Matt Shea invented hobo-hop.
DIY may now be the digital recipe for rap success, but Buck 65 was doing things himself a long time before mp3s and iTunes. Perhaps it was growing up in Mount Uniacke, Canada, a place that makes Yelawolf’s Gadsden look like New York City, or perhaps it’s just his supposedly shy nature. Either way, the guy knows how to Macgyver his way through the recording business.
He may be bashful but Buck – known to his local Justice of the Peace as Richard Terfry – proved an easy talker when I interviewed him for Scene Magazine. Word counts are a necessary evil in the printed world but the informational largesse of the Internet allows me to reprint the transcript in its entirety below.
You’re calling from Toronto. Is that where you’re based these days?
It is, yeah. I’ve been here for the last couple of years now.
Your new collection – 20 Odd Years – are you happy with the way it’s come together?
I am happy with the way it’s turned out so far. The interesting thing is that I’m working on it as we go. For example, some of the songs that will be on the last EP aren’t finished yet and in fact there is one that I’ve barely even started. For me, that’s the best part about the way I’m doing things this time around – it allows me to be releasing music while I’m still in the creative process. That’s really satisfying for any creative person, because often I find the biggest complaint I’ve had, and a lot of other musicians as well, is you make an album and then you have to wait so long for it to come out that you’re already tired of it by the time you release it. So it’s really exciting to be able to keep making music as we go. I’m quite excited with the results that we’ve gotten so far, definitely.
The mini album idea – was the ability to create while you release the only inspiration behind that idea?
Well, that was part of it. The other part of it was that there was so much material that we knew it would be too much to just dump on people all at once. So that was a big part of it, and there’s still activity afoot that will yield a little bit more than these digital releases. It’s actually been a little slow, but we are releasing vinyl for all of these releases as well, and so for the first two EPs I just got the test pressings two days ago and for the subsequent releases we should have them closer to the digital release dates. So the vinyl is coming – there will be that as well. But yeah, mostly I think it was just a decision based on the idea of releasing a lot of music but breaking it up, because most people just can’t really stomach an album with 25 songs on it. We just wanted to give people smaller doses, I guess.
This sort of thing – is it a lot easier to do in the digital age?
Well it seems to be really, at least in certain respects. I think we’re pretty close to the point now – with the interesting exception of vinyl – where for the most part music is consumed digitally on the Internet anyway. I’ve tried as best I can over the last few years just to be as forward looking as possible and accept the way things are evolving and just try to not fight it and just work with it and just kinda go with the flow with those sorts of things. So, you know, that’s where we are at this point and obviously that has an impact on the business side of things. I’m not going to be the sort of person who’s going to be the next in line to be singin’ the blues about the fact that you cant really sell records now, and at the same time I’m not going to be foolish enough to go out and manufacture tens of thousands of CDs, when you just can’t sell them – people just don’t really want them. So, I’m not gonna waste money either – I don’t want to waste anybody’s money or time, I guess.
Talking a bit more about the music: what were some of the motivations when it came to moving on from ‘Situation’? How did you change things up?
Basically, it just came down to one word, which was ‘melody’. I just wanted to make a bunch of songs that was more melodic than anything I’d ever done before, but I knew that was one area where I was definitely limited as a musician in my own right. I knew that I would have to accept a lot of help in that area so I made a lot of calls to people I knew who were just more gifted with that, and in a lot of cases that meant a lot of singers, basically, who could do what I couldn’t do myself. So, that has meant that there is a lot of collaboration and guest vocalists on the new material. It just basically all came down to this one simple motivation I had at the outset – to make some more melodic music. That was my main thing and I just went from there.
You had a DIY work ethic before it became the Internet MO to rap success. What’s your take on the Internet – has it been good for hip-hop?
Yeah, that’s very true and I guess it depends on where you look. Because, I can understand the complaints you hear people making in the United States and all the concerns that people have about oversaturation and overexposure and all those sorts of things. But if I look at myself as a case study, first of all historically: I was embracing the Internet and I was using it in a really strong way going back as far as ’95 or ’96 – before most people even had an email address. I was working with a friend of mine who started an internet radio thing called Triple Bypass a long time ago and it was really helping me, especially with coming from a smaller market and a part of the word that a lot of people don’t really think about or care about. Coming from Canada and especially a small, overlooked part of Canada, it was really helping me just to find an audience and get exposure. Especially for somebody like me who never really had pop aspirations. I was never really seeking the cover of Rolling Stone magazine or anything like that. You’re able to find just more like-minded, nocturnal weirdos like myself and so, I would say all in all, through the years it’s mostly been a help for me, but that’s not to say that there haven’t been some things that are difficult to understand or some tricky waters to navigate, and it’s led to certain confusions at times. But mostly it works for me when it comes down to it. I still don’t really know what to expect a few years down the road. I can tell you that I have days where I find myself walking around saying, ‘You know what? I’m kinda glad that I have a job. A job outside of music.’ Even though my career is still healthy and making me a living, I’m kinda glad I have this other thing too because I read an interesting statistic the other day that said only five per cent of independent musicians make a living just from music these days. So, you know, there’s a whole new set of realities, and maybe if you’re a person with a real stubborn sense of pride it can be a real difficult pill to swallow. But I’ve never been motivated by money or a search for fame, so just for someone who’s interested in the creative pursuit, the Internet and all that can be a real amazing facilitator for that whole thing. Like I said, for what really matters to me, it works nicely.
Your stuff has always touched upon a lot of different genres. Was hip-hop your first love when you were growing up?
Well, the first records I bought with my own money were hip-hop records. There was music that I liked even before that I didn’t remember and there were records that I asked my parents to buy for me. I’m gonna definitely age myself with this but I remember as a kid that I really liked Kiss! So, I think that was probably my first love, you know?
There’s nothing wrong with Kiss. For a kid, they were always a gateway to further flung stuff…
Exactly right! But there were a few songs here and there that I can just remember hearing on the radio when I was a kid that I kinda liked. But definitely from the time I was about eight or nine years old, hip-hop was what it was all about for me and when I was going through a lot of those years in junior high school and high school, like most people I was very close-minded and almost militant about music. I was so stubborn for years and I was quite unwilling to listen to almost anything else. Then when I really started working as a producer myself in hip-hop after my interest in it translated into me making music myself – only at that point did I become more open minded again, because as a producer making beats I had to go out there and familiarise myself with a lot of music and I was just listening to tons of records. I’d started to develop an appreciation for all kinds of music once the late 80s rolled around.
You were born in Mount Uniacke. What was it like growing up there?
Well, I grew up on a dirt road. If you can picture the most rural scene you can possibly imagine. It was a dirt road just cut right through the trees, you know, so it really felt like I was in the forest. My town – when you see a lot of American small towns, especially in movies, you see a little main street and it will have some shops and a little vibrancy all its own – my town was nothing like that at all. There were no businesses whatsoever – there was a gas station and for years my father was the one who ran the gas station, but that was literally it. There was a place where you could pick up your mail and the gas station and then absolutely nothing else. To find anything to do you just basically had to resort to nature, I suppose – climb a tree or something like that. It was very isolated and very small too, maybe a few hundred people who were there. Really cut off from the world at large. I think we only had one or two TV stations most of the time when I was growing up as well – both Canadian – so we were just really cut off. I had no idea what was going on but that was, I think, a really good positive thing for me – it still very much informs the person I am today, I know that much.
Were you always rapping when you were growing up?
Yeah. First of all, before that, I was always quite creative and drawn to words. I learned to read really fast and English was always my best subject at school and I loved to write. So, when I heard hip-hop music for the first time I just lit up and ran with it because it just seemed to be such a perfect fit for what I was already interested in – just being interested in words and rhymes and writing on my own and so on and so forth. So yeah, pretty much I can remember I started writing little raps of my own when I was in the sixth and seventh grade, around the time I was 11 years old I guess – mostly little things to try to impress girls in my class. And I would give them to them. I would just write them on paper, these little raps, and give them to them, and funnily enough I got a message about a year ago on Facebook from one of those girls that I wrote one of those to when I was about 11 or 12 years old, and she said she still had it! I begged her to scan it for me to send it in an email but I didn’t hear from her again. It was amazing to me and I got very excited to think that some of the earliest stuff that I wrote still exists somewhere and this girl – she still has one of my first raps ever.
Who did you want to be like when you first started writing your own material?
Yikes. That was a long time ago, so I suppose the honest answer would be Melle Mel. He was probably my first favourite rapper.
Was it your interest in hip-hop that took you to Halifax?
No, I moved to Halifax to go to university. I studied biology. But as soon as I set up in the city, I went looking for the local hip-hop scene and got involved pretty much right away.
What are some of the ways in which your approach to writing and recording music has changed over the years?
Mostly it has stayed the same, really. The only major change is that I used to always write lyrics first and make music for them after. Now it’s strictly the other way around. I also used to be in the habit of going to certain places for inspiration – certain records I’d listen to or writers I’d read. I’ve stopped doing that because I don’t want to sound like anyone else. But if I can’t find what I’m looking for in my own memory or imagination these days I’ll turn to a book of Nan Goldin photography to get the wheels turning – that usually helps.
Talking regular jobs, I understand you’ve taken on a national radio show in the last couple of years. How’s that been going? Do you find it hard to balance those sorts of commitments with your music?
It’s been interesting and a strange transition to make, because I’ve gone from being my own boss for years and being as creative as I possibly can be on my own terms, to a situation where I have a boss and I can’t just be as creative as I want to be all the time. There are certain rules that I have to play by, and that can be quite different and difficult at times. On the other hand, just playing music for three and a half hours every day is pretty easy and nice as far as a job goes. The fact that I’m still in music and hearing a lot of music and therefore learning a lot every day and being exposed to all sorts of musical ideas certainly feeds back, even if just subconsciously with my own creative pursuits I’m continually learning about music, so that’s good. Some days it really does just feel like a job to me, and then sometimes I miss the old lifestyle of doing whatever I want at any time, and of course it means I can’t tour quite as much as I used to. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad, and there are the other days where I think, ‘Man, a paycheck just shows up every two weeks,’ and that’s kind of amazing. Your income was always so random. When you’re a musician you’ll have a real busy month or two and then it will get real quiet for a while and you’d start to get nervous, thinking that you’re going to die or something like that. The radio gig takes the stress off, which is nice, and it’s really freed me up creatively. I was worried it would have the opposite effect, but the minute I started working that job the creative floodgates really opened for me.
What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Well, there are three more EP releases and then we’ll follow it up with an album, plus there are a few side projects. But let me tell you right now to be on the look-out for a song coming down the pipeline with a bit of an Australian slant to it – and you’ll know what it’s about when I tell you it’s called ‘Last of the V8 Interceptors’ – be on the look-out for that one!