Buck 65

Date: February 23rd, 2004
Place: Le Transbordeur, Lyon, France

Hip-Hop Core: How do you feel about tonight's show?

Buck 65: Oh… It was generally good but I got very badly lost coming to this city today and so when I finally got here there were just like a million problems... So I was rushing, rushing, rushing and then, when I did souncheck, the mixer was… I couldn't use it. It was a club mixer. So I had to run out again and go out and buy one. And then, I had to come back and do interviews. And then, the second the last interview is done, I had to go on stage and I wasn't ready. And I forgot things; I left all my CD's in the car so I couldn't do all those songs with the CD's… Like, it was just… it was too much! And, plus, I'm sick; I don't have much voice left. BUT, aside from my problems, the show was good. The crowd was very good. There was a lot of people here tonight so I can't complain about it too much. But I probably could have done a better show if I wasn't so rushed.

HHC: On 'Driftwood', you said, "My beats aren't familiar so you can't put your fingers on 'em". Is that still a goal of yours?

B65: Yeah. I mean… I think if anyone could tell me any break that I used on my last album I would be very surprised. There's like Egyptian children's records on there. There's a lot of French breaks on the new album. But I've never had anyone even guess what any of them are. I strive because it's like religion to me to always dig deeper and deeper and deeper and always use breaks that people don't know. It's just one of my rules to try to the best of my knowledge to never use drums that anybody else ever used and that's a difficult challenge and there's not too many people left that even care about that sort of thing... but I care about it very much.

HHC: On "Talkin' Honky Blues", the 'Riverbed' series is entirely dedicated to all the different things that happen near a river. Do you still live on a houseboat?

B65: No, but metaphorically speaking I do. Because if you think of a highway as a metaphor for a river (which, in a lot of ways, it is), you could say I do. Because I'm on the road all the time. I don't really live anywhere right now because I'm just touring all the time. So if a car is like a houseboat then yes… but, in actuality, no.

HHC: But what attracted you to this way of life in the first place?

B65: Well, I guess it's just like the idea that I said in a song where if you're bordering trouble, you can still be home and leave at the same time. A houseboat is a house that moves, I really like that idea. My father had a boat for a long time when I was a kid. You could live on it if you wanted to. It basically had everything you needed to support yourself. And it's true what I said in a song, I'm afraid of the water. I can't swim and I don't like the water very much but I'm still attracted to the water and I like being close to it. It's just like a very romantic notion, you know.

HHC: I believe you find a lot of inspiration in reading or mythology. Can you give us a recent example of a track that was inspired to you by a book or a myth and tell us what attracted you in that particular story?

B65: Let me think… Well, there's a song… You know, on my new album, there's an enhanced component where if you put the CD in your computer you get a new free extra song every month. The newest one that I think is there now (but I'm not sure) is a new song called 'The Abandoned Cars of Inverness County' and that's speaking specifically about something about where I come from… but it was more inspired by mythology. A lot of my songs are just about lessons you learn travelling and loving, all that kind of stuff. I don't remember exactly what book it was… But a lot of the same kind of themes and ideas come up in mythology all the time. What I find particularly interesting is that classic themes that you can find in Roman or Greek mythology you can also find in old American folk music. I don't know if that's just because of tradition that was passed down or if it's coincidence but I've been listening to a lot of old-time American folk music lately and listening to ideas and myths that are there and I've been using that a lot for the material that I've been writing for my next album. If you're very familiar with old American folk music (and I think some of these traditions come from Irish folk music as well), you hear figures and names that come up all the time. Like this guy John Henry. Supposedly a hammer killed John Henry. I've been drawing on that kind of American folk culture lately. I was focused for a while on ancient mythology but lately my interest is in more contemporary myths (even though it's still like a hundred years old or more).

HHC: On the new LP, you've introduced a lot of live instruments. What gave you the will to do that?

B65: Well, basically, my taste in music has changed a lot in the last while. I figured that, if I really wanted to grow as a musician, the next steps that I'd have to take is learning about actual, proper song writing. I've always written lyrics but if I was going to write music then it was gonna necessitate using a guitar or a piano. I still use the sampler to make all my music but incorporating live instruments and everything… It's always been my goal to try to make music that will last for as long as possible… 10 years, 20 years, 50 years… To make a song that could stand the test of time in that way. So I've been studying other kinds of music that have lasted for a long time. Especially a lot of the blues that you can still listen to. It's very easy to relate to it; it's still very interesting… But even like The Beatles and The Beach Boys… You know, those classic albums that are regarded as the greatest albums of all time. I'm trying to learn what it is that they did, secret things in the studio and song writing things that have made them last so long. It's just a big challenge for me to do that, to try to make music that will last longer, that has like a real musical and artistic merit to it. Just always trying to educate myself more and more about music. I just figured it was the next step to take. I always knew that I would have to get there someday. It was difficult and I don't feel like I'm doing it well yet but I'm practicing…

HHC: But don't you feel like it could be alienating some of your old fans?

B65: See… if it alienates people when I get smarter then that's not a problem that I can worry about too much. I can only hope that people will learn with me and then, if I go gradually, that people will understand where I'm going. But I can't stop myself from learning more because I know that it's a good thing for me to learn more. I have a real problem with the idea that there are certain hip-hop fans who absolutely refuse to listen to other kinds of music. To me that's the same kind of narrow-minded psychology… It's very similar to racism, where there are things that exist in the world that you don't want to have anything to do with. Like for people who don't like Black people to say: "I don't care, I don't even want to meet a Black person. I don't care if they're nice, intelligent or talented. I don't even want to meet them". For someone to say: "I absolutely refuse to listen to The Beatles or to Miles Davis or to reggae music or to whatever"… To me, it's foolish to deny yourself of music. One of my biggest complaints about hip-hop is that a lot of sounds like it's made by people who don't know anything about music. If you're in the world of music, to deny yourself of theory and classical music… I think it's crazy to call yourself a musician if you don't know anything about music. So if people want to hold me back from learning about music then, frankly, it may sound harsh to say so but I don't care if I'm alienating those people. Because to educate is good! It's not bad. So if I'm learning more about music, I can't help but feel that it's a good thing. There are certain aspects of how I make music that will never change. I will always dig as deep as humanly possible for breaks. I will always use the turntable as part of my production. I will always keep old school traditions of hip-hop alive. Those things I will never ever compromise on. But, if I'm trying to advance my music further, I think I can do that and still hang on to my beliefs, as they pertain to hip-hop music. Unfortunately, a lot of people just can't understand it.

My interest in the blues comes from hip-hop. Most people's knowledge of hip-hop goes back to a certain point and then stops. Some people don't know about hip-hop from the 80's. Some people don't know about hip-hop from the 70's. Most people don't know what happened before that, but there is more history there. There were people rapping a hundred years ago on blues records. It is the same tradition if you follow the path that gave rise to hip-hop music. So if I'm incorporating traditions of the blues, to me, that's just taking hip-hop traditions and things I learned from hip-hop even further back. Most people cannot understand that and especially young people. I do everything I do still for reasons that, I think, are very true and pure to hip-hop music. And if some people can't understand it, they can talk to me about it if they have a problem with it but… But I'm just going deeper and deeper with my love of hip-hop and where it came from. I know that, unfortunately, it loses some people along the way but, it's the same thing if you're interested in philosophy, sometimes you get to a certain point (if you're reading Nietzche or something like that) where you don't know even what he's talking about anymore because he's gone so deep. I feel like I keep going deeper and deeper and I do not want to stop myself because I love what I'm doing so much… And, if some people can't follow, maybe they'll catch up later. Sometimes I wonder if what I'm doing just might me a little ahead of myself but it makes me very sad when people don't understand what I'm doing and have a problem with it. I'm trying to push myself further and further as a DJ and as an emcee, always trying to read more books, listen to more music and just make more and more intelligent music all the time. But I have come to understand that, not just with pop music and not just with hip-hop music, but even with alternative hip-hop music and underground hip-hop music and with people that should know better, they still want their music to be dumb. That's very disappointing to me. Some people say: "Don't keep getting smarter. Stay dumb so I can understand it". I can't! I'm sorry but I just can't do it. I know that there's a lot of people that always liked my albums from the past that hate the new one… Well, too bad! All I can say to them is that it's the best rhymes I've ever written, it's the best DJing that I've ever done in my life, it's the deepest breaks that I've ever used in my life and I think the best songs that I've ever made. And if people don't understand it, I don't know… I can't stop. I can't.

HHC: Concerning turntables, they are very important in your shows and they used to be a distinctive part of your sound. Why are they less important on "Talkin' Honky Blues" then?

B65: I don't entirely know if I agree because I just decided to take a different approach. Every album that I make has a first song that I think of as an introduction where there is always a big part with a scratch composition. 'Leftfielder', between the two verses, has that. I did something different by only taking scratches from my own albums and, as a surprise for the sake of doing something different (because if people start to think they know what to expect then I want to do something different), even before the beat kicks in, right from the very first note, you hear a scratch and then I'm instantly into the vocals and then the scratch part goes crazy. Then, 'Wicked & Weird', the second song, there's a bridge. I never really worked with bridges before; I never really went there before. But there's a bridge and again the whole thing was done with turntables. I'm scratching the drums, I'm scratching the guitar parts; I'm scratching my own voice; I'm scratching everything but it's actually in key. It's in tune with the rest of the music. So, when things are in key and when I'm trying to make it more musical sometimes, you might not even notice that it was done with a turntable. Then, 'Sore' has a part (that I think is the greatest thing that I've done yet with a turntable) where the whole song gets stripped down to nothing and then built up all the way again only with turntables. I took every sample from the record and then scratched it. Every one! So during the whole end of that song, no instruments are playing; it's all turntables. I'd never done that before. Things like that happen throughout the whole album. There's a song on there called 'Killed By A Horse'. I took keyboard parts from vinyl and played them and made sure that everything was in key. And I don't even know if, when people hear it, they know that it's scratching; but it is. Every song on the album, I think, has a turntable in it. It's one of my rules that I have to have a turntable used on every song that I do. I have a manifesto that I use when I make music. Every aspect of this new album I tried to challenge myself. This one was to make the use of the turntable as tasteful as possible, as musical as possible and concerning myself with making all the scratches actually in key.

HHC: On the last album, your voice seems deeper and more rugged than on previous LP's. Is that something that you wanted to achieve or did it just come out naturally?

B65: I made "Square" originally in the year 2000, I think, and I just sat on the album for a very long time before it was released. Between 2000 and 2003 (when "Talkin Honky Blues" came out), I was touring the entire time. On stage every night, like tonight. You can hear my voice now, I'm not doing it on purpose. My voice is fucked because I was on stage working as hard as I could all night. Doing this for 3 years, my voice is just damaged. But, to be honest with you, I actually like it. In the past, every recording I did, when I was laying my vocal to tape, I turned the pitch down and then, when I played it back, I turned it up because I couldn't stand the sound of my own voice. I hated how it sounded so I always did something to change it. Now, it's the only time I'm not changing it because of damage to my vocal chords. It's strange but I like how it sounds better. I really look forward to the time when, even with rest, my voice always like this. I think it's more interesting or sexy or something. I like it.

HHC: Concerning the distinctive and original artwork that graces your LPs, James Patterson used to draw all your album covers. What did you like so much about his paintings?

B65: It's very simple. I've always worked with friends and, if I have friends who are talented but broke, I always want to give them work. James was the most talented artist that I knew personally. He was a friend who I always believed deserved to be world famous and recognized for his art because I think he's incredibly talented. Just because we were close, he showed me lots and lots of art that he did and I just thought it was very interesting and different from anything else I had seen. What I think I liked about it in particular was that there was a very child-like quality to it. I'm also a person who's very attached to my childhood so I was able to relate to it and I think it kind of worked with a lot of the music because I talk about my childhood a lot. So when you see artwork that looks like maybe it was done by a child, an intelligent child, then I think it works well with the music. But I'm very happy to say that since those days when I started working with James he now has become quite famous and he's worked with Björk and big companies. He's done a lot of work. I hate to say it but, when I asked him to do more work, he said: "Well, now that you're on a big label" (and now that he can be really selective about the work) he couldn't do it for free anymore… and I couldn't afford to use him anymore. So again I just had to find someone whose friendship I could abuse, someone who was willing to work for free. In this case, with the new album, it was my girlfriend (note: Jenn Mc Intyre) who's also an artist and was studying graphic design in school. Of course, I want to support my girlfriend and give her some exposure for her work which I think is very good. It's so simple. She's my girlfriend and she does that kind of job so I gave the job to her. It's just, as always, working with people I'm close to.

HHC: Did you work together on the concepts for the covers?

B65: Yeah, always. With everything visual related to what I do, I'm always involved. People always ask me: "What are you looking for?" and we talk a lot about the music. One of the themes on "Talkin Honky Blues" was the idea of art made of garbage (which I actually mention on '50 Gallon Drum'). So on the artwork, there's a lot of garbage and objects just found outside that were used. On the cover, there's a rusty bicycle part. I wanted it to look old, weathered and beat-up. Broken but beautiful. Old but still kind of new-looking. A lot of the artwork was also inspired by Paris , like the album was. If you look into the notes, you can see like a drawing of roof tops in Paris . There's a drawing of one of the towers of the Eglise Saint-Sulpice. So, basically, there's a lot of Parisian things and a lot of old things, which is what inspired the album. As long as it works with the album, that's the most important thing.

HHC: On "Vertex", you said: "The older I get, the more life starts to make sense & the less I care". Do you still have the same opinion a few years later?

B65: Yes and no. There's a part of me that still absolutely believes that. Things that used to bother me don't bother me anymore. For example, I would never write a song like 'The Centaur' now, because that song is about being upset with my audience for misunderstanding me. Now, if people misunderstand what I'm saying… you know… Like I said also on "Vertex", I just made it a rule to never underestimate the intelligence of my audience. But what I've learned is that sometimes the audience isn't always incredibly intelligent and they're not gonna always understand everything you say and I can't worry about that too much. Cause if I worry, worry, worry about things, I'll go crazy. There's just so many things that used to stress me out when I was younger that, now, I understand them and I understand why they stressed me out. But, now that I'm older and a little more mellow, I just don't let them bother me. Something I've learned the older I get is that I don't have answers. I used to look for answers and used to think that I understood things. What I would say now is that "the older I get, the more I realise that I don't know anything". Every time I think I have a solution for something, I discover something that completely contradicts what I though I always knew. One of the most important lessons and valuable things that I've learned the older I've gotten is that it's good to keep a child's mind (like you don't know anything), so you can be ready for anything. Because, as soon as you think you know something definite, you'll get your ass kicked. It never fails. So I've decided to just let go. It comes also from books that I've read. I read a book by a Tibetan monk called "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind". The author's last name was Suzuki I remember and he talks about the value of just keeping a beginner's mind. That's an easier way to just get through life because it's like they say: "Ignorance is bliss". Because the more you know, the more misery that you have. It may sound like a bad thing when you put it that way but in a way it's true. When you're a child, you don't have stress in your life because nothing bothers you and because you don't have any expectations. Stress comes from disappointment from expectations. So when you let go off that, you make your life a lot less stressful. That's like a new philosophy: no nothing. Just let go and just stay as child-like as.

Interview by Cobalt et Checkspire
March 2004

P.S. : Thanks to Buck 65, FiFre and Arnaud (Warner).

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