Beck Reveals Secrets of 'Guero' to 'Nightline'

It's been more than a decade since Beck's lo-fi hit, "Loser," rode a hip-hop beat to the top of the charts and became a slacker anthem. It could have turned him into a one-hit wonder.

Instead, over a course of seven albums -- and a non-stop chorus of acclaim -- Beck has grown into one of the most compelling figures in rock music, with a freewheeling talent for mixing rock, hip-hop, traditional music and strange sounds that usually come out of video games into fantastic collages of sound.

Beck is now 34, married and a new father. On "Guero," his first album in three years, Beck returns to the eclectic style of his earlier work, but with lyrics that are more direct and personal.

"It's a little more complicated," Beck tells "Nightline," describing the perspective that comes with parenthood. "You have a lot more luggage … A lot more luggage."

"Nightline" enlisted the help of independent rock pioneer John Flansburgh -- a member of They Might Be Giants -- for an in-depth interview with Beck, exploring his evolution as an artist and the motivations behind "Guero."

Beck's new album was nine months in the making, and the project reunites him with the Dust Brothers -- John King and Mike Simpson -- the duo who helped him establish his signature sound on the 1996 Grammy Award-winning album "Odelay."

"Guero" combines the emotional directness of "Sea Change," his last album, and the catchy beats of his earlier recordings. The album's title -- Spanish slang for "White Boy" -- takes the artist back to his childhood as a white kid in East Los Angeles.

"It's something that I'd hear growing up. Something I'd hear on the street, walking to school or something, I'd get called a 'Guero'," Beck tells Flansburgh.

"It's just a word that stuck in my head and I wanted to do something with that at some point ... I ended up, in the end, just kind of doing this almost journalistic kind of look at that whole time."

The troubling imagery running through "Guero" is meant to be both universal and personal. Beck says he wrote the material during a time of tumultuous change in the world -- and in his personal life.

"The year and a half before coming in the studio I'd been touring around the country and the world, even," Beck says. "Just the aftermath of Sept. 11, and so there's all that shock and questioning in the atmosphere.

"And then really early into recording this record, about a week or two into it, a friend of mine, a musician, Elliott Smith, committed suicide. And then at the same time, knowing I was going to have a child … I think all these things were kicking around and getting picked up by the antenna."

Beck married actress Marissa Ribisi last April, shortly before he began recording "Guero," and she gave birth to their son four months later.

In recent weeks, Beck has been everywhere. He's made the talk show rounds and performed on "Saturday Night Live" and other shows. Five of his new songs -- including the first single, "E-Pro" -- were unveiled on the March 10 episode of "The O.C."

As a result, "Guero" quickly zoomed to No. 2 on Billboard, the best chart position of Beck's career.

The marketing push has paid off, but it's certainly a far cry from Beck's early days in Los Angeles, when he'd jump on stage while the regularly scheduled bands were setting up. He built a name for himself by playing acoustic punk songs on guitar or entertaining the audience with a leaf blower.

"I started writing these raps, where I would stomp my foot," he said. "And someone, after the show, mentioned they liked my rap, and I said, 'Yeah, I mean, if you can call it that."

Indeed, Beck's music has been hard to define, even for Beck himself. He describes the music he makes with the Dust Brothers as having a "jankity" sound. But "jankity" is a word he coined and only he can define.

"I just think of it as a kind of coming together and falling apart at the same time," Beck says. "Something that's natural and beautiful but it's kind of rough."