Q&A: Ahead of orchestral tour, Beck says listening to classical music is a 'spiritual' experience

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It’s been 30 years since Beck released his breakout lo-fi anthem “Loser.”

In the time since the song and its hit album "Mellow Gold,'' Beck has sought to shed the slacker image inadvertently linked with him. The versatile, genre-bending musician will perhaps complete that pendulum shift this summer as he celebrates his love for the refined skill and precision that goes into performing classical music with an orchestral tour.

The 53-year-old has always appreciated the unique, “spiritual” potential of the genre, thanks in part to his composer father, David Campbell, who helped Beck with the arrangements for the tour, which makes its grand finale at Carnegie Hall.

Ahead of his performance at The Hollywood Bowl on Saturday, Beck reflected on why weekly trips to the LA Philharmonic were at one time a regular “pilgrimage," his upcoming duet with Orville Peck and the artistic potential of artificial intelligence. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: What has it been like preparing for this orchestral tour. You can’t really rehearse, right?

BECK: Well, we get like a two-hour run through on the day of, but it’s the first time we’re playing together. It’s the first time they’re playing the songs. But the music is all written out and they play it perfectly. It’s a bit miraculous because you’re used to rehearsing for many weeks or months and then you go out on a tour and then it works. But this is sort of an instantaneous kind of magical human experiment, where you just bring dozens and dozens of people together, and then it somehow works. It’s still a bit of a novelty to me.

AP: How does doing a tour like this change how you think about the performance?

BECK: It’s completely different. For me, it’s more focused on the singing. And typically, when we’re doing a tour, there’s much more production happening. The energy is really different. It’s more of a rock show energy, which means that we’re all running around, and there’s a kind of kinetic thing happening with everybody reacting in a more physical, visceral way. This is just kind of more purely about the songs and the music. You’re taken in by the sound of the orchestra.

AP: I read that at one point you would go to the LA Phil like every week. Why was it important for that to be such a regular part of your routine?

BECK: For a lot of years, I was so busy, and I was touring and working nonstop. And I’d say about six or seven years ago, I just started making space for it. Maybe it was a kind of personal pilgrimage or a meditative rite. It felt like something that would add this kind of rich layer to my life and felt very personal. There is something about that sound that is spiritual. I don’t know. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I would walk out of there feeling a bit different, like somebody washed my brain. I don’t know how else to describe it, but it felt like something that I needed. And I noticed that a lot of the people at the concert hall tended to be more in their 70s and 80s. So maybe it has a kind of healing aspect that feels necessary when you’re getting older. I don’t know.

AP: It’s cool that you’re getting to work with your dad again. Do you guys feel like you have a pretty seamless working relationship at this point?

BECK: Yeah, it’s fairly automatic. It kind of always was. Like anybody you’re related to, you sort of speak an unspoken language, where you already know or understand before you have to really explain it.

AP: I know you’re featured on the upcoming Orville Peck duets album. How did that collaboration come about?

BECK: We’re friends. We just hang out. We would, for years, always say, “We got to get together and make a song.” So he reached out to me a couple of years ago and then I didn’t get around to it. And then I reached out to 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 completely understand.” Elvis in Vegas is, you know, Vegas by way of Memphis. It’s a totally different thing from Sinatra Vegas. So yeah, we did the song, and it came together very quickly. We did it about a year ago. And then we just did a video for it.

AP: I was thinking about your AI project with NASA in 2020. Even in the few years since then, we have such different connotations with artificial intelligence. I wondered, given your willingness to experiment as a musician, how you feel about using AI to make music or art.

BECK: I’m not somebody who has really used it or thought about it. But I think, you know, something that John Cage factored into his work and embraced was this idea of chance. And other artists have embraced that idea of chance. Bowie is probably the most famous. And for me, that’s always something I’ve looked for in the studio. I’m looking for those random accidents, and sometimes it’s a random accident of technology. Like a piece of equipment malfunctioned or the computer glitched and was repeating the same two seconds of music by accident and we’ll say, “That’s great, let’s use that.” And I’ve been doing that for decades.

So, in a way, I get that those are sort of collaborative moments with the computer. But if it’s able to provide something that is unexpected that can be incorporated into something, that’s where it would be interesting to me. But I don’t think that’s the way people are looking at it. I think they’re looking at it as something that’s more predictable that they can depend on. Whereas yeah, like I’m saying an artist would be looking at it from more of a standpoint of what accidents could happen that would lead to somewhere new or interesting.

AP: Can we expect new music soon?

BECK: I’m making music all the time. You know, it’s just all about getting the time to finish it and get it out there. So, yeah, I have all kinds of projects I’m working on.

AP: Will you turn this tour into a live album?

BECK: You know I haven’t even talked to anybody about recording it. I feel like it should be. I hope we’re recording it or filming it at some point. It’s pretty special and rarified to get to do something like this, and it’s not lost on me. And also, being able to dig into some of the deeper cuts on my records. There’s a lot of orchestral work over the last, you know, seven or eight albums that we don’t get to play live. So, this is a chance to let some of those songs have their moment.