The Buck 65 live experience

The Canadian indie rapper and CBC host talks about his live show and how he’s had to deal with the Jian Ghomeshi scandal from the stage.


Buck 65, aka Rich Terfry

Maybe you’re a fan of rappin’, beat-makin’ Buck 65, Canada’s global indie rap ambassador. Perhaps you like to cruise along the avenue with Rich Terfry in plainclothes on his daily CBC Radio 2 Drive show, where he plays his favourites from across genres and does simple, good old-fashioned radio right.

And in the past couple of years, either you, or maybe your uncle or grandma, or all of you, have been keeping up with his huge repertoire of first-person celebrity encounters and random personal memoirs on Facebook, which almost seems like a practice ground for the book he has been working on for some time.

However you appreciate Buck 65, take the time to experience his live show — in support of two new albums — Friday night at the Corona Theatre. We caught up by phone earlier this week.


Darcy MacDonald: My eight-year-old daughter listens to your radio show in the car and she wanted to ask how to get it on the Internet but I told her ‘I’m not so sure Rich feels like discussing his radio career much these days.’

Buck 65: Well, yeah, you know, I’m happy to talk about just about anything, but it is funny times at the CBC right now.

DM: It’s sad. Now are you on leave for tour? I went to listen the other day and it was someone else hosting.

Buck: No, I had to take a few days off last week because of a cold. But I did the show today, so it should actually be on the air now. I have the last couple of days of the tour this weekend and then I’ll be back at it full-time starting on Monday.

DM: I didn’t realize the show was pre-recorded. So are you able to do it from anywhere, within reason?

Buck: No, not as of right now. That could change at some point, because we heard in the fall that cuts were coming and they’re starting to take shape now. What that means, practically speaking, for me, is that I just lost my producer, and so I’m just about to start training to learn how to do produce the show myself. I’m hearing that might give me some flexibility. I don’t know if that necessarily means being able to do the show literally from anywhere — there’s some pretty specific software we use to put it together. Having said that, I did do a week of shows in Vancouver earlier this year and it was the first time I did it outside of my usual studio. It could shape up to be a situation where things are a little more flexible and I could do it from wherever, but as it stands now I do have a studio here in Toronto that I go into every morning.

DM: So you’re touring not one but two new albums (the major label LP Neverlove, and the fully indie Laundromat Boogie (with Nova Scotia hip hop don and longtime associate Jorun Bombay). And your canon is so deep to begin with. How do you call the live show in terms of what to play?

Buck: It is a bit tough around these times when you have new music out. I have to pay particular attention to what people are saying on social media to get a sense of what songs people respond to, because I’m not a big pop artist with singles and hits and all that, where it’s a little easier because you can just play the hits and you’re good to go.

When you don’t really have proper singles, or songs being played on the radio, you do have to sort of gage from your audience what it is people like on the record. And I like to be very direct and forward with people as well. I’ll just ask them on Twitter or Facebook.

In the last month and a half (of touring) I’ve had a lot of opportunity not only to test stuff out on stage, but to have conversations with people and so on, to get a sense of what they’re looking for. When you have a new record, and you’re dealing with a 75- to 90-minute set, what to bump out is not an easy decision. I’m just trying really hard to get in everything I know people are hoping to hear.

DM: What does this show look like on stage?

Buck: This one has varied quite a bit from city to city. For the whole tour I’ve been travelling with a singer from Sweden who did a lot of writing and recording on Neverlove. So she’ll be with me in Montreal. Then, if I’m in a city where I have friends who are musicians or contributed to the album in one way or another, I’ll call them out. And in some cases I’ve enlisted the help of my support band. After I played Ottawa last weekend, the band that’s supporting me now — Jon and Roy, from B.C. — offered to learn a few songs, so I’m hoping we can get that together in time for Friday in Montreal. And I did put together a special sort of set for this tour, for most nights, that will only exist for this tour, so it should be another pretty different show from the one you or anyone else saw last time in Montreal.

DM: Your shows are performance art in a serious way. I mean, I can go see any band, and what is gonna change? The set, maybe. Their clothes. With your shows, typically it seems like the mood you are in is the first thing that sets the evening’s course, I think it is fair to say. How do you stay interested in yourself from a city you’ve been in once or 20 times?

Buck: I think what gets some people in trouble, where they sort of fatigue on what they do, is to do exactly the same set every night. In a sense it requires people to be robots, and no one wants to be a robot. It doesn’t feel interesting to be that way.

But I think I’m just comfortable enough with what I’m doing that I can allow myself to just be who, and what, and how I am on any given day. That being the case, on this tour, even on nights when I have some preconceived notion of what I’m gonna do when I get out there, that might very well go completely out the window at the beginning and I will just sort of go with what’s on my mind or what my mood is.

Of course I always want to read the room, as well. Not just the physical space but the people who are there, and you want to consider the night of the week, and so on.

You know, with this tour I’m on now, when I came back to Canada, suddenly things felt different. Because there was all the heavy news, and of course the big CBC scandal in particular that was really on everybody’s mind. And I was reminded a lot of nights when I walked out that there are people at the shows who do know me, primarily, from the CBC. In some cases, when I see people in the audience who might be a little older than average — I still seem to manage to attract primarily college-age students — but in some cases you’ll sort of see a contingent of people who maybe have grey hair. I’ll think to myself, these undoubtably are people who are fans of the radio show or who are kinda coming at it from the CBC side of things.

So suddenly I’m reminded that I work in this place, I’m a host, there are things I have in common with this person that is on everyone’s mind right now, and so suddenly I was feeling very self-conscious of everything that I was doing. And I was guessing that everyone else might have been putting a little extra scrutiny on what I was doing. And it did genuinely make things feel a little different.

My first night, I just felt uncomfortable, and I realized, “That’s no good.” It’s gonna be transparent. If I’m uncomfortable on stage, it’s gonna be uncomfortable for people to feel and to take in, as well.

So the next night I thought, I can’t hide from this elephant in the room, so I’m just gonna tackle it head-on, and I’m gonna talk about how I feel, and just engage people. And I think that’s what it really comes down to. If you do make the effort to engage your audiece, then it is going to be a different beast every night.

And that’s what keeps it interesting to me, and I think to other people as well. They just want something real. I mean sometimes, people can put together a big show, and it can be a big production with lights, and you can just be dazzled and go home happy. But unless it’s a huge pop show with a gigantic budget, people just want to feel like they’re having an experience with the person that they’ve come out to see. So I figure I owe it to people just to be real about what’s happening, and who I am, and what’s going on that particular day, and that always seems to be what people respond to most. Of course there are songs they like to hear, but if I can talk to them, that’s what people seem to like. It’s always worked so there’s every reason to go with that.


Buck 65 performs with opener Jon and Ray at the Corona Theatre (2490 Notre-Dame W.) on Friday, Nov. 28, 8 p.m., $20