The Biography of Beck
Beck Hansen (born Bek David Campbell, July 8, 1970) is an American musician, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist.
Beck Hansen was born in Los Angeles, California to parents, David Campbell, a musician, and Bibbe Hansen, a visual artist. When his parents separated, he stayed with his mother and brother in LA, where he was influenced by that city's diverse musical offerings—everything from hip-hop to Latin music—and his mother's art scene – all of which would later reappear in his recorded and published work.
Beck's music is often considered to be typical of much popular alternative music of the 1990s with its disdain for genre conventions, obtuse and ironic lyrics, and the melding of samples with played instruments. However, what set him apart from rock groups such as Mr. Bungle and avant garde composers such as John Zorn, who experimented with similar genre raiding, was his free-flowing, sometimes absurd lyrical style. Hopefully compared by critics to the more obscure moments of Bob Dylan and given an enthusiastic seal of approval by Allen Ginsberg, Beck was a link between the folk and beatnik past and the hip-hop present.
After dropping out of high school in the mid-1980s, Beck educated himself and traveled widely. In Germany, he spent time with his maternal grandfather, fluxus artist Al Hansen. New York City and the late '80s found himself part of the punk-influenced anti-folk music movement.
Beck returned to Los Angeles at the turn of the decade, destitute but motivated. To support himself, he took a variety of low-paying, dead-end jobs, and even lived in a shed, all the while continuing to develop his music. During this time, Beck sought out (or snuck onto) stages at venues all over Los Angeles, from punk clubs to coffee shops. In the spirit of an artist struggling to make a name for himself, his shows were memorable for their mix of humor and eccentricity. Some of his earliest and most thought provoking recordings were achieved by working with Tom Grimley at Poop Alley Studios, a part of WIN Records.
It was in this atmosphere of heady creativity that the founders of Bong Load Custom Records discovered Beck. Their 1993 12" vinyl "Loser," from an initial run of 500 copies, created a sensation on alternative radio that led to a furious bidding war between labels to sign Beck. Eventually, he chose Geffen Records, who offered him terms that included allowing for the release of independent albums while under contract.
In 1994, Geffen's official debut release of Mellow Gold made Beck a mainstream success—and led to his iconic status as the "slacker" representative of the alternative rock scene. Beck would comment often that like "Loser," the song that inspired it, the "slacker" label was very ironic.
At the same time, he released Stereopathetic Soul Manure on Flipside Records and One Foot in the Grave on independent K Records. Beck took his act on the road with the 1995 Lollapalooza tour. Still, some critics panned him as a one-hit wonder. It didn't help that a lot of audiences (especially at Lollapalooza) were only familiar with "Loser"' and would generally ignore his other work.
That one-hit wonder label was put to rest with the release of 1996's Odelay, a collaborative effort with the Dust Brothers, producers of the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique. The lead single, "Where It's At," received heavy airplay and its video was in constant rotation on MTV. Within the year, Odelay had received perfect reviews in Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, been listed on countless "Best of" lists, had received double-platinum status, and earned an impressive number of industry awards, including two Grammies.
Odelay was followed in 1998 by Mutations. Produced by Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame, it was intended as a stopgap measure before the next album proper. Recorded over two weeks, during which Beck recorded one song a day, the sessions produced 14 songs. Mutations was a departure from the electronic density of Odelay, and was filled with folk and blues influences. Songs on the album consisted of older tracks, some even dating back as far as 1994. Track 10, "Sing It Again", was written for Johnny Cash, but Beck never submitted it, considering it "rubbish." Cash would go on to record "Rowboat," a song that originally appeared on Beck's Stereopathetic Soul Manure.
During 1998, Beck's art collaborations with his grandfather Al Hansen were featured in an exhibition entitled Beck & Al Hansen: Playing With Matches and showcased solo and collaborative collage, assemblage, drawing and poetry works. The show toured from the Santa Monica Museum of Art to galleries in New York City and Winnipeg, Canada. A catalogue of the show was published by Plug In Editions/Smart Art Press.
In 1999, Geffen released the much-anticipated Midnite Vultures, an orgy of sexual and culinary innuendo that was supported by a world tour. For Beck, it was a return to the high-energy performances that had been his trademark as far back as Lollapalooza—the live stage set including a red bed that descended from the ceiling for the song "Debra" and the touring band was supplemented by a brass section.
After Midnite Vultures came Sea Change in 2002, another airy and emotional album with producer Nigel Godrich, which became Beck's first U.S. Top 10 album, reaching # 8. Sea Change was conceptualized as an album with one unifying theme—the stages following the end of a relationship. The album also featured string arrangements by Beck's father David Campbell and a sonically dense mix recalling at times Mutations and elements of Midnite Vultures. Although some radio singles were released no commercial singles were made available to the public. The Sea Change tour featured The Flaming Lips as Beck's opening and backing band.
Beck has a number of b-sides and soundtrack-only songs as well, including "Midnite Vultures" (curiously, not on the album of the same name), a cover of The Korgis' "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime" which appeared in the 2004 movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and David Bowie's Diamond Dogs from Moulin Rouge
In late 2004, Beck returned to the studio to work on his sixth major-label album. The record, Guero, was produced by the Dust Brothers and Tony Hoffer and features a collaboration with Jack White of The White Stripes; it marked a return to Odelay-era sound. The album was released on March 29, 2005 and enjoyed critical acclaim, earning four stars from Playboy and Rolling Stone as well as a "Critic's Choice" recognition from The New York Times. The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts, pushing 162,000 copies in the first week and giving Beck his best week ever in terms of commercial sales and chart position. Since the release of Guero, the first single, E-Pro has been well received by the alternative rock community, and has seen a large amount of play time. The second single, aptly titled "Girl", is a song about a summer love, and is currently receiving heavy airplay on various college radio stations, though, with lyrics such as "And I know I'm gonna make her die" the song could very well have been written by a serial killer.
Beck married Marissa Ribisi in April 2004, shortly before the birth of their son, Cosimo Henri.
Beck has done a guest voice on Matt Groening's animated show Futurama, playing himself. In keeping with Beck's sense of humour, there is much self-deprecation ("Odelay is a word! Just look it up in the Becktionary"). See the episode here.
Many among Beck's friends and family are members of the Church of Scientology, and it has long been rumored that he is a member as well. In an interview with the Irish Sunday Tribune newspaper's i Magazine in June 2005 , Beck confirmed this rumour, stating "Yeah, I'm a Scientologist. My father has been a Scientologist for about 35 years, so I grew up in and around it." When questioned, he was vague on the religion's core beliefs, but expressed support for its charitable works. See the external links below for more information on his involvement as a Scientologist.
Unofficial Indie Albums
- 1994 "Loser" #10 US, #15 UK
- 1996 "Where It's At" #61 US, #35 UK
- 1996 "Devil's Haircut" #94 US, #22 UK
- 1997 "The New Pollution" #78 US, #14 UK
- 1997 "Sissyneck" #30 UK
- 1997 "Jack-Ass" #73 US
- 1997 "Deadweight" #23 UK
- 1998 "Tropicalia" #39 UK
- 1999 "Sexx Laws" #27 UK
- 2000 "Mixed Bizness" #34 UK
- 2002 "Lost Cause" #13 UK
- 2005 "E-Pro" #65 US, #38 UK
- 2005 "Girl" #45 UK
- 2005 "Hell Yes" #58 UK
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