Ms. Beck, If You're Nasty
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Sara Beck isn't an easy read. After all, the Wichita, Kansas-born singer, now living in Austin, mixes the dark and the sweet from the very first strum of her guitar. "BTK Blues," from her forthcoming record Mold the Gold, devolves rapidly from a boy-doesn't-like-me mope to a tense ballad, and guest Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy) interrupts her syrupy-sweet vocals with an ominous chant of, "It's dark now, you should head home."
But there are plenty of hints that this 23-year-old's mix of pop-country vocals and songwriting that blends soul, rock and folk (which she brands "neurotic pop") is a cover for her odd sense of humor. And if Beck's weird stage name, Pink Nasty, isn't hint enough, just spend 20 seconds talking to her.
"I just got back from fat camp," the tall, skinny Beck says when asked about a recent family trip. "I got centered. I'm glad I'm back now, all centered and stuff."
It's the first of many jokes and hyperboles that she throws my way while I try to make sense of her life story, but this much I was able to make out: Raised in Kansas ("[My parents] wanted me to be a farmer. We have a couple pigs."), Beck found herself writing songs at a young age ("In Wichita, it's either cow-tipping or music. I kinda tried cow-tipping for a while. It's not that fun").
It must run in the family: Her brother Ted has made Internet waves as the ultra-filthy Black Nasty, and his debut album AIDS Can't Stop Me is packed with so-bizarre-they're-funny boasts about unprotected sex, giving his pets blowjobs and making moves on Anne Frank. Sara helped with music and vocals on that disc when they lived in Wichita, yet strangely, she credits her brother as a huge reason for her music being what it is. Not that he acts like Joni Mitchell around her.
"If there was no Black Nasty, I would probably be way, way cheesier," Beck says. "We balance each other...He comes to all my shows. He'll walk up and tell me to try harder or sing better. He'll be like, 'Come on, pussy.' That's what he did at SXSW. 'Come on, bitch! Don't be such a bitch!'"
Joe Jackson impression aside, that packed March '06 SXSW performance was the end result of Beck's biggest year in music yet, coming off a nationwide tour as the back-up singer for Bonnie "Prince" Billy (you can hear her contribution on the stirring Summer in the Southeast concert album). Again, blame Black Nasty--after she recorded a cover of Oldham's "May It Always Be" for a potential tribute album, Ted, who'd heard from Oldham because he liked AIDS Can't Stop Me, sent the song along. He soon invited Sara along to tour, and that nationwide stint led her and Ted to Austin, where they now reside and work on each other's music full-time.
Of course, that story took two weeks for Beck to tell; in March, she quipped that she met Oldham because she "used to be a hooker in Kansas." Then, she later told me they'd "actually" met at a Furr's Cafeteria--"We just kinda ran into each other." The continual jokes, while amusing, also beg the question: Is Beck's sarcasm a shield against the increased attention? Blog hype and scattered write-ups are aiming a new spotlight on Pink Nasty as Mold the Gold nears completion. If she doesn't take herself seriously, maybe nobody else will, either.
But she turns serious just long enough to shoot that down; Beck is excited that anybody cares enough at all to book her in a city other than Austin, and her jokey, conversational demeanor is as simple as this: "I like to treat everybody like they're my best friend."
Minutes later, she calls me a "dipshit douchebag motherfuck cocksuck." With friends like Pink Nasty...
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