8MM's husband/wife duo has new school sound, old school approach A former Clevelander, multi-instrumentalist Sean Beavan is best known as a Grammy-nominated producer who's worked with acts such as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. But for the past eight years, he's also moonlighted as one half of 8MM, the trip-hop/alt-rock act that features him and his wife, model Juliette Beavan. The two have just released Between the Devil and Two Black Hearts, a carefully crafted album that combines the light industrial sound of Garbage with the trip-hop approach of Portishead. We called them at their Los Angeles home to find out how they met and to talk about their terrific new album. And how soon did the band come together?
Sean: I think it was in 2003, so it was a couple of years after that.
Juliette: I wasn't a singer. In New Orleans, I managed restaurants and then ran away with this ruffian to Los Angeles. I always wrote short stories and poems, but I thought singers were obnoxious. New Orleans is littered with musicians, and I thought it was insufferable. Sean was working on the Kill Hannah record. It was the last day in the studio, and he wanted to meet for lunch. Unbeknownst to me, by the time I got there, the A&R guy had called and wanted to put female backing vocals on some of the tracks.
Sean: I was going through my Rolodex and frantically trying to find a female vocalist who could come in on short notice, and Juliette walks in the door. I looked at her and looked at the microphone and I said, "Come here for a second." I sang her the parts I wanted her to sing and walked through the engineer room, and we pressed "record," and my engineer and I stared at each other in disbelief.
Juliette: I just hoped I didn't suck.
Sean: The natural tone of her voice is great. It's one of those voices that you can put on any microphone and it sounds great. It's just luck of the draw. It's like how some models don't look like much until you put them on camera and then you go, "Wow."
You've released music on your own label since the beginning. Are you happy doing things that way?
Sean: Definitely. We're not trying to do pop music even though our music has pop melodies, and our music could fit into anybody's collection. We're not trying to do flavor of the month. We're trying to do what we think is poignant and important. Since I work with labels all the time, I understand what they're trying to do, and at this moment it's about glossy auto-tuned pop for the mainstream. That doesn't make sense to us, so it just made sense to do it on our own. We've been fascinated by the do-it-yourself thing. It's not like I need an advance for a producer. One of the major costs of making a pro record is taken by me. That makes it much easier. We're in a position like Nine Inch Nails or Radiohead to do things independently. Right now, major labels provide marketing, and that's invaluable. One of the things for us is that early on, we got great response from music licensing. We got our songs in TV shows and movies. At that point, it didn't make sense to sign a publishing deal. It's easier to do the licensing if we have our own label. We had to figure out other ways to marketing. Juliette is a genius when it comes to social media, and we could do that fairly well ourselves.
Talk about the Kickstarter campaign you had.
Sean: It enabled our fans to operate as our record label and provide the capital to get the word out to people and do interviews and be the label. For us, it's great because we don't have a label telling us to do stuff that sounds more like Rihanna or something like that. Fans are able to get music straight from the artist. It's a neat thing, and we happen to be one of the lucky people to put out something that sounds professional and has its artistic integrity intact. It works out awesome.
What do you anticipate it will be like touring with a full band for the first time?
Sean:We just finished the West Coast dates and had [drummer] Elias [Mallin] from Ke$ha and Hollywood Undead and Kill Hannah and bassist Tim [Kelleher] who's the bassist from 30 Seconds to Mars, and they played with us on this leg. It was just amazing. It had such a great feel and works for the new record and it's so much more boisterous and has a desert Western blues vibe. Right now, we're putting together the band for the East Coast tour because Elias is going to tour with Ke$ha and Tim is going to do Rock of Ages. They're great friends, and we're lucky to make great friends.
Juliette:We've known them for years and years and they've known each other since they were ten. I'm hoping their replacements can bicker the way they did. It was oddly comforting.
What material have you been playing?
Sean: We do mostly tunes from the new record and then a couple of fan favorites from older records. We do a new remixed version of "Liar" from the Underworld Awakening soundtrack and then we do "Give It Up," too.
What inspired the new sound that you describe as Western blues?
Sean: It was playing live shows in L.A. with a band. We'd start out with our trip-hop lounge-y stuff. To make the show build and climax, we added in things that were heavier and started adding newer, heavier stuff and the end of the set became so exciting and fun.
Juliette: We were ending with a cover of PJ Harvey's "Long Snake Moan." We had so much fun doing it and that led us in this direction. Live, the audience really responded to it.
Sean: Over the course of a year, we started adding those newer songs. This record is actually a record of what we've done. Kind of like what they did in the early days of Pink Floyd when they would play the record on the road and then go into the studio and record it. That's what we were doing with this record. We'd record it and play it out and change it while we worked out what we want to do with it live. It's one of those records where you played it for people and found out what they dug. It used to be common in the late '60s and early '70s. But then the tour became the promotion for the album that was out at the moment. These days, where you're playing for the fan base and that's the main revenue stream, it makes sense to work on the live show. Records supplement that, and we can get back to that idea and seeing where things go. Inevitably, it does make for a cool record because it's a moment in time that you've shared with people. You can take that moment and try to make it on the record.
Do you guys have a favorite place in Cleveland?
Sean: There are always favorite haunts. The Phantasy is where I cut my bones as a live mixing engineer. I got to mix with NIN because I did so many shows there with Thrill Kill Kult and Revolting Cocks. I was a freelancer, and I mixed for every original live band in town. I was lucky in that I was well known and was hired by quite a few bands.