Beck Hansen was born and raised in Los Angeles. As a teenager, Beck became immersed in traditional blues and folk. When he was 18, he moved to New York where he became part of the city’s late 80’s “anti-folk” scene, playing at various small clubs around the East Village and Lower East Side.
In the early 90’s, he moved back to Los Angeles, and continued to write and perform music, sometimes alone and sometimes backed by various musician friends from the local music scene. He made a few home recordings, one of which was the single that initially garnered him attention: “Loser”.
Recorded in 1991, “Loser” was released by Bongload Custom Recordings in 1993. An infectious slide guitar driven melody, the single’s chorus of “I’m a loser baby, so why don’t you kill me,” became unavoidable. Beck released Mellow God, his Geffen/DGC Records debut, in early 1994 to critical acclaim. The album included the aforementioned single as well as the live staple “Beercan”, and showcased Beck’s love of all things musical. Elements of folk, punk, blues, noise and hip-hop informed the varied sounds on the album. He also released two independent albums during this period: the melancholy folk-tinged “One Foot In The Grave” (K Records) and the experimental “Stereopathetic Soulmanure” (Flipside).
Beck toured extensively over the next year and a half, most notably appearing on the main stage at the 1995 Lollapalooza tour. He returned to the studio in January 1995, and emerged in the summer of 1996 with Odelay – a stunning collection of songs that took his earlier experimentation with sounds and song forms to new heights. Odelay was met with praise from the critical community, earning album of the year kudos from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Village Voice, among many others. The album also won him two Grammy’s that year, for Best Alternative Performance and Best Male Vocal Performance. Also, at the time of the album’s release Beck entered into a grueling tour schedule that kept him on the road with a full band, DJ, and horn section for two years – along the way gaining him a reputation as a formidable live performer.
In early 1998, Beck helped put together an art installation that paired his own work with that of his late grandfather, Fluxus pioneer Al Hansen. “Beck and Al Hansen: Playing With Matches” made its debut at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in August 1998 and has since made its way to various museums and galleries around the world.
November 1998 saw the release of Mutations, a more stripped down, somber album as compared to Beck’s other major label offerings. The album, produced by Nigel Godrich, featured the Brazilian-flavored “Tropicalia” and the sitar drone of “Nobody’s Fault But My Own.”
The album was recorded in Los Angeles over a two-week period in the spring of 1998, and the sound of the record harkened back to the folk sound of “One Foot in the Grave”. Mutations was originally intended for release on Bongload Records, the independent label that released the 12″ of “Loser”, in the 1993. But DGC/Geffen’s enthusiasm for the project got them involved, and it was ultimately released by the label.
In summer of 1998, Beck began recording songs for Midnite Vultures at his home. A year in the making, it is a return to the free form sounds of Odelay. The album is produced by Beck (except for two songs co-produced with the Bust Brothers) and features musicians from Beck’s band (Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass; Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. on keyboards; Joey Waronker covering drums; additional guitar work from Smokey Hormel; DJ Swamp on the wheels of steel plus “The Brass Menagerie”: Jon Birdsong, David Ralicke, and David Brown).
It’s familiar sounding in that it’s uniquely Beck – from the Stax-Volt hornplay of “Sexx Laws” to the electric boogie beats of “Get Real Paid” to the southern fired futurism of “Milk & Honey”. Also included is the falsetto soul workout “Debra”, a tune originating from the Odelay sessions and a longtime favorite in the live set.