When Buck 65 came through town I was graciously allowed to meet up with him before the show. We
were all set to meet in the Pit a few hours before he had to go on. I was going to buy him a drink, but found out that he didn’t drink while researching for the interview. So I bought him a cookie.
DiSCORDER: I hear that you used to host a radio show. What was that like?
Buck 65: Well, to go right back to the beginning, when I was growing up in Nova Scotia I lived in a real rural kind of place. I can remember when I was a kid and really into music, radio was really in a pretty bleak state of affairs out in my part of the world. I would listen to
CBC sometimes. They would have some interesting programming here and there, but in terms of hearing any interesting music, hip hop or whatever, I couldn’t hear anything on the radio at all. Then I discovered that there was a college campus radio station from Halifax, but their signal didn’t quite reach all the way out to where I lived. I wasn’t really willing to accept no for an answer though. I figured if I was really crafty with antennas and really maximized
my possibility for reception I might be able to get it. In the end the best solution I could fi gure out was to take a portable radio, a big
antenna and extend it as much as I could and then climb to the top of a really tall tree. Honest to goodness this is what I would do.
On Sunday there was a program I particularly didn’t want to miss so I’d sit in a tree for two hours and listen to this radio show. I loved it and it was great that I got to hear these interesting songs, but after awhile… after I’d gotten a feel for the station, it occurred to me that I had a big record collection and a lot of knowledge about the music I liked.
How old were you then? Oh, 16 years old. I thought, “Heck I could probably do a better show than some of these guys that I’m listening to.” So I was really nervous, but one day I walked up to the radio station, and I said “I want to do a show.” And they said “Well… you have to prove you really want it.” So before they put me on the air they just kept me around doing all sorts of dirty work, picking up garbage, things like that, painting and what not. Finally I got my start the same way a lot of people do, doing all-nighters, being on the radio for six hours straight. In the very, very beginning I played a little bit of everything, really. I played lots of funk music. I remember if I was tired or needed to use the bathroom I’d play a nine-minute long Parliament song,
and I’d go to the bathroom. Then when I got my own regular slot during primetime I had a pretty much strictly hip hop show. I did that for years and years and years. That was called The Basement and it had a really educational bent. I really wanted to talk a lot about the history of hip hop music.
You mean hip-hop from back in the ‘70s and ‘80s? ‘70s and ‘80s, yeah. I was a member of Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation so I wanted to do a lot of preaching of the stuff I learned being a part of that. I wanted to play a lot of real underground kinds of music, so around ‘96 I made it a strictly independent format. Then a few years after that it became open format all over again.
And you did that radio show for…? About 11 years in total.
Did your career start to take off then? Yeah, that’s exactly right. I started to do a lot of touring, missing my show a lot and having to get a lot of other people to cover for me. Eventually I realized that I was hardly able to do it. So it was really sad, but I had to give it up. I loved it and I miss it I’d love to get back into it one day.
So back in the days of Vertex you had a song called “Bachelor of Science”. Do you actually have a Bachelor of Science? Yes, I do. I studied in the Science program at University in Halifax. I took a lot of English as well, probably enough to be a double major, but I didn’t have the uh-
Credits? No, the smarts. I didn’t even think to declare it that way. I went to school for about five years, taking it kind of light. I don’t think there
was ever a year where I took a full course load. But, when I was writing that song I was kind of lonely and it occurred to me that I had the idea of achelorhood down to a science. So there’s a double meaning there. It’s funny, when I look back at a lot of the material that I used to write; when I was in university you could see that my education was really informing the music that I wrote. A lot of the things I was studying would make my way into my music. It’s good that even though I don’t use my degree in a practical way-
It still affects the way you think? Yeah, absolutely. I’m really glad for that experience even though it didn’t turn out the way a lot of people intended.
So awhile ago, on your web site, you said that you intended to retire “The Centaur”. But every time I’ve seen you play you’ve played that song. In fact, most recently when I saw you at Coachella, you not only played it, but you had completely redone the song. What’s the story with that?
Centaur”. It’s an important song in—I don’t want this to sound too pretentious—in my legacy. I can’t really ignore that. I had sort of an eye opening experience just after the time where I said I was going to retire the song. I went and saw Lou Reed live. I was really excited about it. I’m a big Velvet Underground fan, and I was like, “Whoa, here’s my chance to see all these great songs… hopefully.” Because he also had a new album out then and one that wasn’t all that… great. So I thought, “One of two things can happen here: he could play only songs from the new album, which would be interesting enough, or I’ll get really lucky and I’ll get to here some of those great old songs.” As it turned out he did one new song and the rest were all these old songs. So I thought “How great. What a fulfi lling experience for me to go a get to hear all these old Velvet Underground songs,” which made me think, “Hey, wait a minute.” It made me realize that you’ve got to give people what they want. So it made me go back and change my mind about retiring a song like “The Centaur”. I’m glad I had that experience and I will say that I reserve the right to change my mind. I think you need to be able to reserve that right.
Is that why you remade the song? It helped to redo it. Maybe this is a little bit blasphemous, tampering with the past, maybe you should let sleeping dogs lie, but I kind of felt like “The Centaur” had the potential to be a good song, but it wasn’t. I had a good idea. I mean, if you listen to “The Centaur” as it exists on Vertex, it barely qualifi es as what any kind of musicologist would call a song. It’s a loop with some lyrics over it. There’s nothing
really going on. It’s not even music that I wrote. I’ve really endeavored to up my game a lot more than that in recent years. So I wanted to go back and rescue what I thought could be a pretty good song and make it something that was all my own. My label in the US was asking for a retrospective album so I thought here’s a chance to look over the song. Really whip it into shape. So we wrote our own melody and gave the song a lot more structure. I think we were actually able to rescue it and make it into a real song. I think it breathed new life into it. Made it interesting again for myself which is maybe a bit like George Lucas tampering with Star Wars, and I can recognize the…
Desire? Well yes, but also the bad side of tampering with things. I can hear the pleas of nay-sayers on that one. Maybe I’m just too obsessivecompulsive when it comes to stuff like that. That’s just the way it has gone. That song has gone through a lot of incarnations, too. In total, now, there’s been five or six different versions of that song. For the kind of person who makes music the way I do, playing live is a big challenge. If you play the
song the same way it sounds on the album then that’s not really an interesting experience for the person who buys a ticket to see your show. So if you’ve got a few different versions you’ve got something different you can pull out during a live show. That’s how this version started out—it was just intended to be something in the live context. When I was touring with my band we just kind of reworked the song. So then, when we had an opportunity to record so I thought, why the heck not.
You just mentioned touring with a band. Do you have any plans to bring them around again? I have a band that I work with in the studio and obviously it’s a very interesting idea to bring them on the road, but it’s also very expensive. As soon as you bring six guys on the road that requires bringing a sound guy, all the instruments, renting a vehicle, getting a driver for that vehicle, buying everyone flights and hotels. To be frank, I just can’t really afford that. Maybe one day I’ll be able to sell enough records to be able to afford to do that all the time. The general rule of thumb in the business is that any singer/songwriter who has the ability to play solo has to sell 100,000 records to be at the point where you can afford to do that all the time. I’m
close, I’m getting closer and closer to that mark, but I’m not there yet. Hopefully before long I’ll be able to tour with a band all the time.
Alright, one last question. I read a rumour that you recently became engaged to Leslie Feist a little while ago. Do you want to confirm or deny this? Oh my goodness, that’s bananas. That’s funny because I was reading a review of my album the other day, and they said that Leslie Feist
was on the album and she was great, but she’s actually not on the album. The fact is that she’s a friend of mine, and I am engaged to be married, but not to her. She doesn’t like to talk about her personal life very much, but we’re friends. I’d heard that that rumour exists. She’s very popular in France and they have a Leslie Feist rumour website. Apparently the number one rumour was that there was a romantic relationship between her and I. That’s an interesting and exciting rumour, but it’s not the case. We are good friends. We both live in Paris. We run into each other fairly often. The last time I ran into her was at the Vancouver Folk Festival. No romance between us whatsoever.