1970 – Beck Hansen (born Bek David Campbell, July 8, 1970)…


1970 – Beck Hansen (born Bek David Campbell, July 8, 1970) is an American musician, singer-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist known by the stage name Beck. With his pop art collage of musical styles, oblique and ironic lyrics, and postmodern arrangements incorporating samples, drum machines, live instrumentation and sound effects, Beck has been hailed by critics and the public throughout his musical career as being amongst the most idiosyncratic artists of 1990s and 2000s alternative rock.

He rose to underground popularity with his early works, which combined social criticism (as in “MTV Makes Me Want to Smoke Crack” and “Deep Fried Love”) with musical and lyrical experimentation. He first earned wider public attention for his breakthrough single “Loser,” a 1994 hit.

Beck has cited The Cars, Mantronix, Gary Wilson, Pussy Galore, Willie Dixon, Bill Broonzy, and Sonic Youth among his influences. Two of Beck’s most popular and acclaimed recordings were Odelay (1996) and Sea Change (2002). Odelay was awarded Album of the Year by American magazine Rolling Stone and by UK publications NME and Mojo. Odelay also received a Grammy nomination for Best Album.

Early life

Beck was born in Los Angeles, California to David Campbell, a Canadian musician, and Bibbe Hansen, a visual artist. His maternal grandfather was Al Hansen, a visual collage artist of the Fluxus school of art. His paternal grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, while his maternal grandmother was half Jewish; Beck himself is a Scientologist, as are his wife and his father. Beck’s mother also has Norwegian and Swedish ancestry. When his parents separated, Beck stayed with his mother and brother in Los Angeles, where he was influenced by the 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.

After dropping out of high school in the mid-1980s, Beck traveled to Europe and developed his musical talent by busking. In Germany, he spent time with his grandfather Al Hansen. The late 1980s found him in New York City, involved in the punk-influenced anti-folk music movement.


Independent releases

In 1988, Beck recorded a cassette entitled Banjo Story, which has since become available in bootleg form. He returned to Los Angeles at the turn of the decade. To support himself, he took a variety of low-paying, dead-end jobs, and lived in a shed, all the while continuing to develop his music. Beck also sought out (or sneaked onto) stages at venues all over Los Angeles, from punk clubs to coffee shops and busking on the streets. During this time, he met Chris Ballew (founder of The Presidents of the United States of America). They performed on the streets as a duo for a while. Some of his earliest recordings were achieved by working with Tom Grimley at Poop Alley Studios, a part of WIN Records.

The founders of Bong Load Custom Records, Tom Rothrock, Rob Schnapf, and Bradshaw Lambert discovered Beck, signing him to their fledgling label. “Loser”, a collaboration between hip hop nuance producer Carl Stephenson and Beck, created a sensation when radio host Chris Douridas played the song on Morning Becomes Eclectic, the flagship music program from Santa Monica College radio station KCRW. That exposure and a subsequent live performance on the show July 23, 1993, led to a bidding war among labels to sign Beck. Eventually, he chose Geffen Records, who offered him terms that included an allowance for the release of independent albums while under contract. Of all the record labels to offer Beck a contract, Geffen offered him the least amount of money, but the greatest amount of creative freedom.

Mellow Gold and Odelay

Geffen’s official debut release in 1994 of Mellow Gold—culled from sessions with Rothrock, Schnapf, and Stephenson—made Beck a mainstream success. At the same time, he released Stereopathetic Soulmanure on Flipside Records and One Foot in the Grave on independent K Records. Beck took his act on the road in 1994 with a worldwide tour, followed by a spot on the main stage of the 1995 Lollapalooza tour. Some critics still panned him as a one-hit wonder, and audiences’ familiarity with “Loser” (especially at Lollapalooza), along with their apparent lack of interest in his other work, only reinforced his image as such.

When the time came to record his follow-up to Mellow Gold, Beck enlisted Rothrock and Schnapf as producers and began recording an album of moody, low-key acoustic numbers to showcase his songwriting. The melancholy musical mood has been attributed to the deaths of several people close to Beck, including his grandfather, one of his acknowledged greatest influences. Eventually, Beck shelved the album and pursued a more upbeat approach. Beck was introduced to the Dust Brothers, producers of the Beastie Boys’ album Paul’s Boutique, whose cut-and-paste, sample-heavy production suited Beck’s vision of a more fun, accessible album.

The result, 1996’s Odelay, would put the “one-hit wonder” criticisms to rest. The lead single, “Where It’s At,” received heavy airplay, and its video was in constant rotation on MTV. Within the year Odelay received praise from Rolling Stone magazine, appeared on countless “Best of” lists (it topped the Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for “Album of the Year”), received double-platinum status, and earned a number of industry awards, including two Grammys. Besides “Where It’s At” three other hit singles were released from the album: “Devils Haircut”, “Jack-Ass” and “The New Pollution”.

Beginning in 1993, “Loser” co-writer and Mellow Gold co-producer Carl Stephenson embarked on an experimental trip hop project which eventually resulted in Forest for the Trees, releasing a self-titled album in 1997 followed by an EP in 1999. Beck contributed to both records, providing spoken word, harmonica, and various other instruments.

Mutations and Midnite Vultures

Odelay was followed in 1998 by the release of Mutations. Though the album was originally slated for release by Bong Load Records, Geffen intervened and issued the record against Beck’s wishes. The artist then sought to void his contracts with both record labels, and in turn the labels sued him for breach of contract. The litigation went on for years and it remains unclear to this day if it has ever been completely resolved. Mutations was produced by Beck and Nigel Godrich (frequent producer and collaborator with Radiohead) and is believed to have been intended as a stopgap measure before the proper next album. Recorded over two weeks, during which Beck recorded one song a day, the sessions produced fourteen songs. Mutations was a departure from the electronic density of Odelay and shows heavy folk and blues influences. Songs on the album consisted of older tracks, some dating back as early as 1994.

During 1998, Beck’s art collaborations with his grandfather Al Hansen were featured in an exhibition entitled “Beck & Al Hansen: Playing With Matches”, which 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, Manitoba, in Canada. A catalog of the show was published by Plug In Editions/Smart Art Press.

In 1999, Beck was awarded Best Alternative Music Performance for Mutations at the 42nd Grammy Awards. In November, Geffen released the much-anticipated Midnite Vultures, which was supported by an extensive 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 included a red bed that descended from the ceiling for the song “Debra”, and the touring band was supplemented by a brass section. Midnite Vultures was nominated for Best Album at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards.

Beck released a number of B-sides and soundtrack-only songs as well, including “Deadweight” from the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack, “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! He is also credited on the French band Air’s 2001 album 10 000 Hz Legend for vocals on the songs “Don’t Be Light” and “The Vagabond” (as well as harmonica on the latter). He duetted with Emmylou Harris on Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, performing “Sin City”.

Sea Change

In 2001, the Beck EP, which consists of B-sides from the Midnite Vultures era, was released. The EP was only available from Beck’s website, and only 10,000 copies were printed.

In 2002, Beck released Sea Change, which, like Mutations, was produced by Nigel Godrich. It became Beck’s first US Top 10 album, reaching #8. The album also received critical acclaim, earning five stars from Rolling Stone (the magazine’s highest rating) and placing second in the Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 2002. Sea Change was conceptualized around one unifying theme: the end of a relationship. The album featured string arrangements by Beck’s father, David Campbell, and a sonically dense mix reminiscent of Mutations. Although some radio singles were released, no commercial singles were made available to the public. In August 2002, prior to the release of Sea Change, Beck embarked on a solo acoustic tour of small theaters and halls, during which he played several songs from the forthcoming album. The post-release Sea Change tour featured The Flaming Lips as Beck’s opening and backing band. A song Beck co-wrote with William Orbit, “Feel Good Time”, was recorded by pop singer Pink for inclusion on the soundtrack of the 2003 film Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Guero and The Information

In 2004, Beck returned to the studio to work on his sixth major-label studio 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 in March 2005 and enjoyed critical acclaim from most mainstream press, earning four of five stars from Rolling Stone, as well as a “Critic’s Choice” recognition from The New York Times. The album received a less enthusiastic response from Beck’s dedicated fan base; the album received a relatively low 6.6 (out of 10) score by Pitchfork alongside a lukewarm and disappointed review. Nonetheless, 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 album’s first single, “E-Pro” (which samples the drum track from the Beastie Boys hit “So What’cha Want”), has been well received by the mainstream rock community, receiving significant play time on mainstream radio. The second single, “Girl,” received decent play time on mainstream radio and heavy airplay on college and independent radio. The third and final single of the album was “Hell Yes”.

On February 1, 2005, Beck released an EP featuring four remixes of songs from Guero by independent artists who use sounds from various early 8-bit video game devices like the Nintendo Game Boy. The EP, GameBoy Variations, featured “Ghettochip Malfunction” [Hell Yes] and “GameBoy/Homeboy” [Que’ Onda Guero], both remixed by the band 8-Bit, and also had “Bad Cartridge” [E-Pro] and “Bit Rate Variation in B-Flat” [Girl], the last two being remixed by Paza {The X-Dump}. The EP cover art shows a long-haired person headbanging to his Game Boy, which is plugged into an amplifier like an electric guitar. This EP was featured in an issue of Nintendo Power. A music video for “Gameboy/Homeboy” was made by Wyld File.
Beck plays at the Sasquatch Music Festival in George, Washington. The screens show puppets that emulated the band throughout the show.
Beck plays at the Sasquatch Music Festival in George, Washington. The screens show puppets that emulated the band throughout the show.

Beck performed at the music and arts festival Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee on June 17, 2006, with a set that featured many songs from Guero. In addition to his band, Beck was accompanied by a group of puppets, dressed as him and members of his band. Live video feed of the puppets’ performance was broadcast on video screens to the audience. The puppet show was included throughout his 2006 world tour.

Beck’s seventh major-label studio album, The Information, which again reunited him with Nigel Godrich, was released on October 3, 2006. The release marked the first time in seven years that Beck released studio albums in consecutive years. The album reportedly took more than three years to make and has been described as “quasi hip-hop”. It came with a sheet of stickers, which were to be used to “make your own album cover.” Because of this, The Information was disqualified by the Official Chart Company from entering the UK albums chart, but in the US it gave Beck his third straight Top 10 studio album peak on the Billboard 200, reaching #7.  The lead US single, “Nausea”, officially went to radio on September 5, 2006. In the UK, the first single was “Cellphone’s Dead”. On September 27, 2006, Beck released a Yahoo! Music Unlimited exclusive track, “Think I’m in Love”, before the album was released. His latest single, “Timebomb”, was released on iTunes on August 21, 2007, and the limited edition vinyl 12″ was released on November 2, 2007, with an instrumental version of the song on the B-side. In December, 2007, it was announced that “Timebomb” had been nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance.

Modern Guilt

In February 2008, Beck stated in an interview with Rolling Stone that he had been working on a new album “with an unnamed producer” and that he expected it to be released by the end of the year. In early March 2008, the unnamed producer was revealed to be Danger Mouse. On May 5, 2008, MTV.com revealed that Beck would release an as-yet untitled 10-song album within the next four to six weeks. It was also reported that singer Cat Power had contributed to the album. The new album will be released on Interscope in North America and on XL Records in the rest of the world, although no official street date has been announced. On May 12, 2008, the Rolling Stone website revealed that the new album is titled Modern Guilt. On May 19, Zane Lowe’s BBC Radio 1 show premiered single “Chemtrails”, and it was also made available on Beck’s MySpace and website. In early June, Beck performed several songs from the new album at The Echo in Los Angeles, backed by musicians including Jessica Dobson (also known as Deep Sea Diver). It was revealed on June 12 that Modern Guilt will be released on July 7, 2008, in the UK and Europe on XL Recordings, and on July 8, 2008, in North America on DGC.  “Chemtrails” has been uploaded onto Beck’s official iLike profile , along with “Orphans” and “Gamma Ray”.

Musical style

Beck’s musical style has been considered alternative and indie. He has been known to play many of the instruments in his music himself. Beck has been known to synthesize several musical elements together in his music, including hip-hop, robot funk, and blues. He has also taken music from Los Angeles as a reference point in his songs.

Pitchfork Media applauded Midnite Vultures, saying, “Beck wonderfully blends Prince, Talking Heads, Paul’s Boutique, ‘Shake Your Bon Bon’, and Mathlete on Midnite Vultures, his most consistent and playful album yet.” The review continued to comment on Beck, saying that his mix of goofy piety and ambiguous intent helped the album. Sea Change was called “evocative music”, with country rock roots. The songs on the album also had “a warm, enveloping sound” with the help of his acoustic guitar.

Personal life

From 1991 to 2000, Beck was in a relationship with designer Leigh Limon. Their breakup is said to have inspired his 2002 album, Sea Change. He wrote most of the songs for the album in one week after the breakup. Beck married actress Marissa Ribisi, the twin sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi, in April 2004, shortly before the birth of their son, Cosimo Henri Hansen. Ribisi gave birth to another child in 2007.

Beck has been involved in Scientology for most of his life; his wife is also a second-generation Scientologist. Marissa and her twin brother, Giovanni, were delivered by Beck’s mother, Bibbe. Beck publicly acknowledged his affiliation with the Church of Scientology for the first time in an interview published in the New York Times Magazine on March 6, 2005. Further confirmation came in an interview with the Irish Sunday Tribune’s i Magazine on June 11, 2005, where he was quoted as saying, “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 by the interviewer about Scientology’s core beliefs, he replied,
“     “What it actually is is just sort of, uh, you know, I think it’s about philosophy and sort of, uh, all these kinds of, you know, ideals that are common to a lot of religions….There’s nothing fantastical… just a real deep grassroots concerted effort for humanitarian causes.I don’t know if you know the stuff they have. It’s unbelievable the stuff they are doing. Education… they have free centres all over the place for poor kids. They have the number one drug rehabilitation programme in the entire world (called Narconon). It has a 90-something percent success rate… When you look at the actual facts and not what’s conjured in people’s minds that’s all bullshit to me because I’ve actually seen stuff first hand.”     ”

Appearances in media

Beck has performed on Saturday Night Live six times; these shows were hosted by Kevin Spacey, Bill Paxton, Christina Ricci, Jennifer Garner, Tom Brady and Hugh Laurie. During his 2006 performance in the Hugh Laurie episode, Beck was accompanied by the famous on-stage puppets used during his world tour. He has made two cameo appearances as himself on Saturday Night Live: one in a sketch about medicinal marijuana, and one in a VH1 Behind the Music parody that featured “Fat Albert & the Junkyard Gang”. He has also performed on The Late Show with David Letterman alongside Borat in a 2006 episode.

Beck performed a guest voice as himself in Matt Groening’s animated show Futurama, in the episode “Bendin’ in the Wind”. He performed in episode 10 of the fourth season of The Larry Sanders Show, in which the producer character Artie (Rip Torn) referred to him as a “hillbilly from outer space”. He also made a very brief voice appearance in 1998 cartoon feature film, The Rugrats Movie, and guest-starred as himself in a 1997 episode of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” entitled “Edelweiss”.


Main article: Beck discography

* Mellow Gold (1994)
* Odelay (1996)
* Mutations (1998)
* Midnite Vultures (1999)
* Sea Change (2002)
* Guero (2005)
* The Information (2006)
* Modern Guilt (2008)

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