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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

Modern Change: Talking with Beck about Hannah Montana's America

Two turntables, a microphone and a laptop. On a recent Friday afternoon, we connected with one Beck Hansen (most of you know him exclusively by


Two turntables, a microphone and a laptop. On a recent Friday afternoon, we connected with one Beck Hansen (most of you know him exclusively by his first name) as he relaxed at home in Los Angeles in between a recently concluded European tour and the North American trek that brings him to Bend this weekend. It was nearly a month to the day after the release of his latest studio effort, the much-heralded Modern Guilt, a record he co-produced with mastermind Danger Mouse. A new record, a new band, a new producer and now a new tour...clearly there was a lot to talk about. Here's a portion of the conversation.

tSW: Your live show seems to change from tour to tour. I'm guessing this show is going to be different from the last time you stopped in Bend. What can we expect?

Beck: I have a new band. We just did our first tour in Europe together and there are just four people this time.

I remember seeing you on the Odelay tour in 1997 and I think there were at least 10 other guys in the band, that's a pretty big change.

I feel like every time I come through town you're gonna see a different show. It's going to be a slightly different interpretation of the songs and then obviously the presentation is going to be different. You know, last tour we had puppets. We had a miniature stage built with puppets of ourselves.

So I'm guessing there's no puppets this time around, right?

No, no. That was just for that tour. Usually, when I do something I usually retire it after the tour. There was a tour where we had a DJ and a horn section and there was a tour where I was dancing a lot and had a bed that would come out of the ceiling. Then on the Sea Change tour we had these films playing, and on Guero we had a video DJ from Tokyo who was doing some mixing of live images on eight screens. Every time out it's something different.

If you had your way would you prefer to keep a steady band?

I like the idea of having a steady band. I've watched friends of mine with their bands and how they've been able to evolve in a way that you only can when you've played with the same people for years. But, the trade off for me is I'm constantly getting a fresh interpretation of what I'm doing. And so, in a way, you learn a lot with different people. So, I'm on this tour last month in Europe and it feels like my first tour. It's an interesting by-product of being a solo artist. You just have to embrace it.

Is there a chance we'd ever see the break-dancing stuff from the Odelay tour come back?

I went through different things. I mean, obviously, when I was doing the Sea Change tour it just felt weird doing all the Sea Change songs and then just suddenly get up and start like trying to spin on my back or something. It would have somehow changed the sincerity of the songs. I definitely like to see energy on stage, and I like that kind of thing. But at the same time, I sometimes want to see that person just being there with the audience and that's the hardest thing to do. It's easy to just run around and throw yourself around, but in a way it's almost like you're distracting the audience or something. But if you can just be up there and just put everything you have behind the song, there's nothing to hide behind.

How did the collaboration with Danger Mouse on Modern Guilt come about?

We met years ago and just have known each other from mutual acquaintances. He contacted me about a year and a half ago to work on this project that he's been working on for a while. And then some of that didn't work out, but we still wanted to work together. I was working on my record last year, and then I called him and said 'let's do a song' and he was really busy and he said he didn't have time. But we did one song and the song that came out was "Orphans" - the first song on the record. We liked the way it came out. So, he said 'if I'm going to work on a record with you it's not going to be one song, it's going to be a whole record.'

Some critics have called Modern Guilt perhaps your darkest record yet. A couple even called it "apocalyptic." Do you think that critique is valid at all?

This is something that confuses me. What I do seems almost cute compared to the stuff I listen to. I grew up listening to Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake and Nick Cave and Joni Mitchell, early Stones, Velvet Underground - that stuff is dark. I'm always trying to downplay what I do from being too happy or too snappy or something. I don't know, I was gonna say that compared to some of my earlier stuff maybe it is darker, but if you read the lyrics to "Loser" or "The New Pollution," those aren't happy tunes. I don't take lyrics literally. If you go back and listen to the old blues, folk music, and Appalachian music, that would just be a shock to the system, to this Hannah Montana America. I mean, that's the stuff that people used to play on their back porch with the kids. And it would be talking about somebody murdering another guy and then somebody stole his sweetheart's locket and jumped off a cliff. I think my music, compared to that stuff, is light weight."

Beck, Cold War Kids
6:30pm Sunday, August 24. Les Schwab Amphitheater. 344 Shevlin Hixon Dr. $38. Tickets at the Ticket Mill or  

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