Buck 65: The scratch-meister of Nova Scotia

Buck 65 has packed a lot into his life and, as Alexia Loundras discovers, it all goes into the Canadian rapper's art
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"I can't censor myself; I don't have that in-built mechanism," sighs Buck 65, aka Rich Terfry, the Canadian rapping scratch-meister. "I'm probably a fool, but wilfully so." Well, the success of his new album means this wilful fool is playing to packed houses, including tonight's sold-out 800-capacity Paris gig. "This really feels like my first taste of the big time," he says, genuinely thrilled.

Terfry grew up in the poverty-stricken town of Mount Uniacke, Nova Scotia, surrounded by junkyards and horse farms. His first love was baseball: he was a natural and, after high school, turned semi-pro with the New York Yankees, until a knee injury ended his career. Terfry found himself on the streets. "I was homeless, starving," he says. "And that was a whole other set of hardships."

Inspired by early Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang and teen heartache ("I've always pined after girlfriends," he says, wryly), he'd been writing songs since he was 12. Now, he threw himself into spinning beats and rhymes. Record deals with independents, including the alt-hip-hop stalwarts Anticon, followed. Within a few years, he was once again being scouted by the majors.

"I've packed a lot into my years," explains the 32-year-old, gently rubbing his grey-peppered stubble. "I've tried not to sleepwalk through a moment of my life... To me, the very essence of life is in the small things."

Talkin' Honky Blues is a living scrapbook of Terfry's experiences, and of his knack for finding majesty in the mundane, art in garbage. His slick turntable skills and love of beats merge with his rural past, as slide-guitars and banjos are looped and spliced in to build mischievous textures of crackling sound. Influenced by the storytelling of Charles Bukowski ("He gave you life, warts and all, but he could also express love unbelievably well, in a painful, dirt-in-the-fingernails way"), Terfry's sharp observations, jousting wordplay and gravel-filled voice create vibrant portraits, alive with wit and imbued with the melancholy allure of junkyards.

"People having their struggles, surviving their hurt and finding their small pleasures - that's humanity, raw and untainted," Terfry explains. "They're the things I find beautiful - the things that make me stop and cry. I'm an observer - a mini-Desmond Morris of sorts," he continues. "A fanatic spectator of life. I celebrate it and celebrate ideas, and I hope my music gives people something to think about. I want to be a conduit for knowledge. I want to learn things, eat 'em and poop 'em back out."

For Terfry, happiness is about connecting with people, which explains his passionate one-man-band shows. With him, there's no barrier of cool. He's silly and emotional in equal measure. The night we speak, he plays a mesmerising two-hour set, sprinkled with charm, humour and playful cabaret, like his performance idols, Jacques Brel and Tom Waits. And when he's finished, Terfry steps off stage and resumes his place among the crowd.

Buck 65 plays the Garage, London N1, on Monday, then tours; 'Talkin' Honky Blues' is out now on WEA