Beck Talks His Wild New Single ‘Wow’ And How The New Record Finds Him In A Happy Place

Beck is back with the brilliant wild funk single ‘Wow’. NME caught up with the maverick American singer-songwriter to find out more.

What inspired ‘Wow’?
I was working on another song – maybe [2015 hit] ‘Dreams’ – when I had an idea for a flute beat. I picked up the mic and ‘Wow’ came out totally spontaneously. I put it away and forgot about it. Then ‘Wow’ was on in the studio one day and someone said “You should put this on the record.” I went “I don’t think anybody would like this.” Usually, I turn in a whole album to my record company when they want a single. But there were a lot of songs in progress, so I sent in a cache of them this time. Nothing happened for months, then suddenly the record company said “We’re putting ‘Wow’ out as a single.” I was “Really? ‘Wow’? Huh. Well, OK then.” ‘Wow’ was the last song on the cache I’d sent over.

‘Blue Moon’ on my last record ‘Morning Phase’ was the same deal. That was a demo I’d forgotten about and put on the shelf, and at the very last minute of finishing ‘Morning Phase’, I stumbled on it and we said “Let’s put this on the record too.”

What else can people expect from the new album?
The rest of the album is probably what exists in the range between ‘Dreams’ at one end and ‘Wow’ at the other. It’s going good. It’s essentially done, it’s just the small details now.

What was the starting idea for the album?
I’ve been working on it with Greg Kurstin for three-and-a-half years. For the first year, we were experimenting and there was a lot of trial and error. I was touring constantly while making it, so I was attempting to bring some of that energy back to the studio, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. ‘Dreams’ was one of the early songs to come along and make me think the idea had legs.

What’s the album going to be called?
I don’t have a final title yet. These days, record companies want to save all that stuff until the last minute, right?

When will it be out?
At some point in the fall. Well, I say that, but it was supposed to come out in spring 2015 and then the spring after that. ‘Morning Phase’ got a lot busier than I anticipated. I put that out, thinking I’d get this new record done the following year and put all my energy into it. But ‘Morning Phase’ did really well and I ended up touring that record for a year-and-a-half, so that was a good thing.

You sang ‘Dreams’ with Taylor Swift and St Vincent at Taylor’s LA concert last summer. Any plans to get into the studio with either of them?
This record is just myself and Greg. But it’d be a good idea at some point to do a record with a lot of collaborations. Being a solo artist is an advantage, as it’s more acceptable to do a collaborative record.

Who would you want to collaborate with?
That’s always presumptive to say. I wouldn’t want to assume that anyone wants to collaborate with me. So I’d probably end up going with people I already know and have relationships with, and play music with my friends.

‘Dreams’ and ‘Wow’ are euphoric. Are you in a happy place personally?
Yeah. I had a spine injury and there was a long period where it wasn’t easy to make music. Recovering from that makes it a lot easier. It’s made a huge difference. This record has felt like a lot of freedom, as I’ve had time to work things out and try things. I’ll go too far in one direction, then go too far in another. There were a few other ideas that have come out of making this record that are interesting and have pushed me in other directions.

What can we expect from the live shows for this album?
Me and the band will just do our thing. It’s all about energy, seeing what the audience is up for and trying to get away with what we possibly can. Some bands play new material first and then go to make the record. I did that early on, but I found it always put a dampener on the shows, as you’re working it all out in public: the concert would turn into a rehearsal for your next record. So now in the studio, I’m trying to put myself in that place. If I get two or three songs on a record that work live, I’m happy. This time, I’m trying to make them all work live.

‘Wow’ has a hip-hop feel. Who from that field has made you go “wow” recently?
That world has so much happening. Los Angeles is having a renaissance with people like Kendrick Lamar. I like the new Chance The Rapper record a lot. Four or five months ago, we tried to get Chance on ‘Wow’. I’m not sure what happened with that.

Your producer Greg Kurstin was in your backing band before he went on to produce Adele and Lily Allen. Did you think he’d go have such a stellar career?
Greg is just so damned good. He has such an intimate understanding of my music that he knows what I’m thinking before I have to say it. When Greg left the band, I was despondent. Making this record with Greg has been an excuse to hang out, talk about music and make each other laugh.But all of these people I work with are monster talents. The band I have now, you can’t go wrong with them behind you. We all grew up watching bands who have an energy and who are able to break the ice. That’s the thing we’ll try to do at festivals like Glastonbury and Fold this summer.

If this record has pulled you in various directions, does that mean other new material will follow soon?
Yeah. I’ve got enough ideas for a few records to follow this one and I’ve laid the groundwork for a lot of material. But you always have to see how it goes, because there are always songs like ‘Wow’ that just come out very quickly from nowhere.
And then there are other songs that I work on for a long time. They need reworking by stripping them down completely and starting over. Some songs turn into other songs, some songs turn into two songs.Songwriting is a strange process, because some songs just can’t be rushed for whatever reason. It’s very freeform. It’s a benevolent miasma of ideas.