Buck 65 returns to Melbourne to give us a repeat dosage of his eclectic and brilliant hip hop.
" It was a real sort of dementia. I felt like I was completely out of my mind. I remember feeling very dizzy and disconnected from reality, I was making a big mess of my songs and I didn’t know the lyrics – a very strange sensation, especially for someone like me who’s never been high in my life. To be out of control of my own mind was fairly – well, frankly, a very terrifying experience."
Richard Terfry’s gentle, gravelly voice is traveling down the line from Toronto, describing the last time he was in Australia – getting heatstroke during his set at Luna Park’s Feelgood Festival in 2007. "It was a real disaster," he says. "There were newspapers that wrote about it the next day, all saying the show was terrible." He played his own headline show two weeks later – and it was that gig which was my own introduction to Buck 65. "Well, I’m glad you saw that one. I had a really good night that night."
I’d never heard of Buck 65 before heading to that gig, and was surprised to find it was just one dapper dude with a neck-brace and a laptop. But somewhere between the charismatic nerd-boy beats, the cool lyrical genius, the oddly Tom Waitsian take on hip hop and the inventive, immaculate sampling that trickled calmly underneath it all – my little mind was blown. I went online as soon as I got home and bought three of his albums.
2010 is the 20th year of Buck 65, and he’s celebrating the milestone by releasing four EPs and a DVD this year, and undertaking a ‘Twenty Odd Years’ international tour – which will see him land at The Corner Hotel this week. Twenty years is a lot of years, huh? "Yeah," Terfry replies, "it’s a lot of music, too. It’s crazy for me, because so many people have come and gone in that time… I’ve had some very real thrills."
There’s a long pause.
"If [I’d] been able to tell myself way back when that some day I would do shows with, play with, and become friends with people like, you know, Vincent Gallo, I would have said, ‘No. No way. That’s crazy talk.’" he chuckles.
Some impressive friends to be sure, but he’s made some enemies too. Buck 65’s Wikipedia entry actually features a whole section entitled ‘ Kerrang! controversy’ – referring to a 2004 interview with said magazine that turned into a regrettably public debacle. ("I would be surprised if anyone could show me someone who’s made a hip hop record who could actually read music," Terfry said in the interview – and when Kerrang! asked why musicians should have to be able to read music, he replied, "I’m as elitist a bastard as you could possibly find.")
Buck’s been chewing on it for six years. "I was interviewed by this guy who I guess just hated me, and hated my music… He started to paint a picture of me as some sort of hip hop blasphemer, and so he put me on the defensive. So I ended up just getting really sarcastic with him, and I was saying all these crazy things about my hip hop motivations, forgetting where I was and what I was doing – and of course taken out of context, it came across sounding really terrible."
The affair has haunted Terfry, who feels as though he’s been trying to regain that lost ground ever since. "I still actually daydream of running into that journalist one day," he tells me later. "I’m not a violent person, but I imagine I’d be really tempted to like, you know, push that guy down if ever I saw him."
After describing that episode as the "lowest point of my whole career", I start to understand why the sensitive Terfry would want to hide behind so many characters and pseudonyms in his work. Stage names like Johnny Rockwell and Stinkin’ Rich, and characters like the dirty photographer in Shutter Buggin‘, the cop in Spread ‘Em and most famously the, erm, well-endowed mythical beast in The Centaur – which see him exclaim: "The easiest way would be for you to lie face down / I’m a man but I’m built like a horse from the waist down."
While a lot of it is couched in humour, there are moments in his back catalogue so touching and personal it’s hard to believe that they’re not based in fact. Take The Floor, in which the narrator remembers being seven years old, with an abusive father drinking himself slowly to death in a poor home: "A white picket fence was built around a pit of snakes… My outside ached and my inside stung / And the long leather belt had replaced his tongue."
If the characters help Buck 65 keep his personal and public life separate, they also keep his work fresh and interesting. Maybe that’s what’s kept him going so long? "Yeah. But you know, that can be a bit of a double-edged sword in itself," he sighs.
"People start to make all sorts of assumptions about me, and maybe they don’t always have the exact right idea. But I suppose that’s just the risk that you take… beyond that, I just try to keep the rest of my life as simple as I possibly can.
"I know my wife understands where I’m coming from, and I guess at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters," he laughs.
BUCK 65 returns to Australia for the first time in ages to give us a repeat dosage of his eclectic and brilliant hip hop when he plays The Corner Hotel this Thursday September 16. Tickets from The Corner box office (11am-8pm Monday-Saturday), 9427 9198 and cornerhotel.com. BUCK 65’s latest collection of songs 20 Odd Years , is to be released in a series of digital mini albums this year – check out buck65.com for more info.