If anyone would have told me four years ago that not only would I still be writing Daily Duranie, but that I would interview the owner of a record label, I would have told them they were crazy. Life has a funny way of working out, and there aren’t many better examples than that of Paul Beahan, self-proclaimed fan of Duran Duran, and the man behind Manimal Records.
After listening to most of the released cuts from ‘Making Patterns Rhyme’ over the past several months, I really wanted to interview Paul for the blog. I worked up enough nerve to ask, and was lucky enough to have him enthusiastically agree. I had done some research prior to the interview, and one thing became crystal clear almost immediately: I am not cool enough to be interviewing Paul. I bit my nails and worried as I punched the numbers to dial him for our chat by phone a few weeks ago. In hindsight, if every interview could be as comfortable and easy as this one, I would probably stop being so nervous.
Like many of us, Paul grew up as a DD fan. He openly admits that his older sister, Shelly, was the driving force behind his fandom as it began in San Diego, California. We at Daily Duranie (since we’re totally in favor of converting siblings, husband, children, and so on), applaud her success. I picture a young Shelly quizzing an even younger Paul on the band members or playing the first album for him back when they were practically babies… who knew it would all end up like this??
For the uninitiated, Paul Beahan might not be a household name just yet. Having already made a name for himself in the fashion world as a stylist, he’s taking on music with his indie-label Manimal. I had to ask how he got involved in fashion, and subsequently the music industry.
He begins, “…I went from playing music to going to school and living in LA from San Diego, and kind of out of desperation, I just started getting work. I was working at high-end designer retail stores when I was in my late teens and early twenties just to try to kind of help pay my way through school. I became friendly with Rachel Zoe in my early, early twenties. I was basically desperate to escape the retail world, so I just hit her up and said, ‘Hey, if you need an assistant, call me.’ I started assisting her and a few other stylists, and after a year or so I kind of realized I could do it on my own. I kind of was just able to play that character [a stylist]. It’s really funny…as a child of the 80s, Duran Duran were a big part of that inspiration…they basically taught me about fashion as a kid. I wouldn’t have known who Vivienne Westwood was without them.”
This last comment of course, makes sense to me, because let’s face it, I still really don’t know Vivienne Westwood. I know that I probably should, and I do at least recognize the name, but otherwise? I fail miserably as a student of Taylor, Taylor, LeBon, Rhodes when it comes to fashion. Pondering, I decide that this is probably not something I should share with Paul. As these thoughts roll through my subconscious, Paul continues. “So, kind of out of desperation, that’s kind of how I got involved being in fashion – I was able to play a character for a really long time. That was like, ‘The Stylist’, and I had a very lucrative and successful career. By about 2006, I got a little bit…I knew I needed something to keep my sanity going, which was back to my original passion of music, and I had enough money at the time to self-fund a record label, and I did that in 2006 and got really lucky. The second record we put out was Bat for Lashes’ first album and it was a massive success. It sold a quarter of a million copies.”
Talk about hard work and luck. If I learn nothing else from this and the other interviews I’ve done lately, it’s that hard work and passion count for nearly everything. I mention this to Paul, and wonder aloud if being a stylist is as hard as I think it must.
He formulates an answer rather quickly, “To anyone who works a labor job, those guys know hard work, but from a mental stress level…I guess that phrase ‘there’s too many cooks in the kitchen’? I feel like, obviously that comes from the culinary world, but I feel like in the fashion world it applies too. As a stylist you’re not just trying to please the photographer or the client, you’re trying to please the art director, the producer…the photographer and their crew. You’re like the first one to show up and the last one to leave, and if anything goes wrong, even if it doesn’t involve clothing, you’re kind of the one that still gets the blame for it? It’s what I call a ‘headfuck’.” He chuckles, “I did it for eleven years and got out of it…it was a big sacrifice having to give up that money. To just solely focus on Manimal, I had to turn [it] into more than just a record label. That’s kind of what we are now, we’re a full-service music company now.”
Work ethic matters, and Paul seems to be the type of person that always has to be moving and challenged. Owning your own record label definitely has the potential to be an overachiever in those areas, so I ask about the size of Manimal and how many artists they have currently have on their roster.
“Currently active artists…we have about twelve…it definitely keeps us busy. I mean, our PR roster, which are artists that other companies have hired us to do publicity for them, I mean, that’s about 30-40 extra artists, but as far as the label goes, it’s a good blow to have about twelve. We’ve released almost 60 records over the last almost eight years, and you know, it just depends on if the artist is active or not. Some artists just put out these great records and we just try to get them out there and get attention; but there are very few artists that actually go out there and tour and are constantly and consistently making videos and doing cool stuff. Those are the ones that require more attention, or deserve the most attention…I would say you can figure if you do the math, that of twelve active artists you are lucky if you have three [that are really active]. So twelve sounds like more than it actually is.”
This launches us into a deeper discussion of work ethic. I mention that I’ve done some limited work with newer bands, and the whole “work ethic” thing tends to be a little lacking. I’ve seen bands…I won’t even bother naming them because they’re no longer around, sit back and say, “Ok, I opened for Duran Duran and so I’m done now. Where are my fans?” It just doesn’t work that way. That’s just the beginning. Paul agrees, chuckling, “Yeah, it’s [work ethic] rarely ever there. The reason why Duran Duran are who they are, and U2 are who they are, is because of work ethic. They worked their asses off. Duran Duran had to work their asses off for about five years before they ever probably got a decent check. U2 as well. Five or six years before they ever got that first six-digit check to go buy whatever they want.”
So about that crazy band we all know and love…how did Paul get them on board with the tribute album? Paul recalls, “Well, he [John Taylor] first got involved with Manimal when we were doing the David Bowie tribute, which Duran Duran did ‘Boys Keep Swinging’. That was our first involvement. We’d kind of known each other through the fashion world, through his wife. Then I’d say we started working on the Bowie tribute together and we curated the John Frusciante record, called , which John Taylor played bass on. That was…the second thing we’d done together. And then I’d thrown out to him a couple of times over back in 2011 that one day we’re going to do a Duran Duran tribute record, and he kind of shrugged it off without thinking that I was serious.”
Paul continues, “Then by the end of 2012, I said, ‘Hey, by the way, make me a list of all the artists you’d like to hear cover your songs, and try to get the band to send me over the same thing too.’ Paul explains. “So he sent me over an email that had the band’s choices, it was definitely an air of ‘Go big or go home’,” Paul pauses and chuckles. “Which is amazing. John’s seemed to get the concept. He was more like, ‘How about talking to Lykke Li,or talking to Moby?’ or ‘the bands you’ve already been involved with like Warpaint’… So, since he is a friend and he’s been more involved with Manimal, he gets where I’m coming from on a musical level. So yeah, I would say that’s how it all started coming together. It hasn’t been day-to-day involvement but he’s definitely heard some of the tracks and gave me his feedback, which I would say 90% was all positive.”
As much as it is plain to see that Paul wanted the band to be involved on some level and approve, fans should appreciate that he still has a “devil may care” attitude when necessary. This is no puppet for Duran Duran. He is a fan of this band, and he cares about what the band thinks, but ultimately Manimal is his business. It’s no secret that many fans do not hold a terribly high appreciation for some of the musical choices on Manimal’s tribute album, but the album isn’t about attracting old fans to songs they’ve already heard. This is about attracting new fans to music that is popular to the Indie-music loving crowd amongst the current generation. Fans should not fault Manimal for trying to bring a new generation a little closer to music written by a band from our own.
Paul assures that John Taylor was definitely involved on a creative level, but that the final decisions rest with him. “…I mean, like everything that the public is hearing is something that had to get at least half of a thumbs up from him. The thing was going to happen regardless, even if the band said no. I was going to do it regardless. I made it very clear, saying ‘I’m doing this anyway, whether I have your involvement or not’…
I smile as I envision the conversation, but it’s very clear even from just looking at Duran Duran’s website or their Facebook and Twitter over the past several months that they fully support the project, which is nice to see.
We talk more about the tribute album and how it all came together. Why did Paul choose Duran Duran after doing successful tribute albums for Madonna and David Bowie? Paul begins, “Well, I was reluctant at first because you know, the few Duran Duran tributes I’d heard in the past I thought were a bit cartoonish. So it took me a couple of years to brainstorm and start thinking of artists who would do the songs justice, but would also keep their own signature on the songs and get down to the bare musicality of the track. A great example – the last thing I wanted to hear or have on that record would be like some guy or girl doing a sassy, sexy acoustic cover of ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’. That was what I did not want it to be because that’s what a lot of people think about a Duran Duran tribute. That may be the first thing that comes to mind. …A lot of these artists didn’t even hear any of these tracks. Like, the Canadian electronic group, Austra, were only familiar with the hits, but the idea for me was like these guys would be perfect to do ‘American Science’. You know, most people don’t know that track. So I sent it over to them. I sent them over that, plus a couple of other choices, but I was really pushing for American Science. The idea was to basically not have the hits covered. So, it took me a couple of years to get the idea, to get the manifesto written, so that I could approach these individual artists with this idea. Of course, to run it by the band, run it by their management just to make sure that they get the idea. The last thing I want it to be is snarky, or cheesy, or cartoony. I want it to be moody and dark.”
Paul has no difficulty explaining the process, “I think the first emails I started sending out to artists about this record was exactly two years ago. I guess we started sending out the manifesto two years ago, we started getting some feedback about a year and a half ago, and then we’ve been compiling the recordings and getting the recording sessions done, that started one year ago. I think that was actually the summer of 2013 is when we got Warpaint’s track and Belief’s track and you know of course everything had to be mixed and mastered and coordinated, curated, put into a track list…I mean the track listing is still like coming together right now.” Manimal has been leaking songs online using Twitter since last May, but I ask what else they might plan to do for promotion. Unfortunately, there’s no way to really get the entire band and even some of the artists on the album together for any sort of a release party, but Manimal plans to do press and do some giveaways with the physical releases, coming a little later down the line.
Our conversation steers back towards Duran, more specifically the new album. I asked about John Frusciante and his involvement on the album. How did that happen? Lucky for me, Paul Beahan was just the person to ask, since he was instrumental in bringing the two (John Frusciante and Duran Duran) together.
“So Swahili Blonde, which is John Frusciante and his wife’s project. It’s straight-up spaced-out disco funk. When we were working together, coordinating the Bowie tribute at the time, I’d mentioned to John Frusciante’s wife that Duran Duran had just confirmed the Bowie tribute. Nicole Frusciante kind of mentioned it to her husband in the background. I heard Frusciante in the background going, ‘No fucking way!’ and he kind of grabbed the phone from her and he was like ‘I love Duran Duran and Rio is one of my favorite records. Do you know John? He’s like my favorite bass player.’ and I said, ‘Yeah’. He was like, ‘Rio is so amazing!’ and went completely off the hook about it. I said [To John Frusciante] ‘I should put you two in touch, maybe you could collaborate on something.’ The next day Nicole called me and said, ‘Hey do you know if John Taylor would be down for playing bass on that track on the Swahili Blonde record?’ and I said, ‘Let me put you guys in touch.’ The next day he [JT] came down to their home studio and recorded ‘Tigeress Ritual’. That was way back in 2010. Funny enough, fast forward to November 2013 and I was hanging out in London with John Taylor. We’re catching up, and he kind of brings up that thing. [Swahili Blonde] ‘Hey, um, I think maybe Frusciante…maybe he can play guitar on a track, can you put us back in touch?’ So I did, and literally a week later John Taylor calls me and says, ‘Hey, this is what John Frusciante has done so far.’ He plays me some stuff over the phone that was completely tripped out. So good. Unlike anything that has ever come off of a Duran Duran record in the past. So there’s obviously a lot of musical admiration between the two. It was supposed to be a big secret, and then Frusciante did an interview with a Japanese guitar magazine and just basically let the cat out of the bag.”
I chuckle here because I definitely didn’t see the album going that way, but then, fans never know exactly what to expect from new Duran Duran albums. It’s always a surprise, and, in this case, fans ended up with the surprise before the band intended, thanks to the internet and Google Alerts. Paul continues, “Well, there’s a lot of parallels between the Chili Peppers and Duran Duran. There’s, I mean in my opinion there’s a lot because the Chili Peppers you know, they came out of the LA Punk scene but they were doing something really different. They were infusing it with funk.”
I’m not a huge RHCP fan by any means, but having grown up in LA, it was nearly impossible to miss their entrance into the music scene. They were homegrown, and independent/college radio stations were never afraid to play them. Something clicks in my brain as I begin to absorb what Paul is saying, and he goes on.
“…Funkadelic, or like Sly in the Family Stone funk music, set them apart from the other kind of boneheaded LA punk bands. You know a lot of their lyrics are still questionably boneheaded, especially with their early material. I always thought there was a weird parallel, especially with Flea’s bass playing, some of the guitar parts, that was a big parallel with Notorious.”
Paul finishes with a flourish, “John Taylor got to know Frusciante a bit, and Frusciante started mentioning how much of Notorious was an influence on him and his playing style. Go listen to some stuff on Notorious and maybe even some stuff on SATRT and then go listen to…I think it’s the third Chili Peppers record. I’m definitely not a Chili Peppers fan but I’m familiar with their stuff.”
At this point, I’m pretty sure I audibly gasped. I am familiar enough with Chili Peppers, and even without listening, I could hear the parallels in my head. My mind was blown by the thought. It never occurred to me that there could really BE parallels between the bands, and while I am certain I’m not the only Duranie out there that replied with shock when I read the news about John Frusciante being included on the Duran album, I was a little relieved when I considered what Paul was saying and realized that he had a point. The two bands do have a history in punk (albeit two very different forms), and both love funk – they’ve fused the two in different ways, but at the core of it all, is it really all that different? I will pass on Paul’s suggestion: Take a good listen to Uplift Mofo Party Plan alongside Notorious and see what you think. I don’t think it’s all that difficult to hear the similarities…unlike some of the more precarious pairings the band has attempted in the past. I mention as much to Paul as we talk briefly about Red Carpet Massacre.
Paul shocks me by immediately saying, “There’s, I think, there’s about four solid tracks on that record at the most.”
I smile, not so much because I agree, but because it is nice to feel understood so easily. It feels comfortable to have a conversation about the music with a fellow fan.
Elaborating, Paul says, “I thought it was a terrible mistake for them to work with Timbaland… he’s such a big signature producer that I knew that their song would be lost among his reflection. I think ‘The Valley’, and like ‘Zoom-In’…I love that track. But like some of the other songs, it just sounds like Simon’s doing guest vocals on a Timbaland song.” Paul is saying things that continue to be debated amongst fans to this day. That said, I have to wonder, how does it feel to be close to John Taylor, or to the band, and have the subject come up?
“No, I’m very vocal about it.” Paul begins. “He agrees with me usually. He was quite surprised, I mean it was funny too…because I thought that he would find it a big shock when I told him that Side B of Big Thing was genius. I said that side B of Big Thing is probably one of your brightest moments as a musician. I thought he’d be surprised when I told him that and he was like ‘No, everyone always tells me that.’ And I was like ‘Oh really?’ Paul laughs and explains further, “It’s always producers and it’s always musicians. It’s never like, that many fans. It’s always like music industry people that go, ‘Oh my God, side two is insane.’ Paul pauses as I interrupt, eager to tell him that it was only in my adulthood that I really “got” the B Side. He agrees, “Yeah. ‘Do You Believe In Shame’, ‘Palomino’ and ‘Land’. Next to each other?” Continuing, he says, “It’s one of those things that time is treating better than it was when it came out. I remember taking a bus to a record store to buy that on vinyl when it came out in November 1988, being so excited, but at the same time the cover threw me off because there was no pictures of them. It was just these Stephen Sprouse-looking letters.”
We chat a bit more about the look of Duran’s albums, agreeing that a lot of their very best work doesn’t even have the band’s photos on them, much to the dismay of many fans. I wonder though, does Paul still call himself a fan? Can one be a fan when they’re good friends with a particular band member, or even worked with band before?
With this, Paul has absolutely no issue. “Yeah, for sure. (laughs) I still…I still make Spotify mixtapes.” I make a mental note to immediately find his personal Spotify following our interview and follow him because this is a man who has great taste in music. He continues, “Yeah, I made one in chronological order of my personal favorites. I did that and it’s on Spotify, my personal account. To this day I still bug Wendy and John about when there’s going to be a cohesive box set that has all the early early early demos with the different singers.” I silently applaud him and let him keep talking. “I even went as far as to talk about what was supposed to be their fourth album before they broke up…when they were demoing tracks, you know. Some of those songs became Arcadia songs or Power Station songs. I knew there were some parallels in there.”
Suddenly, I can’t help myself. I immediately blurt out that I wish we could hear their unreleased stuff. You know, the stuff that somehow made it down to the bottom of their “junk drawer” in the studio. I can’t help it. I want to hear it all and have the full story. Paul agrees, “We will. There’s gotta be. They’ve gotta put out those. I mean, there’s all those demos with Stephen Duffy. A lot of the songs are re-recorded as Devils, but those were tapes from early, early Duran Duran sessions.”
I’m gleefully thinking about the countless albums worth of material that have got to be hiding somewhere in Nick’s house…Oh, to be a fly on the wall… but we’ve completely gotten off topic, and thankfully one of us remembers the question that started us down this path.
Thoughtfully, Paul gives a final answer, “No, I’m definitely a fan. I can say I have to hold back sometimes when I’m around them where I have to kind of like pretend like I’m not such a fan just to kind of… so they don’t think I’m a psycho but…what’s hilarious though is that I can say that I can go toe-to-toe with the biggest, craziest Duran Duran fans. The only time I quit paying attention to them was…I mean even when I was into hardcore punk I still paid attention. I still listened to that covers album.” Paul laughs, “I’m very transparent about that. I told John my opinion on it and he stands firmly that it was a fun record to make. But like Medazzaland and Pop Trash? That’s the period of time when I stopped paying attention.”
Amanda and I are still fascinated by the answers we get to the not-so-simple question of whether or not you can still be a fan when you’re famous or know the band personally. The answers vary as much as the personalities of the people we ask. Paul though, he embraces his fandom, and it is very apparent that even today, he loves this band. This is a man who knows his DD trivia and is not afraid to use it…most of the time.
“Even when I hold back on the trivia, because sometimes he [JT] has mentioned in the past – ‘When did that record come out?’ and I’m like, ‘uh…October 30, 1983??’ (laughs) I’ll stop myself and be like, ‘I don’t know, like late 1983 or something? I don’t know…’”
Speaking of “fan” stuff, I begin the final drill sequence of our interview, beginning with favorite Duran song. He responds as I would expect…with anguish over choosing one.
“Just one song?”, he asks.
I clarify, “Yeah, just pick one. If you can’t, then give me what you…” I’m interrupted by a guttural groaning on the phone, which naturally makes me grin…because I too, know this pain of choosing one song.
“Oh Gooodddd…..of all time or just at this moment?”
I start to chuckle and answer, “Yeah, just at this moment.”
With a pause and then a sense of clarity, Paul answers, “At this moment, right now, if I could put on one Duran Duran song, I would say ‘Sound of Thunder’. I drive all my friends nuts with that song.”
We move on to favorite album. This seems easier.
“Mmmmm…the first one.”
Not able to stop with my editorial comments, I say, “Yeah, mine too. Do you have a favorite video?”
“Hmm. The Chauffeur.” Paul says definitively.
I ask, “Do you have a favorite producer that they’ve ever worked with?”
He thinks and responds thoughtfully, “….as much as I worship Nile Rodgers, I’d have to say that Colin Thurston was the man who made that sound. If anybody else would have produced those first two records, I don’t think they would have the sound that they have. …It’s funny because Alex Sadkin, he did Seven and the Ragged Tiger and the Arcadia record. I find his production on SATRT really muddy, but if you listen to the production on the Arcadia record…so big and so huge, so incredible.”
This intrigues me since Amanda and I had just finished reviewing SATRT for the blog, and the one comment we made over and over again is that the music has a lot going on – so many different layers – and it’s very difficult to discern one instrument over another. “Muddy” is a very good characterization of the sound. He continues, “Yeah, and there’s a lot going on [with] those Arcadia songs, but it’s still sparse enough where you can decipher all of the instruments, where SATRT is one big stream of sound with vocals. It’s interesting.”
I finish our interview with a final question – how many shows he has attended.
“’87 San Diego, ’89 San Diego, ’94 San Diego, ’95 or 96 San Diego, and then…and then oh God…Santa Barbara Bowl 2003, and then the Mayan Theater -the David Lynch show,” Paul recalls with perfect memory.
He hasn’t attended nearly as many as I would have guessed, but he remembers each show with clarity, much more so than I could have done myself. Perhaps there’s something to the adage of “quality, not quantity”. I thank Paul for his generosity with his time and willingness to share, and hang up the phone so that I can head to the garage in search our copy of Uplift Mofo Party Plan. I have some listening to do…