Morning Phases: Beck

Performing live, collaboration and his next step...

Beck has always been an artist driven by ideas.

Sure, the American songwriter is known for his vast stylistic shifts, his chamaleon-like ability to zip between vastly different sounds, but at the heart of each album lies a cohesive centre, an idea.

Right now, Beck seems to be having a lot of ideas. “I've been in the studio pretty much day in, day out since October,” he tells Clash. “I've actually never really left, I've been in the studio for about three years straight. I toured all last year but any time I was home for five days I was straight into the studio. I try and get as much done with the time that I had.”

“I mean I'd say it's pretty much all I do,” he laughs. “From when I wake up to when I go to sleep.”

Last year's pastoral, introspective release 'Morning Phase' had an Autumnal hue, with both sound and vision matching his acclaimed 'Sea Change' full length. Earning the songwriter his first Grammy award, the record was his first full release in some six years – not that Beck has been shying away from the creative struggle.

“I probably produced about six or seven albums in that time, so as far as I've been concerned I've been making albums night and day for years,” he says. “It was just another album but they didn't have my name on it.”

“That Thurston Moore record, I worked just as hard on that as I did on 'Morning Phase'. I worked on a Bat For Lashes record, which didn't end up getting used,” he continues, reeling off an imposing list of achievements. “Charlotte Gainsbourg… that album I wrote all the songs and produced and played most of the instruments, so I've been making more records than ever!”

Earlier this week, Beck soared straight back into action. New single 'Dreams' emerged online, a fizzing psych-pop stomper which featured contributions from Miike Snow vocalist Andrew Wyatt. The track is seemingly drawn from a forthcoming album, which was actually kicked off well before 'Morning Phase' became a reality.

“Y'know, I've been busy,” he says. “Trying to get this record done that I've been working on for a few years. It was the one that was supposed to come out first, and it was scheduled and everything… (but) we ended up putting it on the backburner and I did the last record. I've been working on it consistently for about two and a half, three years.”

Not that Beck is ready to completely turn his back on the style of songwriting which fuelled 'Morning Phase'. “I have another album's worth of stuff recorded already,” he reveals. “I don't think I would release it now because we just did something in that vein, so there's something to be said for trying different sounds.”

“I always think of it in terms of our live set,” he continues, “so I did 'Morning Phase', so we have this whole body of songs that are a bit more quiet, contemplative but you need some loud songs, songs that get people moving. Y'know, then I'll turn my focus to something like that.”

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The sounds are secondary. It's more about the kind of song that rings true.

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An enormously individual talent, Beck has a curious drive to work with other artists. Noting his production credits, Clash also points to a flurry of recent releases including a collaboration alongside Nate Rious. “Lately, I'm just trying to write songs with other people, whereas I've typically done most of the writing myself with some production help. Or I'm just completely off on my own with an engineer. It's different. After a while you kind of know where your instincts are going to be and where you're going to take it. So I'm a big believer in throwing in some random elements.”

“When you work with somebody else they hear it completely different, and do different things. I might write a riff which I feel is a classic garage rock kind of thing, and they might hear it as a funk thing. So that's great – that's where it gets interesting.”

“Say if you're in a band with some strong musical writer forces and some strong writers, you get to enjoy that collaborative process a lot more,” he explains. “But most of the time I'm sort of off on my own, trying to figure out how to make these songs work. So being with other people and seeing how they figure it out is really very inspiring.”

Beck was also recently invited to perform at a special Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame event honouring the life and work of Lou Reed. The songwriter has a somewhat tenuous connection to Lou Reed – his mother dated Factory figure Gerard Malanga and danced at early Velvet Underground shows. “When I was starting out I would say he was one of the major influences on me,” Beck reminisces. “When I was a teenager, The Velvet Underground were a revelation. At a particular age where music is everything, I found their music strangely familiar and exotic at the same time… it struck a chord which was so unusual.”

“There's something very individualistic about The Velvet Underground, so I was very fond of Lou Reed. But to be asked was incredible,” he states. “When you get there, you can see the history of music right there before your eyes. There's not really anything like it, that I've experienced.”

Finishing, Clash can't quite let Beck get away without probing him on those chameleon-like tendencies. From the alt folk of 'One Foot In The Grave' to the sample-delic approach of 'Odelay', the introversion of 'Morning Phase' to the extroversion of 'Dreams'… is there anything he hasn't been able to try yet?

“I have all kinds of things that I've always wanted to do and hopefully there'll be time to do it,” he explains. “For me, ultimately, a good song is a good song. There's thousands of hours and tonnes of songs that you have to make until you reach something special. Unless you're one of the greats, where seemingly every other song they made was a classic.”

“So there are, superficially, genres that I'd love to do more with. Like, wouldn't it be great to have a proper rock album – things like that,” he says. “Ultimately for me, it's about trying to figure out how to make a great song, wherever that leads me. That's where I go to first. The genres are secondary. The sounds are secondary. It's more about the kind of song that rings true. Something that has that thing about it. That's a special category of song, y'know. I don't have many, it's not easy to do. If you can manage to make a few of those over a few decades… that's what I'm hopefully striving for.”

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Beck is set to play Barclaycard British Summertime in London's Hyde Park tonight (June 18th).

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