Beck is currently readying his next album, Morning Phase, for a February 25th release and, as he tells Billboard, he is considering putting out his collaborations with Pharrell Williams and other high-profile collaborators later this year, "time willing." But while new music is his current focus, he didn't shy away from talking about his early works, and how he wishes he took more risks then.
In the interview, he called confidence his "Achilles' heel" and said that he regretted the safe decisions he made on early records like 1994's Mellow Gold. "If I had more [confidence], I probably would have felt emboldened to make more interesting music earlier on, or really go for it in an artistic or songwriting sense," he said. "I've seen that kind of confidence serve other people really well. I really admire it. Like, I hope my kids have some of that kind of confidence that enables you to take risks."
Beck said that it wasn't until his 1998 album Mutations that he felt he could be emotionally vulnerable. At the time of his earlier music, he said he saw audiences "recoil" at personal music.
Reflecting on Mellow Gold, he said he "guessed" the record was a success, but for the singer, it didn't feel that way compared to his peers. "I think it went platinum, but everybody else in that same period was selling 12 million to 17 million records," he said. "I'm talking Green Day, Offspring, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails. All the bands that were playing on the stations I was getting played on. What does that even mean to sell 16 million records, you know?" To date, Beck has sold around eight million albums total.
The musician also recalled the resistance he got from his label when he was working on his 1996 album Odelay, which has since gone double-platinum. "Through the whole making of that record, I thought, 'I'm never going to have the money to do something like this again, so I'm just going to go out in a fiery blaze,'" he said. "And that's really how it was received when I turned it in to the record company. I had major people in the music business calling up to tell me: 'Don't release this record. It's gonna be career suicide.'
"This is the record that I spent $200,000 making – like, more money than anybody in my family had ever dealt with in the history of my entire family, probably back to the beginning of time, you know?" Beck continued. "That was a lot of pressure. But I grew up flipping through the cutout bins, and you'd see 10 copies in a row of a record that obviously didn't sell, and they're all, like, 20 cents a copy. When I was making Odelay, I thought, at least I'll try to do something interesting so that when someone finds it in the bin 20 years later, they'll be like, 'This is kind of weird. Hello.'"