“Like an album like Sea Change, there are completely different versions of songs and then there’s probably another 10 to 20 songs that aren’t on the record that [were] in progress; things that I thought I would finish later. It wasn’t that they were bad songs, they just didn’t fit the mood of the album,” he said.
“In 2001, I went into Sunset Sound [in Los Angeles] and I recorded 25 Hank Williams songs for a double album, just solo. I wanted to celebrate that influence in my music and explore it, and I don’t have a copy of that; it’s on a master tape, so that’s probably gone.
I have friends who work in archives and they see the tapes for legendary artists from the ’50s just lying there in a cardboard box. There’s a lot of neglect of masters. It’s a big problem.
“I went to Nashville on tour for two days and cut a country album that never got released. I have rock albums I did in the 1990s, before I did Odelay, I went and tried to make an indie-rock album, so there’s an album that sounds like a Pavement, Sebadoh kind of thing.
“There’s a [Jon Spencer] Blues Explosion album I did in ’95 where I cut about 10 songs with them in New York City that’s never been released. But I don’t know [whether it’s gone], nobody’s telling us anything. We didn’t hear about it until the last year.”
Beck also said that the fire exposed a broader systemic issue: the poor preservation of artists’ recordings generally.
“I have friends who work in archives and they see the tapes for legendary artists from the ’50s just lying there in a cardboard box, not being climate controlled and preserved correctly in an acid-free box,” he said.
“There’s a lot of neglect of masters. It’s a big problem. And guess what, I’ve been in a room where they’ve put on an original Frank Sinatra three-track from the ’50s and it sounds f–king phenomenal, whereas the vinyl version you have sounds tinny, old.
“It doesn’t have a fraction of the information that’s on those tapes. All this stuff should be remixed and remastered and re-released … There’s troves of great music in these archives, treasures that are not being tended to.
“You have artists like the Beatles who get that treatment, where they go and they restore the recordings and remix them, but it’s rare, and it should be happening more … It would be a rebirth for some of these artists who are maybe getting left behind.”