Exclusive Interview: Sean and Juliette Beavan of 8mm
This is the story of a talented and highly respected producer and sound engineer from Cleveland, Ohio, who has worked with artists such as, Nine Inch Nails, No Doubt, Slayer, Kill Hannah, MOTH, P.O.D. and others, who was working a concert with Nine Inch Nails in New Orleans one night when he spotted a Louisiana girl. The girl is pretty and the boy does not know it yet, but she also has a killer set of vocals waiting to be sprung on unsuspecting music fans worldwide. Their names are Juliette and Sean Beavan, who have been married for many years now and eight years ago formed the band 8mm (pronounced millimeter like the film). In October (2012) they released a fabulous new album Between The Devil & Two Black Hearts, also the name of the title track and it may be their best album yet.
“We met in a bar in New Orleans, of course it was a bar. Where else do you meet?” says Juliette.
Sean picks up the story from there, “It was awfully romantic. We were at this small club called Jimmy’s in New Orleans and Nine Inch Nails was doing a surprise show that was announced on the radio that morning. Only about two hundred people fit into the place.”
You soon realize the ease at which Juliette and Sean Beavan seamlessly segue into each other’s conversation and finish each other’s sentences, as they complement each other so well.
“It was so insane, there were people hanging from the rafters,” says Juliette.
Sean’s enthusiasm tips us off that he is reliving the moment and his magical storytelling plays out before you like a scene from a film. “There were so many human beings in that club it was freaking crazy. There were probably 700 people in a 200 seat club. I was mixing and I saw this girl standing at the bar and I thought Oh My God, that’s awesome.”
“I saw this cute guy running around without a shirt on and I thought, ah he thinks he is being cute. He was so cute and we really connected the minute that our eyes met. I think simultaneously, we had that, I’ve got to talk to him and I’ve got to talk to her,” she says.
“It was amazing, but I was extraordinarily busy and every single time that we tried to meet, people would pop up in front of us and we were never able to connect the entire night,” he recalls.
In unison they say, “We were physically pushed apart by the crowd.”
Sean says, “So we never got to speak that night. At the end of the whole thing I look to my right and there she is standing at the door. She looks at me and she just kind of shrugs and I shrugged and she walked away. I thought geez I will never get to see her again. I was working. There were too many people and it was just that thing. A couple of nights later, my friends came over to my house. We were about to go out onto the road and they said we are going to go out. I end up in the Quarter at Molly’s (At The Market) on Decatur Street. I’m drinking a beer and I am looking out the window thinking about her. I am thinking about the girl who got away and she walks by the front window.”
“This really happened,” says Juliette.
“She walked by the front window. I grabbed my beer, poured it into a “to go” cup and I ran out the door to try and find her. When I got out the door I didn’t see her anywhere. She was totally gone, except this girl that I know she knows, walks into me and I started to talk to her, because I figured that she would come back to get this girl (Juliette adds “To get my friend”). I start talking to her and low and behold Juliette comes up and I said hey my friends are going to…and I started thinking where is the bar that is the furthest away that we could walk to, so I said we are going to Our Bar, would you like to come along and she said sure. I said to my friends we are going to Our Bar, just follow along. By the time we got to Our Bar, it was a done deal,” he says.
Juliette joins in, “We have spoken to each other, every
“It was awesome,” says Sean.
Between The Devil & Two Black Hearts has a live feel to the music and in some ways is a bit of a departure from previous 8mm records such as Opener (2005), Songs To Love & Die By (2006) and Begin (2010).
“That was by design. The whole record was designed from having played live for a while. Our sets were developed from us playing this snakey lounge thing and for the sake of building up to a climax. We would build the set up to play the heavier, rockier songs toward the end and then we would also add in covers. Our covers were always heavier versions of songs, like PJ Harvey’s “Long Snake Moan,” The Beatles “Oh Darling,” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Jackie.” We just “heavied” them up. We had this big raucous, bluesy thing at the end of the set, which was always fun and as Juliette developed as a vocalist, she could belt out stuff more and she felt the need to wail. That was always fun. At the end of the sets we would always play a song acoustically or just Juliette and me and a guitar and we would do this back and forth banter. She and I would sing a lot together. We would sing harmonies, because I like singing harmonies, or we would sing little duets back and forth. Fans always loved it and it was a lot of fun for us. We thought for this record, we would to do a fun, live barn burner with these songs. We would let Juliette wail a little bit and incorporate it into that back and forth thing. We realize that we not only have music to offer, we have ourselves to offer and the dynamic between the two of us. We like to think of ourselves as a modern Sonny & Cher. I have always been a big fan of both of them and our sense of humor is similar, so we do that back and forth banter. We do a lot of acoustic shows here (in L.A.). It is a lot of fun and that is part of the dynamic of the two of us back and forth, singing and quips,” says Sean.
So what accounts for the magic between these two gifted artists, in the studio, on stage, in their songwriting and in their personal lives?
Juliette says, “Number one, the same things turn us on and the same things work for us. We are also good at editing each other and we are (both) happy with the end product. If we are coming at a project from different angles, we end up in the same place. We have the same goal in pretty much everything, love, life, music and art. (Sean interjects, “There isn’t a lot of drama”).
Juliette jokes that they could really use someone who is good at dusting.
Says Sean, “We look at it as though we are the same person with different genitals and that has worked out pretty well for us. We definitely are best friends and we have been best friends from the moment that we met and fell in love with each other.”
Juliette Beavan’s entrance to the music scene as a singer was just as surprising as her walking by that window in New Orleans, when Sean spotted her for the second time. “I had no idea that she could sing really. I was working on a record with Kill Hannah and it was their debut record on Atlantic Records. On the last day of production John Rubeli the A & R guy came in and said, ‘I really want female vocals on these two songs.’ This was the last day and I was getting ready to take it to Tim Palmer who was going to mix it. I went Oh My God, because I was going through my rolodex trying to find one of the girls that I know and who was available to sing. Everyone was either not available or out of town. It was just crazy and I couldn’t get hold of anyone. Right about that time Juliette showed up to drop off a sweater for me, because I’m always cold and we were going to have lunch. I was like, uhhh, come here for a second (Juliette laughs softly in the background) I dragged her into the studio in front of a microphone (Sean laughs) and I said hey why don’t you sing this for me. I’m thinking I’ll be able to make it work or whatever. I came into the studio and Critter my engineer pressed play and pressed record. She started singing and we both went Oh My God!
Juliette picks up the story, “At first I was thinking, okay he can fix it and I told the band, I’ll try. He told me what to sing and I sang the part. I thought, oh, I hope that wasn’t awful; because that was fun (they both laugh) and I just fell in love.”
Fast forward to 8mm, “Because I am always looking at my day job as a producer and a mixer, I am always trying to look at things that define bands at the moment. I definitely subscribe to the idea of a record being a record of where you are at, at the moment, and not meaning a record being a LP or whatever. It’s a recording of a historical moment and what you want to capture of course is an amazing moment. I always look in terms of things having trajectories. It is like our first full length record and our first EP, were really to define a mood. If you want to be in a sexy noire, romantic kind of a place, 8mm Songs To Live & Die By is the record that you put on. With the tone of Juliette’s voice and her vulnerability and the ethereal beauty of it, that was definitely the place to go. For Love and the Apocalypse (2010) I wanted to define more the Pop edge of the band, where we could go with Alt Pop songwriting. For me it was like trying to fulfill writing The Carpenters’ “Close To You,” (he laughs) that kind of a vibe. The whole idea behind doing that record, was I knew the next record would define the hard edge of what we do, the more raucous and raw sexy Rock. That was what we were doing live and we were going there and we wanted to get to that place,” says Sean.
Speaking about Between The Devil & Two Black Hearts, Juliette says, “It is the primal visceral edge of the band. When we were doing Love and the Apocalypse, we were both doing the things that were necessary to get to the place where we could do that record and really pull it off.”
“We were taking piano lessons and singing lessons, just to get up to speed, woodshedding as it were. We spent our time doing that and it paid off in spades. While we did it, we wrote a few songs. We wrote “The One,” first and then “The Weight Of You.” As soon as I got done writing them and recording them, we never even finished recording them, I just recorded enough, so we could start playing them live. That is why this record is so good and what the fan base wants to hear, even for as much as it is a departure, it still maintains the essence of 8mm. We played the new songs live in front of people and we got their feedback, (such as) when I do this, people go crazy. It became really big. When we did “The Weight Of You,” and the back and forth (trading verses and lines) between the two of us I remember the explosion. When we did that show for the first time at The Roxy (Theatre) the entire place of 400 people, all moved (forward) and pushed up against the stage. We had them from the first couple of notes and we knew that was the right path and that we were in the right place,” says Sean.
That energy is captured on high definition video as the “The Weight Of You,” explodes on screen during the Antiquiet Sessions.
Juliette and Sean Beavan use words like, amazing and fun to describe the Antiquiet Sessions during which time they were filmed performing several of their songs from the new album in their bedroom and yes you did read that correctly.
“There were three cameras in our bedroom with the dog on
the bed,” says Sean.
“They (the guys from the Antiquiet Sessions) are good con men, because they just talked their way into our bedroom,” says Juliette, as they both laugh.
“The performance ended up being beyond our expectations. It was one of those times when we all played together brilliantly and we captured a moment. I felt like I had my live at Carnegie Hall moment. It was my live at the film noire moment where we all just played great and because there were three other guys in the room, we were really performing. It was really, really fun. Some of those versions from that (session) are some of my favorite versions of the songs. There were eight of us, plus our dog huddled together in a small bedroom. It was pretty crazy. We just went in there and did it. There are plenty of cymbals bleeding into the microphone and stuff, but it was really fun. I don’t know if anyone has ever done something like that before. It was pretty cool,” says Sean.
“It speaks to the guys at Antiquiet, because they have an eye for what is cool. We talked about what we wanted it to look like and more like what we wanted it to feel like. We wanted the viewers to feel like they were in the room with us. We have this really unique small space so why don’t we do something cool with it and have it feel like you are in our bedroom. They created this really cool looking and feeling video,” says Juliette.
Sean and Juliette describe the album as having a dark, Americana, Blues feel to with huge Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin influences. Another influence appears to be present on the song “Everybody Says.”
“I had just gotten the Eagles greatest hits record. Someone had given it to us and it is just so great. I bet I was probably a little influenced by that,” says Sean.
Juliette acknowledges, “He was in an Eagles state of mind. There was a booklet inside this particular release that talks about their writing process and it was a really fascinating look into their creative world and how we all struggle with the same things and their very unique approach to things.”
Sean continues, “It was at the same time that we were writing and it really struck a chord with me. Glenn Frey had great things to say about the process of writing and it had quite an influence on me. I was quite inspired by it. At the same time that our friend James gave us the greatest hit record we had already formulated the idea that we were doing a, we live in Los Angeles record and we are influenced by western Blues, that slide guitar and the soundscape of the desert. The swirling winds sounds from the synthesizers that we were using on the record evoked the idea that you are an hour outside of Los Angeles and you are driving in the desert (Juliette adds “It is living in the southwest”). It is the southwest and that kind of an idea. The Eagles are so quintessential California and there are definite things from that I wanted to capture. The idea of the guitar as a third voice for the band became really important. The Eagles have these great vocal voices and then they have these great guitar voices. I love the tradeoff as to how they utilize that and we were doing the same idea on this record, where if it is not my voice or Juliette’s voice, it is the slide guitar taking that voice. Luckily enough for me, because my idea was to do this desert Blues thing, when I started playing with the alternate tunings and started playing with the slide, I felt a voice happen on the slide guitar that I hadn’t felt before. It felt totally natural and it felt like an extension of me. That became another thing that was inspired on the record. I think you are right on the money with The Eagles thing, because it definitely had a voice in there.”
The album opens with the title song “Between The Devil & Two Black Hearts,” says Sean, “because it is so accessible and so ready for people to sing along. You don’t write a song with na na’s in it, unless you want people to freakin’ stomp, clap and sing along. It is an invitation to come along. We wanted it to be a first listen to get it (Juliette agrees). Everything else that we do has layers in it, lyrically. When you first hear one of our songs, you get what the character is doing and where the story is going. Upon subsequent listens you get more of the universal aspects of what it is about and then you can expand it and make it go on to some aspect of your life as well. It evolves over the listens. On this record, we wanted you to know the song on the first listen and to be ready to sing on the second chorus.”
About their songwriting, Sean says, “I am more of a confessional writer, but it is very philosophical. Juliette is a storyteller. She writes not from a confessional aspect, but she is more like a character in a story. The things that interest her are always the pivotal moments, the moment right before you walk out the door and things will never be the same.
Juliette says, “Most of the time when I am writing things, I see a scene and what I am writing is like a scene, a moment in a movie. It is very cinematic. On this record in particular I found that the more we listened to the songs, days later it would hit me, what it was about, where it actually came from and what manifested it.”
While they will not disclose what meanings their songs have for them, preferring to add a touch of mystery and to allow enough breadth for the listener to interpret them through the lenses of their own lives, Sean says, “The songs definitely have meanings for us and it is funny how when I was working on a song like “Glimmering,” we had it in our heads, we talked about it and then we wrote our lyrics accordingly then we went oh that’s a beautiful image. It really emotionally struck the chord that we wanted to get. Most of the time with a song, we are looking to make an emotion happen within the listener and in ourselves, to express an emotional thing. When it happens like that, especially with “Glimmering,” we get through it and go this is great, and then when you go back to it and it makes you cry, because you realize why exactly you wrote it. You realize exactly what it means to you personally. You experience it like the listener in a way and you go Holy God, man that’s amazing.”
Juliette describes it as, “It’s like stepping back from a painting. You know where you are going and you are digging the colors. You know what is going to happen, but when you come back and look at it you go Oh (surprise in her voice) that’s it.”
“It has one meaning while you are writing it and you are getting the metaphor and all of a sudden you realize the deeper reason why you wrote it. Like most good art, hopefully you open yourself up and the universe speaks through you. That’s the idea and we had a couple of interesting moments like that on this record. It’s like FedEx, you have to be there to receive it (the idea) or it is going to go to someone else,” says Sean.
We are glad that Sean and Juliette Beavan were open to the message that the universe was sending them on the songs we listen to from Between The Devil & Two Black Hearts, because this is a very good album, created by two gifted artists.
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CD cover photo by: Andrew Furnevel; Graphic Design by Pam Hendrix.
Interview by Joe Montague
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