The scene encountered by Halifax’s Rich Terfry two decades ago, when he broke away from the folk klatch and started rapping as Buck 65 (among other stage names), little resembled the robust, if seriously underfunded, landscape of Canadian music today.
“Great music has been made all along,” Terfry says, reached in Toronto, where he’s now living after several years in Paris. “It’s just that not everybody was aware of it. It’s mostly because of social media. The more people know about what’s happening, the more they’re inspired to get involved.”
Yes, and there’s the radio, of course. The hip-hop–minded recording artist also helps prime the national palate for new sounds under his own name five afternoons a week, with CBC’s Radio 2 Drive. And since we’re chatting during Drive time, I’m faced with the unusual sensation of hearing Terfry’s voice coming from two places at once.
If I wanted to likewise click on the stereo and the TV, I could double that effect. Terfry’s new album, 20 Odd Years: Volume 1—Avant, a four-song effort that begins a new series of EP releases, is accompanied by a nifty DVD. This lovingly made documentary combines clever animation, live concert footage, and comic setups that stray into Flight of the Conchords territory. On occasion, though, he soberly addresses his artistic mission.
“I’m into keeping as many traditions alive as possible,” he tells the camera at one point. As a kind of griot of North American musical history, he takes to heart the task of holding onto the good parts of jazz, soul, blues, and rock while lampooning the elements that have faded or have been overblown.
Case in point is his album Situation, from three years ago, which focused on everything that happened in Sputnik-crazed 1957.
“When I was doing the research for that record, I found that ’57 also saw the debut of Tang and the Frisbee. There was only so much I could cram in there, but it was fascinating to find one year with such a humongous cultural impact.”
Having performed under such names as DJ Critical, Johnny Rockwell, Uncle Climax, and Stinkin’ Rich, the 38-year-old obviously doesn’t want to be taken too seriously.
“I come from a long line of silly men,” he says. “My father and his father before him were also deeply silly people. So I’m proud to carry on that tradition too.”
Buck 65 plays the Commodore Ballroom on Friday (June 25).