THE BUCK STOPS HERE
Interview by Luke Monks
Hip hop and folk, country music and avant-garde turntablism – the syncretic joining of these disparate styles and cultures sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke. Quit laughing. You are now in the in the interview room with Buck 65…
Hey Buck, how’re you doing? What’s being going on with you?
Well, I’ve been taking it pretty easy at home right now, but as soon as I finish up here, I’m getting right back to the studio. I’m still working on music for this on-going project.
What was the motivation behind the release of a series of on-the-go mini-records rather than a standard ‘Buck 65’ collection of songs on an album?
I had a lot of material and I knew that I had more material, more ideas for songs than you would realistically want to put on one record. That said, I really like the idea of breaking it up like this so I can just continue to work as I go. I’ve had to be complacent – you make an album and wait to release it and when it comes out you’re tired of it. This way, you get it in the bag and still have a few in the back pocket and it keeps you inspired, creatively.
Did approaching the recording process this way change how you went about constructing your songs?
Not really, because the truth of the matter is that whether or not I have a release coming out, I’m pretty much just working constantly anyways. It could be for a Buck 65 record or it could be for some other project, so it’s almost now as if the release schedule is finally matching up with how I work anyhow. Each individual song occupies it’s own place in the universe and is like going into a new world.
So does where you are in the physical, geographical sense of the word ‘world’ affect how you go about things, musically and lyrically?
Well, I think if I wanted to get deeply philosophical or spiritual about that type of thing, then I guess I would have to say yes and I have said yes to that type of question in the past.
I’ve actually been thinking about this recently and the environment that has always had the biggest impact on me, throughout my entire life has really just been my bedroom or wherever else it is that I have my equipment set up. That environment means having my books within arms reach and whatever other materials that are around that I go to for inspiration; we all create in our little sanctuaries and we design them for our own tastes and needs. That’s not to say that other places haven’t given me ideas for songs and my travels have definitely had an influence, but mostly it’s where I’m sitting down to work more than the city outside.
The records aren’t themed, are they – it seems freewheeling…
I guess that it varied quite a bit; the first EP has a song, Superstars Don’t Love and that’s not really about too much, it’s more of an exercise in rapping than anything else, like a real lyrical motif that I was pursuing. But then, on another song from the same EP, say Gee Wiz, well my main objective with that one was to try to write something that was pretty, inspired by surrealism, more than anything else. In the room where I was, when I was writing that song, there was a book on surrealism sitting on the table and whenever I got stuck on a line, I would just flick through that book and see an image that would give me an idea as to where to go from. On the next EP, there is a song called Paper Airplane, which is really more about a period in the relationship with the woman who is now my wife, back in the beginning when we were living in different countries. There’s another song inspired by a French artist named yves Klein and so you see, from one thing to the next, it’s always a different thing. Some days, I just feel like rapping and some days, I’m inspired by an idea that needs to be pursued and some days, I just want to create the most beautiful thing and try to get some kind of emotional response from whoever may hear it. It all depends on my mood I guess.
Do you think that it is easier for someone working under the mantle of ‘hip-hop’ to get away with just going at it, lyrically, paying more attention to rhyme patterns and how things sound rather than developing themes and ideas?
I think that is probably the case; earlier today I was reading a review of a rock record and the journalist didn’t like that idea, he was accusing the lyricist of just having written nonsense. You don’t really hear people criticize a rapper for nonsense, in fact, word play, even if it comes across as random, seems to be exactly what people are looking for with hip-hop music. Having said that, there have been a few song writers who are singers, working with a lot more economy of words, who are writing things that are completely meaningless or difficult to understand and if they add just the right touch, there are people who can definitely get away with it. Say a guy like David Berman from Silver Jews, he has a really interesting way with words and he can do something that doesn’t have a great deal of lyrics and it still just sounds really good to me. It’s really tricky though, I’ve seen other writer’s inspired by guys like him and just fail so you have to have a really fine touch to do that, especially in any other genre.
Outside of the rap centric wordplay and the exploration of surrealism, you’ve often hit on a lot of ‘blue-collar’ topics, do you consider yourself a blue collar guy, even as you exist in the arts world?
I would say so; I grew up in a rural place, where there was no work for anybody. The only business in town where I worked was a gas station that my father ran. I grew up around my friends’ fathers and they were truck drivers or mechanics or the guy that owned the junkyard. Being around these people and seeing how they looked at the world, by osmosis had a lot to do with me and how I am and who I am. I still find myself confronted by that now. I really had an important time in my life around about 2000, moving into my 30s, I began to understand myself – it has been and always will be a part of my life and will probably always creep into my music from time to time, but for a few years, it was definitely the focus.
Ok, so thinking about who and what you are, do you still think you would have been so drawn towards becoming a musician if rap and hip-hop had never been invented?
It’s difficult to say – I was involved in music growing up that had nothing to do with hip-hop. But if not for hip-hop, I would think I would have been involved in writing – something to do with words, language. That has always been the biggest pull for me, even more than music, an affinity for words and writing. I wrote creatively on my own time before I got to music.
Have you been doing any non-musical writing of late?
Not a whole lot, not as much as I would like, though I’m always logging little ideas away. A few years ago I started a novel and at this point, I’m not sure if one day I’ll go back to that or just start again from zero. I also think a lot about writing some sort of screenplay, as a lot of the ideas that I have for stories are really visual, which I think comes out sometimes in my music. I don’t know when I’ll allow myself to take a break from music for long enough for any of that to happen though.
With hip-hop being the obvious genre of music for a wordsmith or storyteller to operate within, you still seem to operate on the fringe of that culture – do you consider yourself to be ‘alternative hip-hop’?
Well, it’s not exactly that but it is close to it. This is something that I’ve seen explored in fiction. Take Star Trek, for example, the episodes where they are finding themselves in alternate dimensions and meeting evil versions of themselves, you know like there is a version of Spock and he has a beard!
What I do isn’t like hip-hop in the way that other people think of hip-hop, but it couldn’t exist without hip-hop. It’s almost un-hip-hop. There have been times in the past when I’ve had an idea that seems so anti-hip-hop that I conciosuly want to do it in that style; like I had the idea to do something with no drums, when drums and breakbeats are the backbone of hip-hop. I just want to explore ideas that haven’t been explored and at the risk of sounding pretentious, I came up with the term, un-hip-hop, almost as if someone flipped the negative.
Hip-hop itself started out as an underground movement and is now one of the most popular sub-cultures around – do you think that this acceptance of rap music and the other aspects of hip-hop has killed some of the verve and creativity of the art form?
I can see parallels with a lot of kinds of music and hip-hop and for me when I first got into hip-hop, it was early on, at the start of the recorded era (I’m not going to tell you I knew about what was going on in the 70s), I was aware of hip-hop. I tried to find books in the library about hip-hop and you’d hear the scholar type people who were around say that this hip-hop thing was really just the newest form of American blues music. That makes sense to me. If you widen your focus, you can say that hip-hop has just followed along the same path as rock n’ roll, but in a lot of ways has stayed truer to the spirit of what rock is meant to be about. There is also the parallel between punk and hip-hop and some say that rap is more punk than punk is.
Now, hip-hop is such a huge beast and with the idea of ‘pop hip-hop,’ it changes the way that people look at the music. It makes people forget about the underground and other forms of music. I can understand why some people may not be inspired by what is going on in hip-hop these days, but if you choose to look a little deeper, at different cultures and countries it’s there.
Check out Buck’s Aussie tour dates here: http://buck65.com/shows/