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from JC Penney's NOISE
Summer 2000

Beck is a musician, producer and spacecat who sings about picking up girls at JCPenney. Now the 29-year-old, whose latest album is the sexy funk rave-up Midnite Vultures, wants to be our guide to the future of music. Can we trust him?

All together now
Some of my approach to music is very European. I am influenced by John Cage, but also experimental composers like Stockhausen. I'll usually write a song and record it, and it's this raw thing. But with the computer, I'm able to record two more songs, put them together, and create something that's more orchestrated than straight-up American rock or boogie.

Roughing it
With this record, at least half the songs are scratch vocals [demo vocals] and I spent days trying to re-do them and capture some kind of magic. But a rough scratch vocal is a "moment." You don't think about it, it's just very natural. So it's difficult to make the choice: Should I give a really good vocal performance or should it sound real and unforced? I would tend to choose the performance that doesn't have all the right notes, like "Nicotine & Gravy." That vocal is really rough for me -- listen to it and it's like, ouch!

Pushing boundaries
I started pushing from the beginning. I was playing folk songs like they were punk rock songs. Like, I'd play a Woody Guthrie song but it would have some Balck Flag in there too. I'm sure that's the way Woody Guthrie would have done it today.

Where it's at
I feel like we're in a cul de sac right now. In the early 90s, music was going into some unknown realm. And it just died; it didn't happen. The last great time in music, where it felt amorphous and indefinable and new, was in 1981-82. Punk had come in and really invigorated rock 'n' roll, breathing some new life and energy into it. As punk bands started to mature, the ones that didn't break up or fall apart started getting more into funk rhythms, and hip hop was just emerging. but hip hop had this raw energy just like punk. There was this cool synergy happening at that time. You had the Talking Heads, rockin' beats, hip-hop people sampling German techno guys. Now we're in a goatee, backward-baseball-cap version of 1987. It's like hair metal, but it's shorts metal.

Where it's going
[My music] is not necessarily going to this retro 80s futurism. It's going back to this point when punk and thrash and African rhythms and all this stuff was coming together in a cool new combination. Since then, I think we've just been going in circles and circles and chasing our tails. that's why I want to go back and see where that takes us.

--Karen Bliss