It's never easy looking back at the person you used to be. For musicians, old songs can serve as diary entries, resulting in wistfulness, rediscovery or total embarrassment. When Buck 65---AKA Rich Terfry---took a look back at two decades of recordings in preparation for the release of 20 Odd Years, a collection of all-new material commemorating his career, he found himself half-exhilarated, half-cringing.
"I heard some things that were exciting to me, and other things that were embarrassing to me," he says, sitting in the Bloomfield Centre on the set for the video shoot of the song "Zombie Delight." Terfry and Meaghan Smith play newscasters in the video.
"There's moments on the first album I put out on Murderecords, Game Tight, that are OK, and there's some things on that that give me the willies a bit," he says. "With some songs, I came away saying 'Uh, no, not gonna try that again.' And then there was the Chin Music EP, which came out on Waye Mason's old label No Records. I pretty much can't listen to it at all. It sounds like the work of a very insecure person."
Once Terfry hit the latter half of his '90s output, however, he started paying attention.
"In '96 I'm finding a voice that sounds like my own," he says. "I was still kinda cocky, but dabbling in the absurd and to me that's an irresistible combination---cocky but absurd at the same time."
When talking with Terfry, one gets the sense his love for wordplay and absurdity is sometimes at odds with his desire to create "the most beautiful thing I can write."
"Once in awhile, it's fun to do something that's a novelty," he says. "It's something that eats at me a bit at times---when I do something with a novelty factor, those are the ones that people gravitate towards---'Kennedy Killed the Hat,' 'The Centaur.' They shout them out when I play live. That's something I wrestle with."
20 Odd Years balances whimsy ---"Zombie Delight" and Terfry's spooky duet with Islands' Nick Thorburn, "Gee Whiz"---with tracks that are more deeply felt. "She Said Yes" outlines a moonlit marriage proposal and is "probably the most beautiful thing I've ever done."
The album's broad list of collaborators, which include Gord Downie, Hannah Georgas and Jenn Grant also represent a coup of sorts for Terfry. He managed to get everyone he wanted on the album---save K'naan and Fine Young Cannibals singer Roland Gift. "Most often if I'm working on something, and I'm thinking, 'I need a great singer, guitarist, pianist, whatever,' I usually have a friend who is talented that I know and trust and feel good about," he says. "Usually that's my primary motivation. It's not like 'Hmm, who's a name I can get on this thing?'"
As Terfry started recording his own vocals for the new album, he thought back to his earlier work, speaking into a microphone in his bedroom. There was a freedom in his vocals that wasn't coming out in the studio. He insisted on recording all the vocals at home, on his own.
In some ways 20 Odd Years certainly does reflect Terfry's chameleonic career. In others, it simply shows that he has learned to glance back while continually moving forward. "Sometimes, I think I just need to go back to when I was living above Black Market, above Blowers and Grafton," he says. "I need to go back to what I felt like then."
For the complete interview, go to thecoast.ca/SceneandHeard.
Buck 65 w/Rich Aucoin Thursday, February 24, 7pm Grand Parade Free