Beck wants to make music that makes you happy
Funk, country, indie rock, soul, pop, blues, hip hop – Beck’s career has been built on a fluctuating musical, a hunger for experimentation and a cheeky unpredictability.
I'm really interested in making songs that not only hit you mentally or intellectually, but hit you in your body.Beck — Double J, 2017
This year he released Colors, his 13th studio record and most brazen foray into bright, shiny pop. A record that sounds slicker and bigger than anything he’s given us in the past.
It’s a complete departure from his previous work, the mellow, downbeat, maudlin folk of 2014’s Morning Phase.
The departure was deliberate; Beck approached Colors knowing full well what he wanted to achieve.
He was eager not to give in to the self-doubt he felt had plagued him at certain times of his career and embrace his innate knack for writing a great hook.
“One of the things I know how to do as a natural default is very melodic music,” he told Double J recently.
“I like melody and I feel like I've spent a lot of my record making years almost apologising for that.
"I have many memories of making records and thinking 'is that melody too sweet? is it too big? is it too catchy?' Like, that would be a bad term.
“On a lot of the records I was making I'd be like 'Okay, I'll just get rid of that melody and I'll just sing one note and it'll be cooler'.
“This time around I was like, 'let's just embrace it and make it melodic and sweet or fun or catchy - whatever it's gonna be. No filter, just let it be what it is'.”
Letting go was important in the making of Colors, Beck explains. His approach was to forget about what’s considered cool, and focus on what makes people happy.
“A big part of this record was that feeling of, ‘What brings you joy?’” he said.
“I don't care who made it, what scene they came out of, what label they were on, who says they're cool and who says they're not – what hits you in that visceral way?
“That's the beauty of when you have kids. There's no filter. They don't know that you're supposed to like this certain band because, in the hierarchy and the canon of music, they've been placed towards the top. They just like what they like.
“I'm really interested in making songs that not only hit you mentally or intellectually, but hit you in your body. Make you feel something. There's so many great artists – from Paul McCartney to Nirvana to Taylor Swift – where you hear that kind of moment and it just turns something on in your brain.”
Beck returns to Australia for the first time in over half a decade for the Sydney City Limits festival in February. Such a wide and varied catalogue makes preparing his setlist for a tour a challenging experience, but he knows what works.
“The show is a lot of songs from different periods of my music, but there's a certain commonality between the energy of the songs,” he explained.
“The show tends to feature songs that are more dynamic, or that get people moving. I sort of think of going back from gospel up through rock'n'roll, that sort of energy of an electric performance and the kind of energy that happens between a band and an audience, that's the thing we live for live. That's really what we've been doing for the last dozen or so years - or longer.
It's always an evolving thing. The show changes every year. Every year there are a couple of things new and a couple of things go away - it's a living organism.
I bet there's some sort of technology now that's even better. Electric suit! I think it's time to bring that one out! I haven't really kept track of all the things that we've done over the years, it's sort of always 'onto the next' follow where it takes you. It would be great to one day collect everything we've done live and put it in one show.
I'm trying to think of some new things for next year. That's what I'm doing for the next month or two, trying to come up with some new angles.
By the time Beck makes it back to Australia, he’ll have found out whether he won the Best Music Video Grammy for the ‘Up All Night’ clip.
His last Grammy nominations came in 2015 where he took out the coveted Album of the Year title for his record Morning Phase, as well as best Rock Album.
A return visit in 2016 wasn’t quite as successful.
Beck wasn’t actually nominated for anything that year, but he made the headlines all the same when he was denied entry to a party being held by rapper Tyga.
Beck being denied entry to a party isn’t all that funny in itself, but the fact the was with Sir Paul McCartney and Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters makes it a pretty great yarn.
“And Woody Harrelson!” he revealed. “Paul's take away was that we need to go write some more hits.”
He has a pretty good explanation to what went down that night, saying ‘of course’ Tyga’s people wouldn’t let them into his party.
“You know that thing that everybody goes through - typically in high school - where you're driving around looking for the party and you can't find it? Someone gave you the wrong address so you're just going up to every door and knocking on it? That's kinda what happened with us.
“We were looking for the Mark Ronson party, who Paul had worked with and I've known forever, but we never found it.”
Beck plays the following dates in February 2018:
Saturday 24 February – Sydney City Limits, Centennial Parklands, Sydney
Monday 26 February – Royal Theatre, Canberra
Wednesday 28 February – Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne