If you don’t already know Sean Beavan, you just haven’t been paying attention. As half of the hypnotic trip-hop duo 8mm, Sean displays a seasoned production style and texture indicative of his unprecedented resume. After unwittingly establishing himself in the bizarre tapestry of ironic coolness by playing bass on the song Hungry Eyes off the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, the Cleveland native moved on to slightly more prestigious projects- you know, run-of-the-mill stuff like helping define a new genre of music by mixing and producing some of the most rockingly awesome cornerstone albums of our generation.
He mixed the demos for Pretty Hate Machine, the album that put Trent Reznor on the map. He’s since done production, engineering and mixing work on Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar, Portrait Of An American Family and Mechanical Animals, as well as the record that brought industrial to the mainstream: Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. Oh yeah, he also worked on albums for a jillion other bands, helped Trent built a studio in New Orleans and worked on the mythical Chinese Democracy around the turn of the century.
And then there’s Juliette. The second half of the grinding sensuality machine known as 8mm is a double-take blonde with danger in her eyes and a deceptively silky voice that flows in symbiotic fluidity with the moody, post-industrial backdrop her husband provides. She’s the perfect uncaged canary in his coal mine, her breathless velvet weaving through his seasoned melancholy for a sound that would fit seamlessly on a mix featuring Tricky, Massive Attack and Portishead.
One EP (2004’s Opener) and a full-length (2006’s Songs To Love And Die By) later, 8mm have hit their stride and are finally getting some well-deserved attention. Their songs No Way Back and Forever And Ever Amen were featured on a December 2006 episode of the WB show One Tree Hill. The exposure’s worked wonders for the band, and last year was a busy one- they covered Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better for the Mr. & Mrs. Smith soundtrack, were featured as one of 2007’s “Top Bands You Need To Know And Love And Worship” by Alternative Press and have had their songs on various MTV shows that, like nearly all shows on MTV, have nothing at all to do with music.
But to hell with all that. The brass tacks are that 8mm is a standout independent band doing things their own way, and we love what we’re hearing. That’s why we called up Sean and Juliette last week for a ranting, impassioned discussion about their inspirations and aspirations, the chaotic state of the music industry and Axl Rose’s joke-telling prowess.
Antiquiet: How great is the world when you can interact with an artist through MySpace and set up an interview without going through a hundred different channels? Imagine that concept twenty years ago.
Juliette: It’s great, isn’t it? It’s a really exciting time to be a part of this whole process.
Antiquiet: Juliette, you don’t come from the conventional singing background, but more from a storytelling and entertaining place artistically. What does singing mean to you now?
Juliette: It’s funny, the first thing that comes to mind is that it gives me a little more control over the tone of the story. As opposed to writing, where you have to rely on your ability to create a setting and an atmosphere in words alone. In a song, I have the benefit of having Sean, and with what he does musically, it allows me to sort of dance through things lyrically and vocally. And so together, it paints the whole picture.
Antiquiet: Sean, you’ve got a dream resume going, having worked with Slayer, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, done mixing on some legendary albums like Pretty Hate Machine and Antichrist Superstar and so forth. Having done all that, having built a recording studio in New Orleans with Trent Reznor and worked on these incredible albums, how does that background translate into what you do now? You’re known for a guitar-saturated kind of sound in your production.
Sean: It made it easy to build a studio in my backyard. (laughs) Yeah, a lot less cockroaches… I mean, all those experiences inform what I do now, and helped me figure out exactly what I want to do. Working with several successful, seminal artists helped me realize the importance of going for what you want to achieve artistically instead of just trying to sell a lot of records. The artists I worked with that sold the most records were the ones least concerned with it all. They ended up making the kind of records that they wanted to listen to.
Antiquiet: What’s the recording setup for 8mm like?
Sean: It’s our house. We’ve got a drum kit in the bedroom, there’s microphones hanging everywhere…
Juliette: It looks kinky, but it’s for the music.
Sean: Yeah. And I’ve got the studio out in the backyard, which is nice, because you can kinda feel like you’re going somewhere when you set out to record. It’s not like you’re going into the next room. So that’s pretty cool. We work there as 8mm, but I also work there with a bunch of other clients.
Antiquiet: Walk us through the experience of working on the new Guns N’ Roses album.
Sean: Ah yes, that was a long time ago. It was between ’98 and 2000, I think. Tommy Stinson and I became good friends, and we see each other quite a bit, so he gives me updates here and there. I have no idea what’s going on now. Almost everybody involved with the project when I was working on it isn’t a part of it anymore. It was Josh Freese on drums, Tommy was playing bass… Dizzy was playing keyboards, and I think he’s still doing that. It was a blast working with Axl. He was a really funny guy. That’s probably the one thing that surprised me the most- just how funny the guy could be. When he’d come in to do vocals, he’d warm up for like forty-five minutes not by singing, but by telling jokes. He was just extremely funny and super nice.
Antiquiet: Was there any sense that Chinese Democracy was nearing completion back then?
Sean: I thought there was. (laughs) I think we worked on thirty-five songs or something. But the guy just continually creates, and as people changed into and out of the band, a lot of things got re-tracked. I’d love to see the record come out soon, but we’ll see. They say it was turned in.
Antiquiet: How do you feel about the term trip-hop?
Sean: I like the atmosphere that the genre allows you to go into. Also, it allows you to go into a variety of progressions as well as interpretations of the genre. It allows us to use more organic instruments that something like electronica would really prevent us from using. Just certain types of guitars, real drums and strings all lend themselves to more of an emotional release. That’s one of the problems with electronic music. This genre allows you to explore the heartstrings with more natural sounds. And coming from places of industrial or hyper-realized heavy metal stuff, I really wanted to be able to stretch out on something that was more pretty and natural, while utilizing some of the cool things I’ve learned about creating textural atmospheres in a downtempo nature.
Antiquiet: You filmed the Stunning video by yourselves, right?
Juliette: On the DYI side of things, about a year ago, I shot what ended up being the official video for Stunning. I shot the entire thing on my cell phone, then edited it in good ol’ iMovie. At the time I was getting a little overwhelmed with the never-ending bombardment of “newer-better-faster!” technology, when I felt like that we’re barely getting the juice out of the stuff we have in our hands right now. And the feeling somehow that you can’t make something cool without the newest/latest just felt obscene. In other words, I looked down at my cell phone one day and thought… here’s our video.
I wanted to make something that we thought was beautiful and cool with the tools that all of us carry around everyday or have at home. So, I confined the shooting to only the cell (an A900, Samsung) and the editing to the basic iMovie program that comes with every Mac. And absolutely nothing else. For lighting I moved around table lamps until things looked the way I wanted… and so on… that’s it.
It was really a cathartic reminder that you can create with anything.
Antiquiet: Where do you hope to take your sound in the future?
Sean: We’re talking about doing an EP where we’re mixing elements of Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? with PJ Harvey’s Dry. That might be really fun. We do a cover live of PJ Harvey’s Long Snake Moan, and it’s so fun to do. And John, our drummer and I just really get off on playing that kind of bluesy heaviness. So I think it would be fun to explore that. It wasn’t where I originally envisioned things going, but it’s definitely fun to pull something like Liar out in a set and then go all the way to that.
Juliette: Look at a record like PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love. It’s scary, it’s aggressive, and it’s cool. It’s dark stuff, but she plays like a ninety year-old black man. It’s a little grit, and a little vulnerability, and a lot of sex.
Antiquiet: The perfect combination. Given that you’re a seemingly thriving independent band in the industry, how do you perceive the current sort of volatile state of things?
Sean: As an independent band, if we had two dollars for every person who’s got our record, we’d be doing pretty good.
Juliette: We’d be doing alright. We have several friends who are pretty much out on tour permanently, and we get so many random calls going “You have no idea how many kids know about you guys and have your record.” But they didn’t buy it. So yeah, if everybody laid down a couple bucks things would be a lot easier. But this way, you’ve got the freedom of not having to go through four or five different levels of A&R approval or jump through all these flaming hoops. You’ve got control. The bad news is that you don’t have their checkbook.
Sean: Right. And you get to play for the radio people and do things the way you want to. There was a long period of time in the late nineties and early 2000’s where there were just a whole lot of bands out there that were dropped after putting one CD out and that would be it. But nowadays, things have changed to the point where it’s like ‘So you lost your record deal, so what? You can still play shows and make music your own way.’ I think we’re breaking into a new renaissance where people are just really into writing and playing music.
Juliette: And that opens up the listener audience to a much more eclectic playlist. And it’s incredible now to have things like MySpace, where so many people in so many different places can hear your music for free. And then to have them be able to send you an email and tell you what it meant to them, directly… it’s incredible.
Antiquiet: There’s such an unprecedented saturation of material coming at you, it’s hard to sift through the good and the bad with any sense of direction. But the fact is, the options are there. When we were kids, that really wasn’t there.
Juliette: In the eighties you really had the same five or ten bands all year, and if it wasn’t on the radio you’d have to dig through the piles at your local head shop / record store. And if you didn’t have someone to point you in the right direction…
Antiquiet: It all changed with Smells Like Teen Spirit. Before that song, the top 40 was packed with Wilson fucking Phillips, Whitney Houston and Phil Collins. The closest thing to real rock n’ roll anywhere near the charts was Skid Row. And I remember hearing about Teen Spirit at school before I’d heard it myself. Never before or since has there been a more pivotal moment in music, in my lifetime. That song changed everything.
Sean: When Nirvana came on the scene, it really made people stand up and pay attention to all these independent labels that were out there. People started thinking about what these indie labels were doing, but as soon as it started the majors came in and bought them all up and destroyed them. So for that period of time in the late nineties, early 2000s, it was just full of the worst shit ever getting put out. The labels had bought everybody up. Then things like Napster hit, and MySpace, and suddenly this big evil conglomerate is falling on its face.
Antiquiet: It’s beautiful. And for the artist, it really seems to be coming down to touring and putting out a quality product. The good music will speak for itself. Yeah, all those kids at the shows might have your record cause they downloaded it for free, but it’s great music, and that makes them want to catch you guys live when you come around.
Juliette: Right. And you can’t download a concert experience. The albums, the MP3s, they’re pretty much marketing tools to get people into the shows. Then the next step is, how do we balance things out with the fact that you’re spending four grand on gas on tour? Gas prices aren’t going down.
Antiquiet: When there’s such a wealth of new music out there, how do you stand out?
Sean: It becomes an arbiter of originality. If you’re doing something new and interesting, it’ll bring you a different kind of support from a different kind of audience. We don’t fit into the trip-hop genre exactly, but then we don’t fit into something like pop or country either. You have to bring originality to the table, but you’ve also got to know who you’re trying to get to listen to your stuff. Different minds will have different levels of reception.
Antiquiet: What artists most influence your sound?
Sean: First and foremost, David Lynch… his soundtracks and energy is very influencial, as was Portishead or Radiohead or…
Juliette: PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love, Ziggy Stardust’s Spiders From Mars record, pick any Sigur Rós record…
Sean: Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline…
Juliette: Things with emotion and pathos, things with an authentic depth.
Antiquiet: Any word on new material?
Sean: We’ve been writing, we’ve got about five or six things recorded, but nothing totally finished yet. They’re in Pro Tools in various stages, awaiting further development.
Juliette: we’ve got maybe five little handheld recorders full with bits of song ideas and notebooks with two lines here, three lines there…
Antiquiet: Are there any other artists out there that you’d like people to know about?
Sean: Miniature Tigers.
Juliette: Oh yeah, Miniature Tigers. They’re on a little label out of Phoenix called Modern Art, but they’re just… it’s great songwriting.
Sean: It’s just awesome. It’s got such a great vibe. There’s all these beautiful happy-go-lucky melodies with these twisted lyrics… it’s really interesting stuff.
Antiquiet: What do you say to someone just getting started in music and has the passion, but doesn’t know how to put a song together?
Juliette: GarageBand is a great way to start recording yourself. But I think it’s critical to listen to songs that you love the most and try to figure out what it is, that you love about it. See if the songs have something in common that makes you love them and run with that.
Sean: If you wanna be a blues guitar player, you’re gonna have to sit in your room and listen to records and play guitar. Eric Clapton listened to thousands of albums before he became what he is. He built off of something he discovered and loved. If you’ve got a MacBook and you’ve got GarageBand, you can make an album.
8mm- No Way Back
8mm- Give It Up