Beck Breaks New Ground

How Beck and Nigel Godrich reinvented the album

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Beck Hansen and his band perform as part of the Download 2006 festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre on September 30th, 2006 in Mountain View California.
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This fall, Beck will release an album the way he always wanted to – and it isn't just about the music. For The Information (out October 3rd), Beck made low-budget videos to accompany every song, packaged the CD with sheets of stickers so buyers can customize the cover and leaked tracks and videos on his Web site months ahead of the album. "We're moving into a time when the song and the imagery and video are all able to exist as one thing," says Beck. "It's not even technically an audio thing anymore. It's something else."

With the music industry making a difficult transition from CDs to digital formats, labels are giving forward-thinking artists like Beck the freedom to blur the boundaries of a traditional album. "I've been trying to do something like this for the last three albums," says Beck, who released several versions of his previous disc Guero, including a deluxe CD/DVD package and a remix album called Guerolito. "The conventional ways aren't working like they used to, so now there's a willingness to try new things."

For the first time, when fans buy an audio track from Beck's new album via iTunes or other digital services, they will also automatically download a file with the accompanying video. If fans buy the whole album, they'll also get two bonus clips for songs from the European version of the CD. Hard copies of the CD will come with a bonus DVD featuring fifteen videos.

Beck isn't the only artist finding interesting ways to use new technology. Last year, Trent Reznor uploaded a multitrack version of the Nine Inch Nails song "The Hand That Feeds" to his Web site and let fans create their own mixes, and Barenaked Ladies have released four different digital versions of their current album, including one sold as a USB drive with thirteen live tracks and interviews with the band. Even Jessica Simpson dabbled in interactivity recently when she offered personalized copies of her recent single, "A Public Affair."

Beck worked on The Information intermittently since 2003 at home in Los Angeles with producer Nigel Godrich, with whom he made Mutations and Sea Change. "We built a little studio in his garden – half the time we were in the pool, the other half we were talking about what we're doing and trying new things," says Godrich, who divided his time between Beck's album and Paul McCartney's late-2005 disc, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard. "It was a lot of he and I hanging out, listening to what we were doing, him writing, me just screwing around endlessly with machines and what not."

The resuit is an eclectic, funky disc that recalls Beck's breakthrough, Odelay. As the two constructed the album, they tried to integrate visual elements. Godrich came up with the idea of creating videos to accompany each song. "The record was all about getting a bunch of people in the studio, giving them some direction, cooking it and seeing what came out," Godrich says of the recording, which included a guest spot from DJ Z-Trip and a spoken-word session with Dave Eggers and Spike Jonze. "For the videos, we got a bunch of costumes, a bunch of ideas, three cameras and a cheap video mixer from the Nineties and were like, 'You go over there and put on the mustaches, pick up machine guns and throw the beach ball at each other.'"

"They reflect the mood of the record," Beck says of the videos. "It was kind of relaxed, people coming and going, not really delineating between the fact that we're making a record and what daily life was."

This story is from the October 5th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.


From The Archives Issue 1010: October 5, 2006