Published May 23, 2009Among the most prolific artists anywhere, Buck 65 believes he can accomplish anything. As if tending to his hip-hop alter-ego while hosting CBC Radio 2's Drive wasn't enough, here suddenly is the emotionally rich More Heart Than Brains by Bike for Three, an edgy Buck 65 collaboration with Brussels-based electronic artist, Joëlle Phuong Minh Lê. "She makes all the music and I write all the words," Rich Terfry explains. "We've been exchanging files over the internet and, to this day, we haven't met. We sat on this record for a while and are already working on the next one."
His first, pure electronic music foray, Bike for Three is unusually intimate for Buck 65. "It's personal almost to the point of being private," he says. "I've never really made love songs in this way." With more collaborations, new Buck 65 music, and more firsts looming, Terfry's got his balancing act down cold. "I 100 percent think of my job at the CBC as this thing I do on the side. I haven't found it difficult to focus at all and I'm writing songs all the time. Hopefully I can include feeding myself and being a good future husband too."
Before we begin, please state your name, your hometown, your current HQ, and any of your upcoming activities, especially Canadian tour dates and new releases.
My name is Rich Terfry, p.k.a. Buck 65. That's professionally known as. I'm from Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia. Current HQ: Toronto, Ontario. On May 26, I have an album coming out under the name Bike for Three and the title of the album is More Heart Than Brains. I'm recording my next Buck 65 album in June. I'm going out to Halifax to work on that.
What are you up to?
Well, a lotta things. I'm starting to record the new Buck 65 record with Charles Austin. This Bike for Three album's been in the can for a while and now, Joëlle and I have also just started working on new material. That's bananas. We both intend for this to be more than a one-off side-project and to be a lifelong pursuit. We just finished our first new song yesterday. I just finished scoring another film but I'm not sure how much I can say about that right now. I'm also working on a side-project with a guy named Buddy Peace who's a beatmaker from London. I worked with him a bunch on Dirtbike. We're working on something where the concept is only voice and drums. That's in the works and I just did some voiceover work on two other films. Plus I'm holding down this job at the CBC of course. I'm doing a lot of production work for a new Sage Francis album and Cadence Weapon is working on a new album and asked me to do a song with him. It's a bunch of little things but it's a mountain of work.
What are your current fixations?
After having it recommended to me a hundred times, I went out and bought the box set of The Wire, so I'm working my way through and I'm pretty fixated on that, watching two or three episodes a day. I'm reading a great book called You Can't Win. It's written by a guy named Jack Black, but not the actor. Its claim to fame, if you will, is that it was William S. Burroughs' favourite book. It's a biography of a small-time crook, ramblin' man type guy that was first published in 1926 and it's amazing. It's very difficult to find but a friend of mine found it on eBay and gave it to me for my birthday. As far as music goes, I've been fixated on two of my favourite all-time music videos: "Da Da Da" by Trio and "Satisfaction" by Benny Benassi, that weird club song, which are both just works of pure genius. But my number one fixation to the point of obsession is the current baseball season. It's downright problematic. When I was just in Europe on tour, I'd be asleep and stir momentarily in the middle of the night, glance at the clock, and refresh my computer to check out the Major League Baseball page to see if the Jays won and the Red Sox lost. I've been a big fan my whole life but I dunno what's happening this year that I've just lost all control and it's become very obsessive. I've been to half a dozen games or so. I'm going today to see Halladay pitch; you don't wanna miss that. When I'm in town and they're in town, I wanna go to see as many games as I can this year. Sometimes I'll buy a cheap seat and just watch batting practice, try to get my hands on some baseballs, and just leave. It's getting nerdy to that extent.
Why do you live where you do?
Chance combined with laziness, which gave way to work, and the advantage of its central location, and the added plus of a professional baseball team here. When I left Paris, I didn't know where I was gonna go. I stumbled into Toronto first to play the Virgin Festival I think? Then I just got lazy and was here and just didn't leave. It makes a lot of sense for work and it's a major hub and I can fly anywhere I need to go direct. It just makes a lot of sense.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Lately it's definitely been Brechtian theatre. I've long been interested in breaking down the illusion of performance and lately, more so than ever. I first took an interest in it when I was on murderecords. I did a show in Halifax and this person who was a figure in the arts scene there came up to me and she said, "That was an amazing show; it was like Brechtian theatre." At that time I had no idea what that was and I was curious and I checked it out and now it's a growing interest of mine. That idea of playing with the performer/audience relationship and breaking down the illusion of performance - that's a lot to think about there.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I saw Leonard Cohen play at the Beacon Theatre in New York a couple of months ago, which was a huge show. Everyone was talking about it and it was pretty significant for a lot of reasons and big for his career. I had two tickets and was gonna bring my lady along but she couldn't make it. So I invited my old pal Robert Christgau along and he told me he saw Leonard Cohen the first time he ever played New York. Bob's seen everything and he said, at the end of that concert, that it was the greatest thing he'd ever seen in his life. And who am I to argue that? I certainly agree; it was just a truly magical, transformative experience - just a magnificent concert.
What have been your career highs and lows?
The high would maybe be my Radiohead thing. They were doing some dates in Canada around Kid A I think, and Radiohead was the talk at that time. They were doing press and all of a sudden one day, my phone kept ringing with people saying "Holy shit, I just heard an interview with Radiohead and they were talking about you." So I thought, "Holy cow, what's going on?" That was followed up by a call from their manager to mine, saying they wanted to meet me. So I travelled out to Montreal to meet them and, after that amazing day, they just started helping me out with my career. Getting that endorsement from Radiohead, not in terms of being a big boost to my career, but that kind of acknowledgment and recognition from artists I really admire would always mean more to me than signing record deals, or making money. It's hard to think of something that tops that.
I've definitely had my share of lows. One that stands out and gets to me to this day is perhaps my most notorious low or foible - the whole Kerrang! thing. [In August 2004, Buck was quoted in Kerrang! magazine saying "I now hate hip-hop; the more I've educated myself about music the more I've grown to hate it."] I just learned a whole lot from that and there's a part of me that can't help but wonder if my career was seriously hurt by that. I was on a pretty amazing trajectory and that was really ugly; it was bad and I lost a lot of sleep over it and, like I said, it still bugs me. That one might take the cake.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
There's been a lot of that too. The most brutal thing I ever had to deal with was opening for De La Soul, years ago. I worship De La Soul and was over the moon about the chance to open for them and play some dates, my goodness. What happened was, right away, going onstage and pouring my heart out to a roomful of people chanting "De La! De La!" Looking back on it, it's not something I should've taken personally; they have such a strong following and it wouldn't have mattered who was opening. Those people were there to see De La Soul. And it's coming at you in loud waves and you gotta endure it.
Actually, I just thought of a worse one. Years ago, I was living in New York and got signed to V2. There was a big show happening to celebrate the anniversary of an influential radio station in Washington D.C. and I was asked to play. The thing was, I was opening for - brace yourself - Papa Roach. V2 said, "We want you to do this show," and I said I really didn't wanna do it. "That is a bad idea," I said. Arm-twist, arm-twist, arm-twist; I went along with it. But I said, "Look, this is gonna be a disaster and when you see that for yourself, you have to trust me in the future that, when I say that something's a bad idea, you'll know that I know what I'm talking about." So, it's at the 9:30 club and it was all teens and they all looked like Avril Lavigne. Seconds into my set, there started up a really loud, enthusiastic chant of "You suck!" I don't even think I finished that first song; I just was like, "Yup, I knew it," and just packed up and walked right off. That was the shortest set I've ever performed. That was just horrible.
What should everyone shut up about?
It's maybe an indication of how much I shelter myself that I don't even know what people are talking about to say what they should shut up about.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I think I have an uncanny ability to focus. People are like, "You're so prolific, hard-working - how do you have all these projects on the go? How do you do it?" I don't find it difficult, really at all. The only perspective I have on it is that no one else seems to work in the same way. I just have a natural ability to focus.
The thing I dislike the most about myself is that I'm very thin-skinned. It's something I've tried to work on over the years but to no avail. That manifests itself with this obsessive avoidance of myself in the press. I won't read anything about myself, ever, knowing that it'll upset me in some way or another.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Today's shaping up pretty nice. The sun is shining and you can't beat that. Let's make it the four "Bs": beautiful weather, breakfast, bike ride, and a ball game.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
How about "Don't get your hopes up." That's been a theme throughout my life. Like, "I wanna be a professional baseball player," and everyone around me saying "Don't get your hopes up." I worked so hard and got so close only to be crushed. Certainly the same for music, not to complain because I know I've had success but my dreams and aspirations were always bigger. Not for me, but the movement and scene I was hoping for. In the early days, being on Anticon, I saw the possibility of a really important movement that was like what "post-punk" was to punk. We could've been the Gang of Fours, the Wires, the Joy Divisions, the Devos of hip-hop. I was like, "Wow, we're gonna make history and change hip-hop forever." To this day, if you read about hip-hop, it's like it never happened, it never existed. For all intents and purposes, it didn't catch on for myself and my peers; we're just weird, forgotten shadowy figures. That's so disappointing to me. I wanted so badly to make a contribution to this culture that I devoted my life to only to be, if not ignored, then spit on. So, there's disappointment there but maybe it's best left at "Don't get your hopes up."
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
I've never kicked anyone out of my band. I guess if there's one trait that I really deplore in others, it's obnoxiousness, which will always make me run in the other direction. It's just poison to me.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I have an idea in mind but it's tricky to explain. What I wanna say is nothing. What I mean is, in my travels, the criticism I hear most is that we don't have an identity. Not only do I agree with people when they say that, but I think it's our strength. I go to all these other parts of the world and I find that people feel really shackled or constrained by the identity they have there. Like if you're a musician and come from a place with a very distinct sound, you're likely to have that sound or have difficult escaping it. Really, we don't have any of that. What we are is this amazing filter through which we receive the world and it allows for us to be a culture of everything on limits. It's made us a culture of dabblers in a way and you can look at that in almost any way. So, just as I said nothing, perhaps it's actually everything.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
It was an LP and it was the first album by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Message. I got it at the shopping mall in Bedford, just outside of Halifax. I'd seen a profile of them on The New Music and I heard a song or two in the roller rink where I used to hang out. So yeah, this was right when it came out in '82. I still have that copy.
What was your most memorable day job?
Probably working as a "pool attendant" at a swimming pool in a hotel. I wasn't the lifeguard because I couldn't and still can't swim, so it was pretty ridiculous that I had this job. I basically just sat by the pool and that was kinda it. Maybe once a day, I'd put half a jug of chlorine in the pool or something but I really didn't do anything except sit there. People behave strangely at hotels and extra strangely by the pool. I saw some really weird things. You'd see a lot of sexual activity in the pool. I mean, I'd sit there for long stretches where no one would use the pool but then, I mean people in hotels tend to think they can get away with anything. They'd just behave in wildly inappropriate ways and lose their inhibitions. You'd also get some weird traveller who'd either flirt with me or act strange. I dunno. I have a feeling if you got people who worked in pools and hotels together, they'd have a lot of weird stories. I never had a job where so many weird things happened.
How do you spoil yourself?
I don't a lot actually. People often say "You never do anything for yourself." I tend to not really spend a lot of money and I don't have any vices or habits. I don't drink or do drugs at all. When I do spend money on myself, it's usually books and DVDs. I'll throw down some money on those. That's pure pleasure for myself. I spend money on music too but that's work in a way.
If I wasn't playing music I would be...
My alternative is more obvious than for other people because I actually do have another job. It's hosting a radio show and playing music and that's the job I'd probably pick first if I had to choose. I said for years and years that my dream job was to have my own radio show and it just kinda happened.
What do you fear most?
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
My strangest one is likely my most well known one, with Pamela Anderson. She and I co-hosted the Juno Awards together a few years ago. The day before the broadcast, we had a floor director tell us, "Look, in the history of the telecast, we've never come in under time but we have to prepare for that slim chance. Would you two be comfortable, in the extremely unlikely case that this happens, just improvising together?" We didn't really discuss it because award shows always go long. Lo and behold, wouldn't you know it, we went short. So we were both like deer in headlights and didn't know what to do and she kinda went bananas with "the Pam Show." She turned to me and said, "You're so cute," ran her hand across my face, kissed me, and then grabbed my head and put my whole head in between her breasts. I was kinda stunned but over the course of the previous days, Pam and I struck up a bit of a rapport and hung out so it wasn't maybe as weird as it could've been, but it was on live television. I remember just looking in the camera and falling into a stunned silence. It's kind of an amazing moment and memory, only because she's one of the most famous people ever, a cultural icon. I'll be able to tell the grandkids some day that I had a very strange encounter with that woman.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
I guess if I have a real idol, it's Ted Williams, the great baseball player. He was a fascinating figure beyond his fascinating baseball career and became a famous sports fisherman and famous fighter pilot. I remember when I was a kid, I learned everything I could about him and I read that the strongest thing that he ever drank was a milkshake. It was so important to him to be a great hitter, your senses had to be extremely sharp. That was pivotal for me as a kid and it was a big factor as to why I never drank or did anything to dull my own senses. That's the power of having a hero. And to this day, I'm a huge milkshake enthusiast; I'm on a global quest to find the world's greatest milkshake and I'd have one with Ted Williams.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
The biggest regret I have in my life is that when my mother passed away, I was such a bum. I was living in squalor and just so broke. I was 26 or 27. A switch happened with my father because he wasn't so gung ho about me pursuing a music career when he saw me struggling with it. But then when I started to achieve some success, his attitude changed and I can't help but think my mother would've felt the same way. She was really on me in those days to go back to school and be a doctor. I did study biology at St. Mary's in Halifax; they don't call me the "Bachelor of Science" for nothing. But yeah, she wasn't one of those parents who was like "Pursue your dreams." So, I can only base my answer on where we were at in our relationship ten years ago but it's hard for me to believe that, if she saw how well I was doing now, she wouldn't be supportive of it.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
The one that comes to my mind right away is "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" by Leon Redbone.