Interview: Buck 65

I was pretty happy when the opportunity to interview Buck 65 came up this week. I first saw him play a few years back at a Lex Records night where I was captivated (and slightly bewildered) by his mixture of poetry, stand up comedy, hip hop, country, blues and folk music. It's a style which really pushes hip hop beyond its traditional confines and sees Buck sitting closer to Captain Beefheart, Serge Gainsbourg and Johnny Cash than the more conventional hip hop artists.

He lives out in Paris these days but is back in Canada and staying in Toronto for a week, supporting The Barenaked Ladies for their shows at Massey Hall, a spot of djing and to tell some stories as he explained over the phone yesterday afternoon...

How did the show go last night? (Buck 65 is currently supporting The Barenaked Ladies for their 4 shows at Massey Hall)
Strangely. I had fun but that audience is a tough one to figure out.

An older crowd?
I suppose so. I was really relishing the opportunity to play for an older crowd, most of what I do requires an open mind and maybe some patience. But there are 2 kinds of music fans. You've got your top 40 radio people and then you've got your independent record shop people who are really interested in music. I hate to generalise but you get the picture. It was a challenge but one that I relished.

How did the djing go afterwards? (Buck was djing later on last night at The Supermarket on Augusta)
It was a lot of fun. We had some trouble with the bad weather. Other nights when I played we've had more people come out and be queuing up outside to get in. But last night was horrible.

What sort of stuff did you play?
I try and present a bunch of really interesting music. Last night was really fun because I asked a friend of mine who sings on one of my album's to come down and play some tracks as well and every record she put on I was like "Wow, what's that!" and I had to run over to find out what it was.

You live in Paris these days. Do you enjoy coming back to Canada?
It's home you know. I know a lot of people here, have a lot of friends here so it's nice. I don't enjoy coming back to this weather though, Paris doesn't get this like this. But yeah, the sad fact is that I don't have a lot of friends in Paris so it's nice to come back and see some familiar faces.

Are you into the French hip hop scene at all?
I keep an eye open you know. It's interesting to observe as it's very different to the US hip hop scene. It's more influenced from electronic sounds and it's more political. It has a real urgency that the hip hop of the late 80's and early 90's had, where people really had something to say. I'm not that fluent at speaking French yet but I just find that their writing is so much more...poetic. The French have a real zeal for words you know.

Your last 2 albums (Secret House Against the World and Talkin Honkey Blues) have much more in the way of live instrumentation than previous ones. Do you find it easy to collaborate with people having come from a background of producing the music in your songs yourself?


It's a learning process. That move partly came out of necessity because of legal issues regarding sampling. But it was a really important step in my evolution because it expanded my role as a songwriter. As I've grown, I want to write the complete song you know. I needed to expand my horizons and pick up instruments myself. The challenge of doing that just makes the whole process more rewarding.

How does the creative process work with musicians? Do you have a sort of vibe you want to create and allow them to come up with it or do you have very specific ideas about what each instrument should be doing. How much do you allow them to input?
That's something that varies from one song to the next. Sometimes I will have the song worked out in detail and I'll say play this. Other times I'll have some lyrics and a vibe I want to come up with and I'll let them try different things out. It depends on the artist as well. When the chance came to work with Tortoise for example who are just a great band and great musicians I jumped at it. With them, they're such a great group I welcomed their ideas and knew I'd benefit from having their input on the record.

You're always striving to improve yourself as a musician. Is there anything you'd have liked to have done on a past album but not been able to?
I hope to improve my technique. My singing pitch is something I'd like to work on. My guitar playing is also an area for a lot of improving. When I listen to the songs I consider the best I've ever heard, these songs set the bar. And that bar is set so very high. Thank goodness I've got so many musicians to look up to. There's just so much that can be done. I mean it's such an exciting time for rock right now in the UK for example. Look at punk. Punk was a vitally important movement in rock and then punk enjoyed it's post punk movement. But hip hop. Post hip hop hasn't really happened yet and there's just so much that can be done. That's a really big motivator for me.

You caused some controversy last year after a misunderstanding in an interview (Buck was quoted as claiming to hate all hip hop believing it to be "devoid of all musicality"). This upset Sage Francis among others. Are things cool between you and him now?
Yeah. The bottom line with a situation like that, is like most disputes. What it is, is a communication breakdown. To an even greater extent with the fallout. Something got taken out of context and then that got taken even further out of context and the thing just steam rolled by which point it was too late in that situation. I learned a valuable lesson - think what you're saying because there's always a tape player recording it or someone's writing it down. If you go into...you know...Saturday late night debates or start playing devil's advocate, things won't always translate.

You search hard to find original breaks to use in your songs. Are there any good places in Toronto you know of to hunt for vinyl?
Increasingly my main source has been individuals rather than spots - dealers, private collections, that sort of thing; you build up a community of people and places to go. It's quite an obvious destination but I've been to Cosmos a few times and had some conversations with the guy there, Aci. That's not really a digging place though. You go and it's just there, all labelled and you really pay for it. I still look everywhere though, even crappy little junk shops. Some of the best breaks I have I've found in junk stores.

You're doing a free show for all ages at Jackman Hall on Monday. It's described as "a spoken evening of cracks and quandaries". What's that going to be all about?
It's going to be an evening of story telling. That could be anything. From finding that incredible break or...I dunno...I was 8 years old and accidentally ate a snake or something. Some of it will be some stories behind songs of mine, there will be some insights into the business and a few other flights of fancy. I'll be reading some stuff I wrote but it's not going to be like a formal poetry reading or performing acapellas of my songs or anything like that. Just story telling really.

Big thank you to Buck 65 for giving the time to speak to me. The cracks and quandaries on Monday begin at 8. It's free but arrive early to make sure you get in!

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