Buck 65 talking children's music and baseball

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Back when you were just a twinkle in your father's eye, Buck 65 was writing rap songs about being a centaur in the porno industry. Some 20 odd years later, his style is far removed from the juvenile jokes; he's something in the vein of a hip hop Tom Waits. His latest record 20 Odd Years is one of his most collaborative efforts to date, as Buck is on the search for the perfect melody, after long enjoying the fruits of the perfect beat. Being an elder statesmen, we talked about his relevancy at SXSW in a hotel, while people watching.

Are you a veteran of

I’ve been coming here for a long time. I’ve fallen into a
pattern of year on, year off, year on, year off, but it’s kind of old hat for
me. Yesterday I was wrestling with a bit of guilt, like why am I here? Can I
justify being here. I’ve got a record deal and I’m not looking for that same
break a lot people are.

Then I think back on what happened yesterday. Some really
valuable things came from it. It occurred to me it doesn’t matter what point
you’re at in your career, there’s always building you can be doing. I was
complaining when we came down here about Kanye West being here. He’s just
taking the gusto away from everyone else that’s trying to get something done.

It occurred to me someone could say the same thing about me
being here, but then yesterday it became meaningful again.

What in particular
happened yesterday that changed your outlook?

Yesterday we spent a certain amount of time hanging out with
some Australians who are definitely in a position to help me and my record down
there. I had some good friendly conversations with the head guy, who’s the head
retailer in Australia. We talked about where he would put me in a store. We’re
having some laughs.

If that means this guy might put some push behind me in a store
instead of just buried in a rack somewhere, the fact that the whole world comes
here creates the opportunity to do international networking. I’ve spoken with
people from Ireland. It reminds me why I’m here beyond seeing old friends and
eating a lot of food, which was my motivation when I was on my way here.

Are there a few spots
in town you make sure you hit up?

There is a bunch and then there are genres. Toronto is an
amazing city for how multi-cultural it is, but for some inexplicable reason there
is not great Mexican food. I don’t know what the problem is. You can find a
particular kind of Mexican food here. I really like Mexican breakfast. We’ve
been to one spot two mornings in a row.

There’s that whole culture of truck food we plan to enjoy.
I’m one of those people who watch the Food Network a lot. It’s all I watch
actually. So when we’re done here you’ll have to give me your tips.

Is that J. Mascis over there?

I didn’t want to
interrupt you, but I noticed him looking lost around the lobby.

That’s cool. There’s some amazing people watching to be done
in every regard. Tucked in with that people watching will be a hero that walks
by, which is great.

I write a lot of my songs with a guitar player that I’ve
been working with for about 12 years now and he worships J. Mascis. So I kind
of vicariously through my friend Charles see someone like him and think, “Oh
wow, J. Mascis.”

The weird thing about the way the festival has been growing,
I read this in a local paper, and somebody spotted Mike Tyson here yesterday.
Why is Mike Tyson here? No idea. But, if I was walking down 6th
street and I saw Mike Tyson I’d be pretty psyched.

Your new record 20 Odd Years is largely collaborative.
What was the motivation behind including artists like Nick Thorburn of Islands,
Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip and John Southworth?

In one word: melody. Leading up to making this record I
found myself thinking about melody and the power of it. I’m not a freestyle
type rapper. I tell a lot of stories. It occurred to me that vocal melody in
particular has the strongest effect I find. If you ask a person to hum a bit of
their favorite song they are probably not going to hum a guitar solo or the
bass line. They’ll hum a vocal melody. And on a whole other level, the song
that really got me thinking about all of this was the song “You Are My

Both of my sisters have had kids in the last few years so I
have babies in my life. I’ve been thinking about what music does to babies and
little kids. “You Are My Sunshine” is one of those songs you learn as a little
kid. But I sat and listened closely for the first time in a very long time and
it occurred to me that, holy shit, this song is unbelievably sad. The lyrics to
the entire song, not just the part that most people know, make up a very
powerful song. I asked myself, why did I never notice the depth of this song.
The reason why is it’s wrapped up in this sweet melody.

J. Macis is trying to
be covert as he escapes the lobby.

Oh, look at him. He put a hat on. He was getting bothered
too much since everybody probably recognizes him by his hair.

So maybe vocal melody is something I want to get into, but
it’s not something I’ll be able to get into myself because I’m not a strong
singer. I knew I would have to accept help, so I turned to a lot of my friends
who have strength in those areas. I wasn’t thinking I wanted to collaborate
with a bunch of people; it was just a consequence in my pursuit of melody.

Do you feel your voice has limitations?

I’m aware of the limitations of my voice. In some cases I
wrote people’s parts to the letter like here are your lyrics and here is your
melody, just sing this part for me. In some cases I tried. I even experimented
with auto-tune at first, but I was not happy with the results at all. I can’t
properly do something heartfelt.

Although I must say I had my eyes opened a little bit last
night listening to that James Blake guy who’s able to be so beautiful and emotional,
yet so synthetic. Nevertheless, I was not happy with what I was getting for
myself, with the exception of “Who By Fire.”

I think a singer like Leonard Cohen, who’s an amazing
lyricist, but no Mahalia Jackson at singing; I felt I could handle that. There
were other cases in which I heard a woman’s voice on the song or there’s an
emotion that I’m hearing, an emotional quality of a voice and I don’t have it,
but I know people who do.

You’ve incorporated a
lot of different genres into the hip hop format. Was there ever a style you
wanted to try on, but could not make it work, like say Bossa Nova.

Believe me, for every song that’s ever come out there’s been
two or three left on the floor. It’s never been about exploring a genre. For
example, like I said a couple years ago my sister had a baby and when the first
baby of my siblings was born I was really moved by that. I was there in the
hospital when the baby came and it was the first time in my life that I
experienced instant unconditional love. This human came out and instantly felt
extremely protective of her and knew I always would.

That night I went home and I wrote something and it came
from a gentle place. So I have all these really heartfelt lyrics about a new
born baby. So now I’m faced with building a song around this. Do I go for heavy
distorted guitars? No, that makes no fucking sense. That song ended up just
being acoustic guitar because it was the only thing musically that made sense
for the sentiment of the song. Even to have a beat felt like it trivialized
what the song was about.

Every time I make a song there’s the inspiration, then I
want to pursue that in as pure a way as I possibly can. So I just listen as its
coming together in order to make the song as strong as possible, rather than
just saying, ‘let’s make a country song.’

Are you following
spring training? Who do you like this year?

Yeah. It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of story lines I’m following.
It’s hard to take too much out of spring training. But I’ve become somehow more
obsessed with baseball as the years go on. I thought I followed it obsessively
last year, but I followed the off-season and spring training this year way more
than in the past.

It’s almost a problem for me. I keep tabs on the Cincinnati
Reds and because I live in a city with a team in the American League East
(Toronto Blue Jays), up and down the whole board I like to see what’s going on,
so I’ve been keeping tabs on the Orioles, who look like they’re no joke. They
came on fairly strong at the end of last year when Buck Showalter came in, I’m
getting real specific here.

That’s fine by me.

They hired a new manager and really whipped him into shape.
They did some interesting things in the off-season and they’ve got some good,
young talent. I’m really amazed at the farm system for the Rays and the
Yankees. It’s going to be an interesting
year, too early to make too many calls.

Can’t really make
calls until August approaches it seems.

Exactly. One of the big shows in baseball last year was Joe
Bautista and where did that come from. He signed a big contract in the
off-season, so what is he going to do this year. He started off a bit cold, but
right before I came down here he was crazy hot, on fire and went 5 for 6 with
two doubles and two home runs. So he’s kind of going ape shit all over again.
So that’s kind of exciting to think he might follow it up in another strong

I just plan on going to see as many games as I can this

Why the Reds? Besides
maybe the history of that franchise.

It’s a bit of a history thing. They’re an old team and I’m definitely
a romantic in that way. One of my favorite players is Scott Rolen, who I’ve
always liked. He played in Toronto for awhile and I got to watch him every day
up close. He’s just my kind of baseball player. He’s such a hard worker, I
really like his ethic. So I followed him over to Cincinnati.

There’s a Canadian thing with Joey Votto, of course. I also
really like the way Jonny Gomes plays. I also love his story that he was
homeless before he was a professional baseball player, which to me is such an
incredible story, plus he seems a little nuts. To me, he’s probably one of
funnest players in baseball to watch. In the batter’s box like… it’s the most
incredible thing ever to watch.

Do you play in any
adult baseball leagues?

Yeah and I might play in two this year. My agency is in a
league, but I also just found out that my label is starting a team this year.
My new A&R guy at the label, he moved up from Mexico a few years ago and he
is a hardcore baseball guy. He’s starting a team, so I’m thinking, oh shit, can
I play on two teams this summer? Plus, I need to tour. I might be able to do it

I also happen to be tight with the coach of the Hollywood High
[School] team. I’ve gone out to practices and he’s offered to let me help out.
I know there’s a lot of opportunities to play or get involved with the team
whenever I’m in LA, which is something I’d like to do more of. They are a team
with a lot of good defense and pitching, but not hitting, which is more my
thing. So I’ve fantasized about being the hitting coach for the Hollywood High
team, but I don’t know how much time I can devote to that.