By Josiah HughesIn 2010, Canadian hip-hop icon Buck 65 (née Richard Terfry) is celebrating 20 years since his first proper release. To mark the occasion, he's unveiling an EP series called 20 Odd Years, whereby he intends to release 20 new songs spread across five EPs and embark on a 20-country tour. Since starting the series earlier this year, Terfry has released three EPs: Avant, Distance and Albuquerque. The next EP in the series is called Cenotaph, and sees Buck 65 collaborating with three distinct guests, including Gentlemen Reg, violinist Emily Wells and French pop star Olivia Ruiz.
Perhaps the most interesting track on the release is Buck 65's cover of the Bronski Beat's 1984 anthem "Smalltown Boy." The track stemmed from Buck's early desire to include a cover song, and he made up a list of 75 track possibilities to choose from. To narrow it down, he tested audiences on some U.S. and European tour dates.
"I put all these songs I was thinking about into a playlist, and then between songs I would play little clips of the songs, and I would explain to people that I wanted them to tell me which would be the most awesome to cover. It really came as a surprise to me, but I found the song that was getting the biggest reaction was 'Smalltown Boy' by Bronski Beat. Everywhere I went, people would go nuts. I don't know what that says about my audience, because it's a song from the early '80s, which is probably before the time of a lot of people coming to my shows."
With the song idea pegged, he had to find someone who could live up to the inimitable singing of Bronski Beat's Jimmy Somerville. "His voice is so incredible, so I had to think of a singer that would fit right into that pocket. I thought about it for a while, and then I remember specifically the moment that Gentleman Reg popped into my head because it was a really 'eureka' moment. So I called Reg and he didn't hesitate."
With Reg carrying the chorus, Buck decided that he'd make the track his own by rapping over the verses without throwing out the original song. "I figured out a not-completely-faithful version of the song and added some verses I wrote of my own while keeping the instrumental and chorus part of the song the same. It all came together beautifully, and Reg just completely knocked it out of the park. It just gave me chills when I heard it."
The EP series is a testament to the creative renewal Buck 65 is having at this phase in his life. With a steady day job hosting CBC Radio 2's Radio 2 Drive, Terfry has had less financial expectation from his musical endeavours.
"I feel like I've kind of returned to the same thinking as where I started, just doing this because I have to and because I really love it," he says of his creative process. "I always expected that a day would come where I wasn't making money off of [music] any more... Suddenly when the pressure was off the creative juices really started flowing and I went into the most prolific phase of my life. It was the most fun when I just got all thoughts of money out of my head, which was a combination of getting a job and the way the music business was going."
Once Cenotaph is released on September 14, Terfry already has his fifth Buck 65 EP far along in the process. Though he's hoping for another handful of big-name collaborators, he'll only give us one so far: Bucky Award-winning singer and Exclaim! cover star Hannah Georgas. From there, he has mentioned that he's considering a proper album this winter, which is expected to include a Buck 65/Gord Downie collaboration.
Still, the prospect of releasing EPs indefinitely is equally alluring. "I'm starting to think now I would just keep going forever if I could."
20 Odd Years: Volume 4 - Cenotaph EP:
"Smalltown Boy" (ft. Gentleman Reg) "She Said Yes" (ft. Emily Wells) "Tears Of Your Heart" (ft. Olivia Ruiz)