by / April 11th, 2011 /

An interview with Buck 65: “I’ll never go downhill. It’s not my style.”

It’s been just under 10 years since the Canadian Buck 65 first captured our imagination this side of the pond with albums like Square, Talkin’ Honky Blues, This Right Here Is Buck 65 and Secret House Against The World. His gravelly rap style has more in common with Tom Waits than with most rappers and his lyrics and music generally concern small town life seeped in country and blues. For his 20th anniversary, Buck has put together 20 Odd Years a collection of previously released EPs and new songs. This week, the rapper and DJ plays Academy 2 in Dublin on Thursday (14th) and Roisin Dubh, Galway on Friday night (15th).

20 years is a big landmark. How did you find it trawling through your back catalogue and did it cause you to be retrospective of other aspects of your life?
Well actually, I only realised it was my 20 year anniversary after I finished the album. So all I got out of the realisation was the album title. But after that and going through all my old stuff definitely put me in a nostalgic mood for a little while.

Listening to my old stuff makes me feel lots of different ways – it’s at times thrilling, funny, embarrassing, sad… It’s all there. I can’t say that I’ve completely documented my life in songs over the last 20 years, but a lot of how I’ve felt over the years is all there. Lots of good times and even more pain. I don’t go back and listen to my old stuff all that often because it can be quite uncomfortable to do so.

Am I happy with where I find myself in 2011? Absolutely. The fact that I’m still going strong after 20 years is something, I think. And my career has been growing the whole time, which is a feat. But I’ll never go downhill. It’s not my style.

The new album sounds kind of folk-inspired, still with blues and hip hop at the fore but more mellow – was that a conscious decision to go in that direction or was that the natural evolution of the beats to match the themes in the songs?
I see ‘Superstars Don’t Love’ as a pretty straight ahead hip hop song, even though it references Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt. ‘Whispers Of The Waves’ was inspired by Ali Farka Toure. ‘Cold Steel Drum’ is heavy and synthy. ‘Stop and ‘Final Approach’ are kinda poppy. ‘Tears Of Your Heart’ was inspired by The Shangri-Las. ‘Zombie Delight’ is kind of like The Meters meets Sabbath or something. I don’t know what to call ‘BCC’. I’m not bound by any genre whatsoever. In fact, to do so makes no sense to me. For example, the song ‘Paper Airplane’ is about the early days of my relationship with my wife. It’s about the desperation you feel when you’re on the other side of the world from the person with whom you’re newly in love. To me, it wouldn’t make sense to use heavy, distorted guitars or disco beats on a song with a sentiment like that. The feeling of the song demanded a light touch and adding strings felt right. In fact, I heard strings from the beginning. I think it would be ridiculous and creatively corrupt to say, “I want to make a folk song with strings so I can prove that I’m the biggest arsehole in hip hop”. Who thinks that way? When I write a song about something with a deep personal meaning, I don’t think about street credibility or the hip hop rule book. Only a baby would go about things that way.

Do you find life on the road lonely as a solo performer and how did it feel to collaborate with Jenn Grant at the recent SXSW shows, was it at all different from the solo Buck 65 show?
I had a long run of years of extremely lonely existence. By the time I made the album Secret House Against The World, it was almost killing me. That record was made by a hollowed out version of me. It’s not so bad these days. Being married helps. My wife travels with me whenever possible.

Since I started playing songs from this new album, I’ve had my friend Marnie Herald with me. She’s been singing all the parts of the guest vocalists on the new record. She’s helping me out with some older tunes too. She’s amazing.

Performing with Jenn Grant at SXSW was incredible. I wish we could do that more often. The energy on stage was something I never felt before. I thought we were going to explode. Something came over Jenn and I fed off it. It was electric. I think she’s one of the best singers in the world right now. We just recorded two more songs together. Hopefully we’ll do lots more. Maybe even a whole album one day.

You often perform with just a laptop and a set of turntables. Do you find that without the use of pyrotechnics and visuals you feel that you have to give it even more with just you on the stage to engage the audience?
I’ve toured with a band and elaborate stage show before. But I prefer performing on my own, no frills. I don’t know what it is, but I always work harder. It’s a psychological thing. Also, I think I need the freedom to go places were a band would never be able to follow me. I need to be able to make snap decisions. I need 100% control. With a band you have to rehearse a lot. With rehearsal comes a plan. I’m a man without a plan. On stage, I’m guided by whim and what the crowd wants.

I’ll also say that years ago I read a review (I think Lester Bangs wrote it) about an old Stooges show. It talked about how at a time when all the other bands relied on distracting psychedelic light shows and whatnot, the Stooges just had Iggy, burning white-hot and the blew everyone else off the stage. I found that to be quite inspiring.

Have you any plans to continue with Bike For Three, your collaboration with Belgian producer Joëlle Phuong Minh Lê or have you any other projects planned with others that you can talk about?
Making the first Bike For Three album took a lot out of both Joelle and I. We bled for that one. We’ve been talking lately about getting started on the follow-up. But right now were just trying to conjure the courage. We’ve been giving each other pep talks. “Are you ready to cut yourself open again?” “Not yet…” I’m sure we’ll make a record this year. We’re in training right now. Getting into shape. Meditating. We’ll get there.

I have a few other projects on the go. I mentioned that I’ve been recording more with Jenn Grant. I’m working with my friend Buddy Peace who helped out with 20 Odd Years. One thing I’m working on now is very much in the electronic vein. I’m doing something with a dubstep producer from Toronto. I like how it’s sounding. I also plan on doing Dirtbike 4 this year. Soon.

Was it as much fun to make the video for ‘Zombie’ as it was to watch it, and it is an intentional tribute to ‘Thriller’?
It was probably even more fun. Shooting videos is usually not so fun, but this one was a blast. And you hit the nail on the head – the song and video is a tribute to ‘Thriller’. That song and ‘Superstars Don’t Love’ were both written the day Michael Jackson died and I was thinking about ‘Thriller’ a lot.

There’s a video for ‘Paper Airplane’ you’ll see soon. I was shot in Paris. It’s really pretty. A French actress I really admire named Roxane Mesquida is in it. It was a thrill to work with her.

The last show I saw you play in Dublin you cracked out the big guns playing John Farnham’s ‘Your The Voice’ and tipped the audience off to the wonders of Joel Paskett’s ‘Emergency’, have you any other tips for State readers to seek out and listen to?
Funny you should ask! Right now I’m totally hooked on [only available in US and Canada folks]. It basically allows you to make your own online radio station. So if you follow me, I’ll DJ your breakfast or funeral. Everything I could recommend is right there. I was listening this morning and gave my wife whiplash because it went from Teenage Jesus and the Jerks to Great Lake Swimmers.

Your upcoming DVD, is it simply a collection of videos or have you captured any live shows?
Not really. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a large art piece. All the credit goes to my friend Christopher Mills. He’s brilliant. You should check out his work. He has a really pretty imagination. There’s lots of animation. Stories. Birds. Trees. There’s a part where I’m telling my wife a story in the middle of a rain forest and you can see the love on our faces. It’s nice. Then I get eaten by Sasquatch.

You have also completed a track with AWOL One and Factor how did this come about?
AWOL and I have been friends since the start of the Iraq war. We weren’t in the army together. But we played a show in North Carolina the day that war started. It was a bummer. But we’ve been friends ever since. Crazy to think how long ago that was…

What should we expect from the next 20 years of Buck 65?
Lots more of everything – that’s the plan. I’ll never stop making songs. And I love DJing for people. I have the best life. I used to have the worst, but now I have the best.