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Before orchestra tour, Beck says listening to classical music is a “spiritual” experience

LOS ANGELES – It’s been 30 years since Beck released his groundbreaking lo-fi anthem “Loser.”

Since the song and hit album “Mellow Gold,” Beck has tried to shed the unwitting slacker image that’s been associated with him. The versatile, genre-bending musician may make that pendulum swing this summer, when he embarks on an orchestral tour celebrating his love of the refined skill and precision that goes into performing classical music.

The 53-year-old has always appreciated the genre’s unique, “spiritual” potential, thanks in part to his father, composer David Campbell, who helped Beck arrange the tour, which will culminate in a grand finale at Carnegie Hall.

Before his performance at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, Beck talked about why weekly visits to the LA Philharmonic were once a veritable “pilgrimage,” his upcoming duet with Orville Peck and the artistic potential of artificial intelligence. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: How was the preparation for this orchestra tour? You can’t really rehearse, can you?

BECK: Well, we get about two hours of rehearsal on the day of the tour, but it’s the first time we’re playing together. It’s the first time they’ve played the songs. But the music is completely written out and they play it perfectly. It’s a bit of a miracle because you’re used to rehearsing for many weeks or months and then you go on tour and then it works. But this is kind of a magical human experiment where you just get dozens and dozens of people together and then it somehow works. To me, it’s still a bit of a novelty.

AP: How does a tour like this change your opinion about the performance?

Beck attends the 2018 LACMA Art+Film Gala at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles on November 3, 2018. Beck will perform at the Hollywood Bowl this Saturday as part of his summer orchestra tour. Photo credit: AP/Richard Shotwell

BECK: It’s totally different. For me, the focus is more on the vocals. And when we’re on tour, there’s usually a lot more production. The energy is really different. It’s more the energy of a rock show, which means we’re all running around and there’s a kind of kinetic thing happening where everyone is reacting more physically and emotionally. This is more about the songs and the music. You get carried away by the sound of the orchestra.

AP: I read that you used to go to the LA Phil every week. Why was it important that it was such a regular part of your daily routine?

BECK: For many years I was so busy, touring and working nonstop. And I would say about six or seven years ago I started making space for it. Maybe it was some kind of personal pilgrimage or meditative ritual. It felt like something that was going to add a whole new dimension to my life, and it felt very personal. There’s something spiritual about that sound. I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it. But I walked out of there feeling a little different, like someone had brainwashed me. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it felt like something I needed. And I noticed that a lot of the people in the concert hall were more in their 70s and 80s. So maybe there’s some kind of healing aspect to it that feels necessary as you get older. I don’t know.

AP: It’s cool that you’re working with your father again. Do you feel like your collaboration is running smoothly now?

Musician Beck poses for a portrait at his home in Malibu, California, on December 14, 2012. Beck will perform at the Hollywood Bowl this Saturday as part of his summer orchestra tour. Photo credit: AP/Katy Winn

BECK: Yes, it’s pretty automatic. It’s always been that way. Like everyone you’re related to, you speak a kind of unspoken language that you already know or understand before you really have to explain it.

AP: I know you’re featured on Orville Peck’s upcoming duet album. How did this collaboration come about?

BECK: We’re friends. We just hang out together. We’ve always said for years, “We need to get together and do a song.” So he contacted me a couple of years ago, but I never got around to it. And then I contacted him. I said, “Hey, I think I have something.” Because he had said, “I want to do something like Elvis in Vegas.” And I said, “You know what? I totally understand.” Elvis in Vegas is, you know, Vegas by way of Memphis. It’s totally different than Sinatra Vegas. So, yeah, we did the song, and it came together really quickly. We did it about a year ago. And then we just made a video for it.

AP: I’ve been thinking about your AI project. Even in the few years since then, we have such different associations with artificial intelligence. I was wondering how you feel about using AI for music or art, given your willingness to experiment as a musician.

BECK: I’m not someone who’s really used that or thought about it. But I think John Cage has taken that idea of ​​chance and incorporated it into his work. And other artists have taken that idea of ​​chance. Bowie is probably the most famous. And for me, that’s something I’ve always looked for in the studio. I look for those random accidents, and sometimes it’s a random technical accident. Like if a piece of equipment malfunctions or the computer accidentally repeats the same two seconds of music, we say, “That’s great, let’s use that.” And I’ve been doing that for decades.

In a way, I understand that these are kind of collaborative moments with the computer. But if it can produce something unexpected that can be integrated into something, then that would be interesting to me. But I don’t think people see it that way. I think they see it as something that is more predictable and that they can rely on. Whereas an artist, like I said, would look at it more from the perspective of the possible accidents that could lead to something new or interesting.

AP: Can we expect new music soon?

BECK: I make music all the time. You know, it’s just a matter of finding the time to finish it and release it. So, yeah, I’m working on all kinds of projects.

AP: Will you make a live album from this tour?

BECK: You know, I haven’t talked to anyone about recording it. I think we should. I hope we record it at some point or film it. It’s a very special and rare thing to do, and I haven’t forgotten it. And also, it lets me delve into some of the deeper pieces on my records. On the last, you know, seven or eight albums, there’s a lot of orchestral work that we can’t play live. So this is a chance to give some of these songs their moment.