elements together, because they were so distinct. I don’t think I had quite figured out how to synthesize them yet — you know, the more traditional songwriter in me that I started out with, and this other thing that I stumbled on by just being open minded — this thing of beats and sound experiments. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to bring them together.
Which feels more natural to you?
Both! They’re both good — I mean, they’re so different. But in another way, they’re similar, you know. They’re superficially different.
Sometimes I think one’s about sound and the other’s about emotion.
I think they both have emotion, they’re just different emotions. Obviously when you’re doing something quieter and a little slower, you can make it more intimate. But on this record, when I was rapping, I was trying to make it intimate. My producer, Nigel [Godrich — who also worked on Mutations, Midnight Vultures, Sea Change and lots of Radiohead], would get me to try a different approach to the rapping, and the whispering thing was like, I don’t know, talking in someone’s ear. I think there’s a perception that you know what you’re doing when you put out an album, but it’s all trial and error.
But do you have something in mind for each record before you approach it?
Yeah, I think more so now than before. Before it was just all so new to me. But as it’s gone along, I've said I’ll take the opportunity to do something like Sea Change, with a different sound and a different feeling. And I think that one was necessary and a learning thing, where I can go back to this record with, you know, so much more.
How important was it to you to step away from the baroque-ness of the previous records and do something like Sea Change?
I think it was important. With Midnight Vultures the idea was, “let’s see how much we can cram into a square cubic area as possible,” you know? How do you make something so kaleidoscopic that you’re, like, tripping? That was what we were attempting. I don’t think we achieved that. . . . So the next record we were going to strip it back as far as possible, and originally it was just going to be guitars, really minimal. But, you know, we started doing things with strings, and it got more . . .
They’re really beautiful.?
Yeah, it needed it.
Your dad did the strings, right?
Was it hard for him to hear sea change? Was it wrenching for him to listen to all that pain?
I don’t know. I never asked him. But I think he knew — he knew where it came from. I mean, I have a son, and I can only imagine. It’s the kind of thing where it’s more painful for you than the other person. At the same time, I had been playing those songs live for a while, and a lot of the record had been written for a while, so I had learned to live with it, and going into the studio was all about rendering it.
It certainly begs the question of whether the best art comes from pain, and what do you do after you’re happy?
It’s harder to write the happy McCartney-style songs than it is the brokedown, in-pain kind of songs. It’s harder to pull it off, I think, to make it connect. I’m not sure why that is.
Did you like tapping the well that you did for SEA CHANGE?
Songs write . . . themselves . . . you know. It wasn’t like wallowing in it. It was just getting something down. Those kinds of songs, you can’t really force them out, you can’t control them. They just happen.
Was there ever a temptation to just write it all down and throw it away?
Yeah, definitely, definitely. Because I’d done it before with stuff that I didn’t want to put out there.
Why was that?
I think it had something to do with the time I came up in. When I was growing up, the whole singer-songwriter thing was the most uncool thing you could possibly do. It was just the antithesis of everything that we would do. Growing up, people hadn’t gone back to the old mountain music and the Carter family and Blind Willie McTell and all that stuff yet. They hadn’t gone back to the roots yet, you know?
But you had.
Me, yeah, that was my world, you know. I can’t tell you how many years I’d go out and play and try to put an old Jimmie Rodgers yodeling break into a song and people would be going “hee-haw!” You know, they’d just equate it with ’70s TV.
Did that bum you out?
Absolutely, yeah. I swear, it got to the point where I was pretty much giving it up. I’d be playing some old Delta blues thing that I’d learned and people would be thinking I was doing Led Zeppelin covers, or some classic rock thing. It was just such a disservice to me — the strangeness and the poetry of that music and the tenacity of it and the ghosts of it were all glossed over [by indifferent audiences]. All those things were glossed over. The only references were, you know, a bad TV show.
So was the kind of fly white-boy thing a conscious decision? You know, if I can’t beat ’em, I’m gonna join ’em?
Yeah, I think I got to a point where, about a year or two before I put out my first record [Mellow Gold], I thought, well, you have to make music in your time. When you’re 17, there’s all the romance in the world in trying to re-create 1932, but it’s not going to happen, you know, and all those things that I romanticized, like old Bunker Hill to old America, were pretty much gone.
I think the thing that shattered that was I took a road trip, a Greyhound trip, to the South when I was like 18, and realized so much of that stuff was gone. And it kind of woke me up a bit. You have to make music in your time. When I started out, I really wanted to be like a traditional musician, to preserve what I could by playing old Delta blues or old cowboy traditional music, and I think it was a combination of seeing its irrelevance in some ways in our time, and then the fact that there was actually so much good stuff happening with hip-hop, and that was the music to me that was most alive. Like in, say, ’89, that was the music we talked about. It hadn’t really infected rock or mainstream music at the time.
Were the Beastie Boys important to you?
Yeah, I remember in the circles I ran in they were more of a college, sort of frat-rock thing on that first record. And when the second one came out, I think I was living in New York and all the kids living on the Lower East Side would have never admitted in a million years that they liked the Beastie Boys. But I remember at one point people saying that they loved that record, that that record’s amazing, their second record [Paul’s Boutique].
Yeah, and PAUL'S BOUTIQUE seems like it couldn’t have happened anywhere except in L.A.
It was definitely right of that time. That’s what we were all doing. None of us had money, so you’d go down the thrift store and buy a whole new wardrobe for 15 bucks, and it’d be all these amazing ’70s clothes — you know, tight little leather jacket, crazy shirt, tight bell-bottom pants, and you’d get some boots and you’d look amazing. And, yeah, that record just captures that mood exactly. That record definitely made big waves. Although I do have to say I love that first record [License To Ill]. At the time I didn’t really know it, though. [Laughs.] I was off with The Bristol Sessions [the landmark 1927 “modern” country recording sessions in Bristol, Tennessee, that debuted Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter family].
Did that sort of clear the way for you to say, oh, it’s okay to do that white b-boy thing?
Well, I never really said I was going to do a white-boy, b-boy thing. [Laughs.] What I used to do is, I’d get up and play my quote folk songs. I’d be at Jabberjaw or one of these clubs, and the audience would all be talking or people would be outside smoking cigarettes, and the real band that was playing would be setting up equipment — the band that people were there to see. So there came a point where you’re being drowned out by people talking and all that, and you start doing things, like I’d put my guitar down and sing a capella, or I would stomp my foot and start rapping and make up rhymes. And it was really just out of desperation. I did this one night and this guy came up to me, Tom Rothrock [record producer and co-founder of Bong Load Custom Records, which originally released “Loser” as a single], and kept saying, “I like that rap you were doing.” And I said, “Thanks, I was just making it up. And I would love to rap — why not?” He said, “I know a guy who makes some beats.”
I gave him my number and, you know, I don’t know what it was, six months or a year later I end up coming by after work to this guy’s house, Carl [Stephenson, who co-wrote “Loser” and co-wrote and produced other Beck songs], who I did my first record with. You know, he had a beat, and I wrote some lines, you know what I mean? And I put some of my slide guitar on there and that was “Loser.” The whole thing was just sort of ridiculously simple, how it came together, and probably one of the things I worked the least on, but, you know, the best-known thing. It was probably something I never would have pursued, it’s just that that happened to be the song I did, and it set an aesthetic direction. So I kind of had to go and see what else was in there. See what else I could do in there, though there’s not a lot of rapping, you know. I also, when I was a teenager, knew a lot of the spoken-word people around town. I was friends with Wanda Coleman and her husband, and I would go to a lot of poetry events. So I related it more to that.
When you look back on the 10 years since ODELAY, what do you think about?
Uh, they went by pretty quick. I thought I was going to get to make more music in the interim.
Well six records isn’t too bad?
Yeah, well, when I first came out, I think I did three records in the first year [Mellow Gold on Geffen, Steropathetic Soulmanure on Flipside and One Foot in the Grave on K Records]. I think I function better at a faster pace.
Because when you stop and you go tour for two years, you lose your momentum; you forget how to do it.
Do you worry that you start thinking too much?
Well, no, but you get bottled up with ideas. What happens is it becomes a bigger importance on each song. And it’s the throwaways that are more natural and less, like, corporate rock and worked over.
What’s had the biggest impact on your life over these years — has it been the process of becoming an adult, or the process of becoming successful, or .?.?. how do you see the arc that your life has been on?
Well, probably this job, and you know, becoming an adult, for me it all happened at the same time. Had I got a record deal when I was 29, it probably would have been all right. [But] I was in my early 20s when my first record came out, and, you know, you haven’t quite built up the confidence about what you’re doing. It’s all a little more haphazard.
Has money changed things for you in a negative or positive way?
Not really. I mean, I was always fairly satisfied with what I had. I could make do with very little. When I was younger, I read a lot of Thoreau, you know. [Laughs.] I related to that. I haven’t had a thing, like . . . Eminem or something like that, you know. That’s such a radical change. Someone who can’t go out in public.
Do you still feel like you’re indelibly associated with Los Angeles?
Yeah, it’s interesting. A lot gets made out of that. Especially in Europe and Japan. They have so many ideas projected upon L.A., or America. With other musicians it’s like, “Oh, they’re from Cleveland, okay.” But, yeah, a lot gets made out of it. I’m not sure why that is. It’s probably my fault. But you work off what you know.
Do you feel like your fate, or your identity, is tied to the city, or do you feel like you could be doing what you’re doing in Cleveland?
I don’t know. It’s a good question. I’ve thought about wanting to make a record in Europe. Except for one record, I’ve pretty much made everything here. I am a big believer in that wherever you are, the feeling of that place is going to go into the music. Whatever elements there are create the sound of music, it’s not just the microphone or what kind of mixing board you have, and L.A.’s been a big part of that in my sound. I feel at ease here. It’s always been a place that’s open, and people discovered it.
I guess I ask that because where SEA CHANGEis somewhat introverted, your more extroverted music seems to really be about the geography of the city, whether it’s the aural geography, the sounds and such, or the visual geography, what you see around you specific to here. It doesn’t seem to be universal in the way that spiritual or political landscapes might be. I mean, does the political landscape affect you? I just realized, it’s September 11 today.
Yeah, I know, it is. [The political landscape] did affect me on this record, I think. Maybe not so much on other records that I’ve done. I remember in the early ’90s a lot of my songs were, in some ways, reflecting the Gulf War. Songs like “Pay No Mind” [Mellow Gold] were reflecting those things and the possibility that we were all going to get drafted. And definitely on this record, I think, there’s a lot of songs that have that landscape. It’s just such a large component of our lives now, you know. You can’t really escape it.
What do you make of it? Is it scary for you as a dad?
Yeah, it is. And it’s frustrating, because I remember that day in 2000 [when Bush was elected], and just having this sinking feeling. I remember talking to people in my family — people in my family were crying. They were tore up, and I remember myself and friends making really dramatic statements . . . and sure enough, I mean, so much has gone down. It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to watch.
But you grapple with it on your record?
Yeah, indirectly. It’s in there. It’s definitely in the atmosphere.
Do you ever feel like you want to make a more overt statement politically, or do think that’s a less effective way?
It’s probably more of just how you live your life, you know? What you try to put out in the world. I’ve definitely always been idealistic. Having just been in Europe, I think there’s a certain intelligence, both educational and an approach to how you live . . .
As opposed to dumb and macho?
Yeah, that’s something I’ve grappled with. You know, I’m a smaller guy, and I’ve definitely grown up in a pretty macho society. That’s a big thing . . . I don’t know . . .
What do you mean?
It’s something that’s fascinated me, because, I mean, there was a point 10 years ago where you’d get a lot of guys in the audience, a very macho kind of . . . the whole moshing thing and pumping fists and . . .
In your audience?
Yeah, and there was a point where I was wearing bright pink pants and kind of playing with the idea of what it was okay for me to do or be, because at the time it felt like there was such a narrow idea of what that was, and I was really fascinated with that. I think that was something I was thinking about a lot when I was making Midnight Vultures. You know, I was singing a lot of the songs in a kind of high-pitched voice. I wouldn’t mind the idea of the feminine, you know, just as a generality, in the world more. It wouldn’t bother me at all.
Do you feel comfortable and confident with who you are at this stage and this age?
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a process. It always changes. You have your good days and your bad ones. Sometimes it’s easy and you feel like you’re doing exactly the right thing, and there are other days when you’re questioning. That’s just human.
What do people ask you about being a Scientologist? It seems like there’s a tendency to think there’s an inherent contradiction between being a Scientologist and an artist, like those can’t equate.
Well, that’s just a misconception. It’s like saying somebody who is Jewish can’t be a sailor or something. I don’t know. The two have nothing to do with each other.
Seems like people have trouble wrapping their heads around that.
Well, I don’t encounter any of that on a personal level.
You haven’t come across any?.?.?.?
Just journalists, usually.
And do you think it’s some sort of rabbit-in-a-hat kind of question?
I think it’s just misconception, and when there’s something that you don’t know a lot about, or you haven’t quite grasped what it is, or you don’t have a firsthand experience, where there’s a void or a vacuum, you fill it with stuff. And I know Scientologists who are — it’s not a defined thing — people who are, like, indie rockers, you know, however you want to define them, to housewives, to artists, to political activists, to educators, to people who oppose Republicans. It’s so widely divergent. I mean, it’s nondenominational. It’s really something that, uh, where different people find something helpful, a helpful resource to draw on. It’s only as useful as you can use it, you know what I mean?
Is religion important to you? Is it something that gives strength, you know, in times like these?
Like I said, it’s something that, well, I don’t know how else to say it, but that it’s something that’s useful, you know what I mean? It’s not something that you just cross your fingers and kind of . . . you know what I mean?
Yeah, exactly. It’s helpful.
In what way?
You know, just in sort of general . . . I think that some religion, something to refer to, is better than nothing. The idea of something beyond the material, in the case of modern life, it’s better to have that than not, I’d imagine. Even if somebody has to work out for themselves what it means and what it is, you know, it’s better than not — you know?
I think we think that our artists should not be involved with religion, for some reason. I mean, people trip out. People tripped out on Cat Stevens.
There’s something clichéd about artists . . . I mean, it’s a modern idea. The greatest artists before this, you know, the last 200 years, were the ones working for churches. Bach, the reason he wrote all that music was for Sunday service. You know what I mean? Otherwise he would have been sowing fields or a cobbler or something. And it’s always been a job. It’s always a job, and yet you’re providing . . . and it’s only in the modern sense that it’s been divorced from any of that.
But you know, I still want to be creative and push myself. I still want to be in the danger zone, not be sure who I am. I’m not interested whatsoever in a comfort zone.
How do you get to that place when you don’t have financial risk, when it’s not make or break?
Well, it’s still always a bit of a gamble. I don’t like to talk about that end too much, because it’s not why I made music. I mean, I could probably get by for a couple years, but I’m not like, set, you know?
Well, how do you stay in the danger zone. Is it just by pushing?
For me, it’s just where I gravitate, whether that’s doing a record like Sea Change, which was different from what I’d done before, or . . . every record is just a gamble. It costs money to make these records. [Laughs.]
Does each of your songs have its own intention for you, or do think in terms of albums and the songs being a part of that intention?
Well, Sea Change definitely had its own thing, front to back. That was an exception, I think. But I think on this new record, The Information, there was a sense of pending dread, of the unknown creeping in.
Where is that coming from?
I look at it as what happens when everything gets quiet . . . when you shut it all off and you don’t hear the city and you don’t hear the noise. What happens then? God forbid there’s a dead spot, because that’s when something else comes in . . . I like to remind myself that it’s there — at least be conscious of it.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.