Buck 65 and the Art of Innovation

It is a cloudy Sunday afternoon in Halifax and Rich Terfry (a.k.a. Buck 65) couldn’t be sunnier.

The 39 year-old Canadian Hip-Hop artist is in his element, surrounded by both old friends and new acquaintances, including a cast of creative characters.

Terfry and a crew of two-dozen are on site at a school in the city’s trendy North End district, shooting a video for Zombie Delight, the first single from his latest release 20 Odd Years.

“It is so good to be home,” he says out loud to no one in particular. “Halifax still has that awesome energy for me – I can still feel it, even after all of this time.”

Indeed, it has been a long - and sometimes strange - trip for the Mt. Uniacke, Nova Scotia native. After almost two decades of making music, including both independent and major label releases, and a myriad of pseudonyms and aliases, Terfry is still going strong, keeping his finely-tuned eyes and ears firmly focused on the future and its fresh frontiers.

Certainly, 20 Odd Years is a sure testament to the ongoing evolution of the multi-award winning artist. Featuring tracks taken from four previously-released, like-titled digital and 7” vinyl EPs, as well as two new numbers, the 13-song disc showcases a string of creative collaborations with the likes of Gord Downie, Hannah Georges, Olivia Ruiz and Marie-Pierre Arthur.

“I think that the one question that has always driven me to move forward with my work has been What If,” he shares during a break from the day-long video shoot. “What if so-and-so came in on this song? What if I took a piece of this and a piece of that and stuck them together? What if I did this differently? What if I take a sharp left turn with this?”

It brings to mind the ages-old adage that courage is not an absence of fear, but rather a resistance to it.

“I suppose that is true in a way,” smiles Terfry. “Still, I am hardly alone in that assessment – there are many, many great and groundbreaking artists here in Atlantic Canada that have been, and continue to be, pushed by that very same question.”

Sure enough, when he is not busy writing, recording and performing his own material, Terfry pays homage to his peers as the weekday afternoon host of CBC’s Radio 2 Drive.

“Jenn Grant, Joel Plaskett, Meghan Smith, Matt Mays, Two Hours Traffic – we have some of the country’s most amazing songwriters right here on the East Coast,” he notes. “And that list just keeps getting longer every day.”

Part of that explosion of creative output, he believes, comes from having such a tightly-knit artistic community in Atlantic Canada.

“There is a really strong sense of collaboration here - one that you would have a tough time finding anywhere else in the country. It could be some sort of regional, cultural thing - we work really well together and have learned to help each other out as a people through the years.”

And while that resourcefulness might not be as highly-touted as our hospitality, it has, explains Terfry, perhaps served us better.

“We inspire one another and challenge one another to take risks and grow. And that is true of all artistic disciplines here; musicians, writers, photographers, painters, whatever - we seem to bring out the best in one another.

“That exchange of ideas can be quite inspiring, and it can make us push one another to try out new things.”

Scott Brewer of Fredericton shares the sentiment. The 31 year-old digital designer and graphic artist recently started attending “Lan Parties” in the New Brunswick capital.

“A bunch of us nerds get together with our laptops once a week and go crazy surfing the internet for new ideas,” he laughs over the phone. “It is a little like treasure hunting, and that gold can often turn up in our creative work over the coming days.”

Brewer was recently contacted by a major New York multi-media firm about some well-paying contract work.

“They found me online,” he shrugs. “These guys do serious, edgy film-stuff and animation for markets in India and China, and this is a real opportunity for me to make a name for myself in this industry. This is very, very cool for me.”

Technology has also aided the efforts of Catherine Keller, an aspiring fashionista from Summerside, PEI.

“I use my computer exclusively when putting my pieces together,” shares the 25 year-old brunette. “In fact, I don’t do anything by hand at all anymore, except when I am actually stitching the finished work together for a real-time showing.”

The internet has also allowed her to keep a watchful eye on the latest trending from the ever-evolving world of haute-couture - despite the relative isolation of island life.

“I suppose that I am a bit partial to the more outrageous stuff,” she smirks, listing Gerlan Mercel, Isaac Mizrahi and Alexander McQueen as current influences. “And then I can post my own outlandish creations and portfolio online for prospective clients to see.”

Those innovations, says Rich Terfry, are a sign of the times.

“What we are witnessing here is a changing of the guard. Younger artists have way more tools available to them than the previous generation had. We can do more, see more, hear more, feel more and, ultimately, create more than anyone that came before us.”

Still, he says, when it comes to that creativity, there is no substitute for real life experience.

“My advice to other artists here in Atlantic Canada is to get out there and see the world. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up to new ideas and emotions and different encounters – it can only take your work to new and exciting places.

“And, in a sense, that is our job - to both reflect the times that we live in, and to some degree, to betray the times that we live in.”

As the make-up artist applies the last bit of blush to his cheeks before he shuffles back to the video shoot, Terfry pauses, looks up at her and asks quietly “What if we tried putting it on this way this time?”

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