It’s difficult to get a straight answer out of Sara Beck. She makes you go “‘Hmm?” or maybe “Ha!” But never, “Huh, saw that coming.” A fresh-faced singer/songwriter who changed her plain-Jane name to Pink Nasty, Beck is often confused in the press as an oversexed Peaches clone or ultra-ironic hipster who messes with well-meaning music critics and influential bloggers ready to put her on a pedestal. In fact, Beck is about as slutty and mean-spirited as a Noxzema commercial. She just has an unconventional way of viewing the world and a deadpan delivery that disguises her chronic shyness.
“I have a hard time talking about myself,” she says from her home in Austin, Texas. Unlike Michael Hurley, the outsider folk artist with whom she’ll share the stage on Friday, Beck sports a stiff upper lip and agrees to interviews. It helps that we met through friends four years ago when she came to town with her brother Ted, aka Black Nasty, a hardcore sex rapper whose performances with Salt Lake City’s Rodeo Boys are pure debaucheries. Ted helped co-write Pink Nasty’s 2003 debut Mule School, 14 tracks of off-kilter country/folk pop delivered in a sweet Midwestern cadence with an occasional Southern twang.
School is on first listen solid and innocent with each song launching like a Linda Rondstadt ballad (“Seems we’ve been doin’ more hurtin’ than flirtin’”) until Beck drops “I must be the dumbest in this class/ ’cause not all of the Asians will help me pass.” How can such a nice girl be down with un-PC?
“I always like to be a little inappropriate,” she says. Which is fine for a musician—they’re expected to act out—but at the restaurant where Beck works as a hostess, her humor doesn’t always translate for white-collar office drones. When one customer asked how to make his business card more appealing for a free-meal contest, she suggested he cover it in porn.
“I didn’t realize I was talking to a 45-year-old father and, of course, he just wanted to draw some colored rocks on it or something—and I’m telling him to draw pictures of naked men. I thought, ‘Oh shit! He’s going to tell my boss!’“ she says, though it’s unlikely a threat of unemployment is enough to make her believe. “I just get so bored having normal conversations so I always say something weird. It’s all premeditated.”
Beck didn’t expect, however, to pop her touring cherry with Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) who discovered her after Ted sent him a copy of Black Nasty’s AIDS Can’t Stop Me. And, while she recognized the offer as a tremendous opportunity, she didn’t have any idea what she was getting into. “I was 21 or 22, and I was just like, ‘La la la; whatever,’” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t realize his shows would be so huge. The first show I did with him was in Chicago at Logan Square. It was packed, and I almost passed out.” Beck recovered, and Oldham continued to work with her, lending his charms to Mule School’s 2006 follow-up Mold the Gold which is tighter, but no more conventional, than its predecessor. The most talked-about track is “BTK Blues,” a little ditty about the Kansas serial killer whose threatening presence Beck felt throughout her childhood. “When I wrote it, he came out in the news again,” she says. “He was raising his family for 15 years, and then he came out and said he was ready to kill again. He would leave stuff all around town—cereal boxes tied around posts with evidence of other murders. Pretty frightening. That was our claim to fame besides airplane manufacturers.”
Beck recently filmed a video for Gold single “Away Message” with friend/director Ben Steinbauer, paying homage to Pavement by being “playful and not too serious, because a lot of videos are kind of serious,” she says. Which pretty much sums up Pink Nasty, singing about heartbreak and psychopaths without getting all Kierkegaard-ish on her audience. If that’s inappropriate, we should all be more offensive.
PINK NASTY @ Burt’s Tiki Lounge, 726 S. State, Friday, Aug. 31, 10 p.m. 521-0572 cw