Growing up in Nova Scotia, moving to Paris, and then touring plenty, Buck 65 has developed a sound that evades categorization. Establishing his own genre, his music—a blend of poetry, rap, philosophy and a lot of honesty—is magical. Finding time to not only write music but also a book, we were lucky to catch up with Buck 65 for a very thoughtful, thorough, informative and moving interview with answers that are a definite must read. Check it out to learn the story behind his childhood, growth, literary, musical, and philosophical inspirations, and find out what you can expect next.
AMBY: You have a very layered, unique sound, how would you describe the type of music you make?
Buck 65: I don’t expect anyone to adopt this term, but the best name I’ve come up with for it is ‘unhip hop’. I call it that for a bunch of reasons. First of all, my music isn’t really acknowledged by the hip hop community at large. I’m outside. And if I ever am acknowledged, the reaction is usually “that’s not hip hop”. Pretty much everyone involved in hip hop has a strongly defined idea of what the music is and should be. It’s probably a lot like punk in that way. I get that. I support that. And so I’ve embraced my place on the outside – not that I have much choice. And I recognize that a lot of what I do goes against the grain. I don’t do it in a reactionary way. I just want to make honest music. A lot of my sounds and subject matter are not typically found in hip hop otherwise. And I’m a pretty uncool (or unhip) person. But I don’t want to distance myself from it completely and align myself with another genre because the roots and basic principles of hip hop are still very important to me. I hope that makes sense.
AMBY: Growing up in Nova Scotia, what pulled you towards hip hop as a musical medium and genre? What inspired you to pull from so many other genres?
Buck 65: When and where I was growing up, our heros – the people that were admired and looked up to the most – were truck drivers. I don’t know why, exactly. I guess it was because they captained these huge, beautiful machines and their lifestyle is kinda romantic. They were among the few who would leave town and then come back again. So truck driving culture was big. And truck driving music was a part of that. So when I was a kid, I really loved songs like “Phantom 309” and “Convoy”. For whatever reason, a lot of those old truck driving songs were in the ‘talking blues’ style. They were essentially rap songs. So when I heard hip hop for the first time (I remember seeing a mini-documentary (on 60 Minutes or something) and would hear it at the roller rink where all the kids would go on weekends), I liked it right away. To me, it was the same thing. I didn’t really differentiate.
As far as pulling from different genres, I guess that’s a long and complicated story. A weird problem for me when I was getting started making my own music was that the sound of hip hop was very much based in funk and soul and I was never really into that kind of music. I don’t know why. If I’m honest with myself, I guess I’m just not a very soulful person. My taste in music was always darker. I also really liked noise. So there were two hip hop albums that, in way, gave me a license to go farther afield when looking for sounds – 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul and Yo! Bum Rush the Show by Public Enemy. There were a few others I could add to the list, but those two were the big ones.
But the other important part was the subject matter I was writing on. I was always a sensitive person. So, when I wrote a song about my mother dying, for example, it didn’t make sense to me to build the song around funky James Brown licks. Know what I mean? I needed to find tones that supported what I was saying.
AMBY: Your music plays and reads like poetry; name your top inspirations, musical, literary or other.
Buck 65: My biggest inspirations are the kinds of artists who developed a strong philosophical base for their work. So I’ve always been inspired by Dadaism, for example. It’s interesting to me to try to apply Dadaist ideas to music. Certain film makers inspire me in a similar way – David Lynch, Bresson, Frampton, Maya Deren… As far as writing goes… I don’t know. I don’t know if there are any writers whose entire body of work across the board I love. It’s more about little flashes here and there that have resonated. I don’t think I have a favorite writer. I think I can say with confidence that I’ve found my own voice. I’m not really influenced by anyone else with my writing these days. I haven’t been for a while.
AMBY: You’re a very charismatic performer; what do you enjoy best about being on stage?
Buck 65: I actually kinda hate being on stage! I’m a very introverted person. Being on stage is terrifying. I get by on experience at this point. I’ve been doing it for 20 years, so I’ve figured out a few tricks. And I figure that if I can manage to lose myself in the music, the rest will take care of itself. That seems to be working. I’ve also learned to embrace my awkwardness and discomfort. I don’t try to hide it anymore. But mostly, when I’m on stage, I just can’t wait to get off.
AMBY: Secret House Against the World is one of my favorite albums. What album are you most proud of having produced?
Buck 65: Thanks! I love Secret House too, but I can’t take full credit because the band I was working with – Tortoise – had a lot of input into the sound of that one. That was a thrill for me, by the way. To be honest, my favorite albums are ones not a lot of people have heard. I made three albums in 2008 called Dirtbike (parts 1-3). I really love those. Dirtbike 2 is probably my favorite of the bunch. All 3 are on my SoundCloud page. I think they’re downloadable too.
AMBY: Top three books ever read?
Buck 65: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, You Can’t Win by Jack Black, I’m Not Stiller by Max Frisch.
AMBY: If you could tour with anyone, who would you chose?
Buck 65: Ooh. That’s a hard one. How about Raquel Welch? Does she count? How about Sasha Grey? Isn’t she a musician now? Really though, opening for someone like Nick Cave would probably be pretty much the ultimate gig for me at this point. I’d love for his audience to know I exist.
AMBY: What’s the story behind Blood of a Young Wolf?
Buck 65: I lived in Nova Scotia my whole life until I moved to Paris in 2002. I had just signed a record deal and was touring almost constantly. I was a real drifter for a few years there. I guess that song is about my rootlessness and the realization that I didn’t know who the hell I was.
AMBY: What can we expect next from Buck 65?
Buck 65: Well, I’m writing a book. It’s almost done. It should be out early in 2014. I also have a new album done. Looks like it might be out near the same time. Recently I made an album called Sass. 14 songs, four and a half minutes total. Very short songs. It’s on my SoundCloud. I’m working on another short album today. And I plan to record Dirtbike 4 this summer. I’m also working on a new Bike For Three album. That might be out by the end of this year. Lots!
AMBY: Tell AMBY something your fans might be shocked to hear.
Buck 65: I could tell y’all many shocking things. Most of them are in the book I’m writing. How about this: I’ve never been on a water slide. Ever. In my whole life. Fact!
Thank you so much Buck 65, for giving us your answers!
Nadia Kaakati & Alicia Atout