Beck Hansen (born Bek David Campbell; July 8, 1970), known by the stage name Beck, is an American singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He rose to fame in the early 1990s with his lo-fi, sonically experimental style, and he became well known for creating musical collages of a wide range of styles.
His later recordings encompass folk, funk, soul, hip hop, alternative rock, country, and psychedelia. After returning to his hometown in the early 1990s, he cut his breakthrough single “Loser”, which became a worldwide hit in 1994.
His 1996 album Odelay produced hit singles, topped critic polls and won several awards. He released the stripped-down Mutations in 1998, and the funk-infused Midnite Vultures in 1999.
The downcast, acoustic Sea Change (2002) showcased a more serious Beck, and 2005’s Guero returned to sample-based production. The Information (2006) was inspired by electro-funk and hip hop, and Modern Guilt (2008), likewise, by 1960s music.
Beck began life in a rooming house near downtown Los Angeles. As a child, he lived in a declining neighborhood just off Hollywood Boulevard. “By the time we left there, they were ripping out miles of houses en masse and building low-rent, giant apartment blocks,” he later recalled.
The lower-class family struggled financially, moving to Hoover and Ninth Street, a neighborhood populated primarily by Koreans and Salvadorian refugees. He was sent for a time to live with his paternal grandparents in Kansas, with Beck later remarking that “I think they were kind of concerned” about his “weird” home life.
Since his paternal grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, Beck grew up influenced by church music and hymns. Beck also spent time in Europe with his maternal grandfather, Al Hansen, a visual collage artist and a pioneer in the avant-garde Fluxus movement.
In 1989, Beck caught a bus to New York City with little more than eight dollars and a guitar. He spent the summer attempting to find a job and a place to live with little success. Beck eventually began to frequent Manhattan’s Lower East Side and stumbled upon the tail end of the East Village’s anti-folk scene’s first wave.
Beck became involved in a loose posse of acoustic musicians-including Cindy Lee Berryhill, Kirk Kelly, Paleface, and Lach, headed by Roger Manning—whose raggedness and eccentricity placed them well outside the acoustic mainstream.
“The whole mission was to destroy all the clichés and make up some new ones,” said Beck of his New York years. “Everybody knew each other. You could go up onstage and say anything, and you wouldn’t feel weird or feel any pressure.”
Inspired by that freedom and by the local spoken-word performers, Beck began to write free-associative, surrealistic songs about pizza, MTV, and working at McDonald’s, turning mundane thoughts into songs. Beck was roommates with Paleface, sleeping on his couch and attending open mic nights together.
After breaking up with his long-term girlfriend, designer Leigh Limon, in 2000, Beck wrote and released the downcast Sea Changes (Number Eight, 2002). Produced by Mutations sound man Nigel Godrich, the album showed off a more serious, more world-wise Beck.
Rolling Stone awarded it five stars as it soon peaked at Number Eight on the U.S. charts. In 2004 he married longtime family friend Marissa Ribisi, sister of actor Giovanni Ribisi; the couple’s son, Cosimo Henri, also was born that year.
Guero (Number Two, 2005) reunited Beck with the Dust Brothers in the studio for the groove-grinding, hook-laden mixes heard on singles “E-Pro” and “Girl.” The Information (Number Seven, 2006), featured a blank cover for fans to decorate with a book of stickers that came with the album.
After the birth of his daughter Tuesday, in 2007, Beck teamed with producer Danger Mouse for the psychedelic Modern Guilt (Number Four, 2008).