The last time the mass public got a glimpse of Beck, it was at the end of the 2015 Grammys and Prince was handing him an Album of the Year award for his LP Morning Phase. Before Beck could even open his mouth to register his shock, Kanye West walked onstage briefly to protest Beyoncé's loss.
"I've had some trippy things happen in my life," Beck says today. "But that was up there, for sure."
Few people knew, but at the time Beck was already two years into work on his follow-up album, Colors, a euphoric blast of experimental pop he crafted with producer Greg Kurstin, best known for his work with Adele, Kelly Clarkson and Sia. Colors is finally coming out in October, after one of the longest gestation periods of his recording career. "I suppose the record could have come out a year or two ago," says Beck, sitting in a conference room of a trendy downtown New York boutique hotel. "But these are complex songs all trying to do two or three things at once. It's not retro and not modern. To get everything to sit together so it doesn't sound like a huge mess was quite an undertaking."
Kurstin has become one of the industry's most in-demand producers over the past few years (while working on Colors, he was juggling albums by Halsey and the Foo Fighters, along with film soundtracks). But he got an early break as Beck's touring keyboardist on 2002's Sea Change tour, and he was happy to reunite with his old friend. They recorded in Kurstin's L.A. studio, playing nearly every instrument themselves. "Between the two of us, we can play everything, and we don't have to go through the filter of other people," says Beck. Kurstin's heavy workload forced them to work as efficiently as possible: "It's almost like the 1960s, where you have a morning block [of recording] and an afternoon block," Beck adds. Unlike the meditative, mostly acoustic Morning Phase, Colors is relentlessly upbeat, reflecting Beck's happiness with his wife, Marissa Ribisi (twin sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi), and their two young children. "The best songs make you glad to be alive," says Beck. "It doesn't matter if it's Beethoven or the Monkees. That's what I was thinking about a lot." On "Fix Me," Beck sings about how love can make dark times easier ("I don't mind if the sea washes over the city tonight/I'm set free"), and on the dance-y "Up All Night," Beck sings, "Just wanna stay up all night with you."
During months of downtime, Beck toured as much as he
could. In September, he's booked to open for U2 in a run of stadium shows. He
has no problem playing to an audience likely unfamiliar with most of his work
outside of Nineties hits like "Loser" and "Devil's Haircut."
"I've done a lot of opening slots where you're just playing to empty
seats," he says. "You can't take it personally." His Album of
the Year victory aside, Beck has generally been comfortable existing slightly
outside the mainstream. "I've always been doing my thing," he says. "I
feel like more and more I have a sort of open passport where I just go in and
go out, away from the eye of the hurricane. It's interesting."