NASHVILLE, Tenn. Beck Hansen really doesn’t believe a musician has the right to complain. It’s something of an occupational requirement.
“Nobody wants to hear it,” he says. “That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to play music and have a good time.”
So it may come as a surprise to many fans that Hansen suffered a spinal injury that kept him from making music in the usual ways for a significant portion of the past decade. He doesn’t talk about it a lot and certainly doesn’t want to dwell.
He found other ways to create as a producer and songwriter during this period, but he will admit he feels a great sense of release now that he’s putting out Morning Phase, just the second album he has completed and released in the past 10 years.
“I was just waiting until I felt like I was able to do what I used to do,” the 43-year-old Hansen said. “There’s not anything particularly unique about it, but it’s something that I did learn from. It was a difficult experience, but in any kind of difficulty there are positives.
“And I think that’s particularly what the record is about: how to come out of some sort of travail and difficulty and find some sense of light again and life continuing. Once you’ve seen some things that are darker and you know that darkness is there, how do you embrace the other side of life?”
Beck the musician is embracing it with a period of great creativity and will soon return to the studio to record a second album he plans to release later this year. At times while injured he was unable to hold conventional instruments, turning to substitutes, like a handheld keyboard, to write and record. He has returned to live performance over the past few years and feels he has been transformed by the experience in ways he struggles to explain — as much metaphysical as physical.
“There’s a point where a kind of pessimistic view can take hold and be a means of survival,” he said. “And I’m sure anybody encounters those forks in the road where you can go one way or the other, and believe me, life is nudging you toward the other direction. It can again and again nudge you toward a darker view of things, and this record in some sense was grappling with that and taking a long, hard look at everything and trying to find something redemptive.”
He has been left with a newfound sense of patience, he says, and the simple act of putting out an album brings him great joy.
Morning Phase really began in 2008 when Beck headed to Nashville to record country-flavored songs that he ended up shelving because he didn’t feel the tone was correct at the time. He experienced a delay in his plans for a return to the studio, so he re-formed the band he leaned on during his most creative period and attacked those Nashville songs from a different angle.
The result sounds very much in mood and color like Sea Change (2002), the album that revealed Beck’s ability to filter deep emotion after playing the sly trickster for much of his early career.
“Even if I don’t see them for a number of years, when we get together it’s the same,” Beck said of the band, which includes guitarist Smokey Hormel and drummer Joey Waronker. “There’s part of us that’s worn and grown to fit together, you know — it’s part of how we play music. So it was really interesting putting that puzzle back together, how well it fit.”