Beck Reflects On Odelay 25 Years Later, Says He Was Gonna Sample Labi Siffre Until Eminem Beat Him To It
Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Beck’s landmark album Odelay. (Five years ago today, we published a 20th anniversary tribute, as we are wont to do.) Beck went on Matt Wilkinson’s Apple Radio show today to discuss the Odelay era and other career tidbits.
For one thing, Beck says the only photos of the Odelay sessions were snapped by Spike Jonze:
One day Spike Jones, who lived in the neighborhood, dropped by and he lived down the street with Sofia Coppola. He had just bought a ’60s Polaroid camera. And he came in, and then I was playing a sitar. I was cross legged playing a sitar. He came in and took some photos. And those are the only photos I’ve ever seen of us recording the record. No documentation at all.
There’s also this anecdote about how support from Oasis helped him overcome the UK’s indifference toward him:
England was the one place I really just couldn’t gig. There was no love there at all for me. So I got this call from my A&R, from Mark Kates, he said, “I was just in London and I was hanging out with the Gallagher brothers and I gave them a copy of Odelay and they’re obsessed with it. And they want to do a remix.” I said, “Holy, shit.” (What’s The Story) Morning Glory had just come out. And it was huge. It was blowing up. So they wanted to go into the studio and do a remix of “Devil’s Haircut.” And I thought, “I didn’t even know they did remixes.”
I remember we were playing at a little theater — classic London, little theater. I come out on stage, completely jet lagged. I’m wearing a ’60s suit, a suit jacket and a tie. Definitely not grunge. And right in front of me, in the front row was Liam, and I couldn’t believe they were even there. And he was singing all the words. He knew all the words to “New Pollution” and “Devil’s Haircut.” So the first thing I thought of when you said, “What was surprising when people heard this record?” It was seeing Oasis right there at that in ’96, there in the front singing the words back. It was like, my mind was blown. They were so open, armed and embracing me and generous. And I’ve never received that from another musician. They were just kind of like, “You’re in the club. You’re one of our guys.” And that kind of acceptance was what you dream about when you’re first starting to make music.
Beck also recalls the famous producer who told him releasing Odelay would be career suicide:
I thought at the very best, it would come out. It would be a big flop, but in 20 years, a bunch of weirdos would find it and go, “Oh, this record was cool,” because it wasn’t the obvious commercial follow-up. There was a famous producer that came to my house who got an advanced copy and he took me for a drive and he said, “You know, I got your album.” I was shocked. I was like, “How did you get it? I haven’t even given it to my friends yet.” He said, “If you release it, it’ll be a huge mistake. You should not release this record. You should go back in and make a real album with real songs.” I remember being so deflated and I went home very discouraged and scared because I was 24 and I had virtually no money and I had just spent about $300,000 making this record. I thought it would be paying it off, working in a minimum wage job for a decade. It was going to be a disaster.
At one point the interview drifted ahead a couple years to the moment when Beck was preparing to release 1999’s Midnite Vultures. While preparing to play the album for Interscope’s Jimmy Iovine, he got a preview of Eminem’s “My Name Is…,” which sampled Labi Siffre’s “I Got The…” Apparently the Dust Brothers had been planning to sample the same track on the next Beck album after Midnite Vultures. (This was before the breakup that inspired Sea Change, Beck’s actual next album.) Anyway here’s the story in Beck’s own words:
I went in my first meeting with Jimmy Iovine and I had Midnite Vultures and I was going to play it for him. He said, “Before we do anything, I just signed this kid. It’s going to be massive. It’s going to change everything. We just got the video. They just sent it to us today. Sit down and watch this.” Me and my manager sat down and we’re looking at each other like, “Ah.” So he puts on the record and the video comes on and it’s like, “Hi, my name is.” And it’s this blonde kid rapping. And the song is funny. And then my jaw’s on the floor, because the loop, the sample is a Wurlitzer keyboard, just like on “Where It’s At.” It’s the sample that the Dust Brothers were saving for me to be the follow-up for “Where It’s At.” It’s the exact sample. “I Got The Blues.” Which we were saving for the follow-up to Midnite Vultures. And then Dr. Dre got to it first and he used it for Eminem’s first single.
You can hear the entire interview here.