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Buck 65 opens up on beats, big synth, books and baseball

By Alessandro Marcon on November 6, 2014

Among Rich Terfry’s numerous monikers: Buck 65, Stinkin’ Rich, DJ Critical, “Diamond” isn’t one of them. That one might be fitting, though. He’s got so many sides to him, and shines something magical – especially in his music video, Super Pretty Naughty. The wave of Terfry’s latest album, Neverlove in which he went deep like Carter in 1993, washed him to Australia. The tide’s now brought him back. He’s playing the NAC on November 22nd, and so we set up a Q-and-A to get some insight into Rich’s rich creative processes.

***We are giving away a pair of tickets to see Buck 65 perform at the National Arts Centre. To enter, leave a comment below by noon on Thursday, November 13. We’ll pick a winner by random draw.

Apt613: You come from the community of Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia, which I haven’t been to, but have learned is located about 40 kms outside of Halifax, a city quite well-known for deep roots in hip-hop culture. When you describe about your early listening explorations into hip-hop, you describe the ‘pursuit’ as ‘very solitary’ and ‘almost clinical’? How do you think this has played into your development as a hip-hop artist?

Buck65

Photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

Rich Terfry: Since I wasn’t consuming the music in a social setting and I wasn’t dancing to it, I wasn’t gravitating toward the singles. I didn’t even know which songs on albums were the singles in many cases. I ended up gravitating toward the songs that challenged me most. That ended up being the most introspective songs, the darkest songs, the weirdest songs. When I started making my own music, I was pretty much emulating that stuff.

Do you think of yourself as an ‘outsider’ in some respects?

I guess I do think of myself as a bit of an outsider. I have some peers – guys I’ve toured with and collaborated with. But I’m pretty different from those guys too, in a lot of ways. I want to make pretty hip hop songs. I want to explore various art theories. I’m not concerned with being tough. I don’t have a strong political message. I feel pretty much on my own with that stuff.

As a teenager you were very inspired to become a professional baseball player, and, as I understand it, were working very hard towards (and came somewhat close to) achieving that goal. How was ‘working’ at baseball similar or different to ‘working’ at music? Do you diligently ‘work’ at music, or is it more a case of letting expression flow out from you as it will?

There are some similarities. I try to write every day. I practice hard. I do my reps. The words come easier when I stay at it. It was like that with baseball – it was always important to work every day, no matter what. But that’s where the similarities end, I figure. In fact, they’re kinda opposite things. Music comes even less naturally than baseball, I’d say. You need to be analytical with both. But baseball is a lot of split-second reaction. I don’t like to work that way in music so much. I like to put long thought into pretty much everything I do.

While many like to starkly demarcate between sport and art, some literary intellectuals like Albert Camus and David Foster Wallace explicitly discuss the value of athletics. I know that you recently threw out the first pitch at Wrigley field, and were very touched by the experience. Where does your love of baseball come from, and why has it stayed with you for all these years?

Photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

Photo courtesy of the National Arts Centre.

I think playing sports shapes one’s thinking. Sports develop spatial intelligence. I wonder if that factors into the way music might be made… My love of baseball is hard to explain. I think I took to it because I was good at it right away, for some strange reason. I was 7, 8 years old. Kids that age want to be good at something. It makes you special. I could throw a ball harder, hit it further than everyone else. I don’t know why. I was never the biggest. I always played with a lot of controlled violence. Hearing people say I was good was a big motivator. I liked impressing people. I was always shy. So baseball was my way of connecting with other people in a way.

Why has it stayed with me? Well, I still play and I’m still good. But I’ve grown to love the history and the poetry of the game. The best parts of it are the parts most people think are boring. It’s when nothing seems to be happening when the game is most fascinating.

How do old-movies play into the Buck 65 story?

I do watch a lot of old movies. I guess if anything, I get inspired by the beauty. I also channel Charlie Chaplin on stage sometimes. I’ve always escaped into old movies. And since I don’t drink, a lot of my social activities center around movies. Movies can be a good test of people. You know you’ve met a great person when they say they love Badlands or Breathless or The Thin Man or Leave Her To Heaven. Also, lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a black and white song. It’s the challenge I’ve set for myself. I’m trying to figure out what that would sound like.

In addition to recording and performing music, and hosting Drive on CBC Radio Two, you also write extensively on Facebook, blogs, and are releasing a book in 2015. How do you find the time to be so productive?

I pretty much work constantly. It’s very rare for me to be doing nothing. I have a schedule I work hard to keep. I need pretty much every hour of the week.

Can you tell us a bit about what it’s been like writing a book as opposed to writing lyrics for an album?

Writing a book is murder. It just goes on and on and on. For the longest time, I felt like I might never reach the end. It’s easier to write lyrics because the structure is so tight. Your creative decisions are often dictated by concerns of meter and rhyme. There’s none of that with regular prose. It’s hard when anything goes. I agonize over every word. Sometimes the most I can manage in a day is a sentence or two.

Is there anything you’d like to inform us about beams of laser-lights blasting out from your groin? We heard that ‘Super Pretty Naughty’ was supposed to appear on Etalk, but they pulled the plug on it. What happened there?

Photo from Buck 65's Facebook page.

Photo from Buck 65’s Facebook page.

I’m not sure what happened there. I guess they agreed to do the premiere before they saw the video. Then they saw the lasers and freaked out, I guess. The director gets credit for the lasers idea. But he based it on a live performance he saw. I guess it looked like I was pretending the big synth sound in the song was emanating from my crotch somehow. I guess I was. I don’t know why. Things just happen on stage. I can’t explain it. I just get lost in the music if all is going well. And I usually perform alone. So in instrumental parts of songs, it’s up to me to keep people entertained. I can’t step back and let someone take a solo. So I have to interpret everything and translate it in a way. I have to make people somehow believe that all the music is coming from me in a live context. I need to make them forget about the computer on the table.

Seeing as the newest album, Neverlove is so personal and confessional, how has it been performing it so far? On this tour, will you be (have you been) performing songs exclusively off Neverlove or will you be mixing in songs from Laundromat Boogie, also released this year?

I’ve been playing everything. My sets have been pretty dense lately. Old and new. Tons of stuff. As for the new stuff… It’s a bit hard. But I suppose I have to create a bit of internal distance so I can pull the performance off. It would be too overwhelming if I didn’t, I think. At the same time, people have to believe me. Guess I try to let the music work on my body more than my brain, if that makes sense. I need to find a middle ground between getting lost and concentrating on delivering a performance.

Lastly, Rich, in 15 words or less, what have you learned/would like to say about…

…Love

I seem to know less about that as time goes on. It’s so confusing.

…Love In The Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was probably the greatest living writer of my lifetime. So sad to see him go this year.

….Love & letter writing

I really think there’s something to be said for falling in love with someone from the inside out.

…Screaming

It feels quite good! It’s healing!

The Blue Jays
I’d need more than 15 words. More like 15 years. I’d like to see them tear down and start over.

…Toronto
It’s not an easy place for someone who is over 35 and single. People in their 20s run the show.

…Literature in laundromats
Laundromats and libraries should join forces. How great would that be?!

Buck 65 will be at the National Arts Centre on November 22. Show starts at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $29 and are available online. A digital download of Buck 65’s new album, Neverlove, is included with every pair of tickets you order.