INTERVIEW WITH JEAN BEAUVOIR
It was not planned at all but I got a last minute offer to co-interview Jean Beauvoir on his promotional visit to Madrid, so I joined Jesús, Juan Carlos and Mariano, from Radio Vallekas and Alianza fanzine and off we went to meet Mr. Beauvoir. Here's what he told us:
Mariano: You seem to keep yourself quite busy, Crown Of Thorns, your solo albums, your collaborations as a songwriter, producer duties, etc. How can you keep up with so many things?
No sleep! (LOL) Nah, you know? I'm kind of a workaholic, so I try to keep busy as much as I can. I don't have any other hobbies like movies or such so as soon as I've finished one record I go "hmmm, what can I do next?" So I may write for other people or make another record... you get the idea.
Jesús: What have changed along your career from your origins with Plasmatics to let's say your more melodic albums like your last solo album and this brand new "Karma" by Crown Of Thorns?
Well, let's see... I think you try to find yourself you know? I mean I started with The Plasmatics, but before that I was doing other things, you know, I started at 14 doing quite different things, just trying to learn music. And I think it was great at the time because those guys I played with at the very beginning never rehearsed, they just put the band together and play so it was jsut learning to play. Plasmatics came out of nowhere. You know I was in NYC downtown, I was playing in anther punk band, my mind was opened, you know, what do I wanna do? Then I came accross Plasmatics and found them great, very interesting. I saw them for the first time at CBGB's, I opened for them and then they were looking for a bass player. And I found it interesting, you know I've always been kind of a rebel, you know. I grew up on a neighbourhood where everybody was white and I liked rock music but I wasn't supossed to like rock music! You know I was always like "where am I supossed to be?" So Plasmatics was really the first band that made me feel like at home. The band didn't start out like bands do now, four guys sticking posters, walking around the streets of NYC at 2 am wearing hats onyou know? Everything we did ourselves, we created the band from the very beginning and then we grew and grew and I watched the band became really big, it was a lot of work behind that Then after that I didn't like where the music was going, the manager wanted the band to sound like Judas Priest, and I thought that it lost the "special thing". Now you've got an original band with something special and you want it to copy someone else, so I left. And then from there I met Little Steven, you know he was from another different background, he was very musical, he saw me, no record company wanted to sign me, a guy from the Plasmatics, and he listened to me and said "why don't you work with me a little while?" And that combinations between Plasmatics and Bruce Springsteen and something in between, you know I didn't know where would it even come out. And then from there I did solo albums, with elements I've always kept, I always liked heavy guitars, but I had a musical side, and I think it progressed at time passed on I love the energy the power of punky music, but I always tried to add a musical side and add to it in combination. And the first Crown Of Thorns album was something like that, four guys that were a bit like me. We were all black guys who wanted to play rock, but never really had a chance. Then we met each other and said"hey I think we got something in common!". And that's how it all started. Then from there the band didn't last we didn't have any chance, everything went to grundge, etc. and we started making albums, they called us from Japan, UK and Europe still to release that album, cause it was never going to be released, it was gonna be thrown in the garbage (laughs)...
Yeah, this album there [picking COT's debut] was first signed to Interscope in the US, but then grundge came, and they decided it as not a good idea release an album froma genre it was already dying. But they were nice about it, they called me, explained it to me and said what do yu wanna do with that album? Still wanna release it and see how it comes or? and I said ok forget it. And then N&T came and said we wanna release it, so it was. From there we continued to release Crown Of Thorns records untill now. The style has changed a bit here and there because there're so many different influences and at the same time I produced other people, I write for other people to get other sides of me out.
Mariano: One thing I think you've always kept is your attitude, and that's something I miss in most of the new bands, they are very talented often, but lack of the attitude. And that's something you've always had. Maybe because of your origins as a punk rocker.
Yeah, that's all I know!
Jesús: There's a song in the first COT album, "Winterland", how was working with Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons? And why the name Crown Of Thorns?
You know, Kiss was a band I always liked, I think they were one of the main reasons I wanted to play music on the first place. I grew up in Long Island, NY. My father used to go to work everyday at 5 o'clock in the morning, took a train to Manhattan and all that. I saw him and thought: "I don't wanna do this". (Laughs) And I saw Kiss on tv jumping around the stage and such and I said: "This is what I wanna do". Of course my parents thought I was crazy. They saw the posters and said, "You're not gonna do this, you'll end up playing, you know in the subway". (Laughs) "So get a real job!" I mean, Paul and I became friends way before COT. I wrote songs on two of their albums, Animalize and Assylum, and then we became friends, so we had a relationship before. So when I decided to put COT together, Paul was a good friend of mine so I just called him and said "I got this idea" and he called Tony Thompson and Micki Free and we think on putting the band together and he said "good idea" so he liked the idea. And Micki Free, the original guitar player was good friends with Gene Simmons. So he called Gene. Then of course Gene called all together and we had a meeting. And that's how it all went, it was exciting, I thought we've got the Kiss guys, and Beau Hill, and all the people, and sometimes whe you have too many "chiefs" or too many "big names" involved egos might get in the way, even though I think we made a great record, but it got a little confusing. Beau Hill wanted it to be his album, and everybody wanted it to be "their" album, you know? At the time we were looking for a name Paul and me had been thinking some names and then he came with the name Crown Of Thorns. But it was a good feeling, the whole way the record was made, cause the Kiss guys are really perfectionist, and they allowed us to make the record in the right way, in the right studio, with the right things, the right way. But it was a good thing and very exciting.
Jorge: Did you actually get the record deal with Interscope through Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons?
No, actually, the deal came through Little Steven. I had just moved to L.A. and Steven had talked with Jimmy Iovine from Interscope, and I got a phone call from Jimmy and said: "Jean I heard you wanna make a record" and at the time I have made solo records and I was in the mood to be in a band, you know. With the solo records I felt alone after a while, after two albums I felt I wanna be part of something. And at that point I called Paul and said "I got a deal" and Paul and Gene Got involved, but I had the record deal already.
Jorge: And it was a big deal for the time I think, about one million dollars I've read somewhere...
They made it bigger ha ha! I had an offer for a solo thing and then Paul and Gene said: "wait a minute! Let's do this and that and that" and it came bigger, and biger and bigger... To the point it never came out! (Laughs)
Jorge: Was it your first bad experience with a record not being released?
No, actually, it was Voodoo X, the first record came out but the second record, the label got some problems because it was an expensive project, you know and then it never happened.
So there was never a Voodoo X "The Awakening: Part II"?
Jorge: We've got a sayin in Spain, "No seconds parts were good". So maybe that's why...
Maybe! That's right (Laughs) But you never know, maybe some day there'll be a second part.
Jesús: Many people think your Voodoo X album, with Tom Lafferty was a turning point in your career from your previous work with The Plasmatics towards your latter work with Crown Of Thorns. So to say it was your first simpthoms of melodic rock.
Hmmm... I wouldn't say that, Tommy was involved on my first solo album, you know, from the very beginning, but he played guitar on two songs. Let me see then Voodoo X...
Mariano: He was playing in From The Fire?
Yeah, From The Fire, that's right. I produced that album. I don't think Tommy had that much of an influence on the record as he didn't really write any songs, on the Voodoo X album I mean. But he's always been a very good friend, you know? So whenever I come to place I've always wanted him. I remember when I got my first solo deal, he was driving a taxi in New York, you know we had played together when I was 14 and we've always been really close. He was a jazz player when I first met him, and then I gave him my first Les Paul, and said him: "You need to start playing rock!" and he got into it. So as soon as I got my first solo deal I called him and said: "Quit your job, I got a deal!". So we went to England to make the record. So Tommy and I have always been close, I've always kept him involved. But I don't know if he was that much of an influence... Well, everybody's an influence, everybody, no matter what they do, maybe someone do this [taps on the table] you know, as soon as the get around me, maybe they have some influence.
Mariano: The only remaining original member in COT, besides you of course, is bassist Michael Paige. Did you work with him before or was COT's debut album the first time you worked together?
It was the first time.
Mariano: And why is he the only one that continues with you?
(Laughs)You know, I think when everything went wrong with Interscope, when we knew the record wasn't coming out, everybody was upset. The whole thing just fell appart. Tony Thompson was expecting some big big things, you know? And he said, ok, another album that's not coming out. So he went on to work with Powerstation then they made another album. We're still in good terms you know, I was with Tony Thompson last month in L.A. We are still good friends, but he just felt like I dont feel like go to work with the next album to England, you know, tour England, you know, small bus and all that... I don't wanna do this. I wanna be in the south of France with Powerstation.(Laughs) Hanging out on the beach. So, that was the deal with Tony Thompson. Micki and I, we continued together for a long time, but then after a while there were some little "things" you know, which happens in bands, little complications, you know and began to not get along so well. So finally he quit the band, he didn't get along with anybody in the band, Michael was having problems with him, I was having problems with him, the whole crew was having problems with him, because we felt his ego was getting a little bit out of control, (laughs) so it didn't work out. With Michael it always got very cool, so we stayed in the whole thing, of course, as soon as Micki was gone, my first idea was Tommy [Lafferty], ha ha, so I called him and said: "We're going on tour with Bon Jovi in three weeks, get your guitar we're gonna start rehearsing inmediately!" And he got in the band.
Juan Carlos: The song on your new album, "My Sweet Lord", is kinda tribute to George Harrison or did you already plan to put it on the record?
It was before he died. Because, you know, the album was finished I think some six to seven months before released. So we got that song and then it happened. Which I found strange in a way, because with that song we wanted to pay tribute to a great artist, but I didn't know yet, and then he died. Same thing happened with the Bare To The Bones album, I did "California Dreaming" from The Mamas & The Papas, he died also in the time but it wasn't something I did, it happened [the song being recorded on the album] before.
Jorge: So no more covers!!! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Yeah you're right, no more covers! and when I think of it it's strange actually, twice in a row.
Jorge: According to my notes, on your first solo album, you got your brother playing keyboards, and on your second solo album, your sister also sang some backing vocals...
That's right! How do you know that? [Takes a look at my notes] Amazing! (Laughs)
Jorge: But you said befor you didn't come from a musical background on your family...
My brother played form the beginning, he started before I did. He was a bass player. My sister, not at all, she went completely the other way, she went to school in France, very smart, she left at 15 to go to University, she finished high school two years early... (Laughs) Really smart little girl. So she got into computers, all kind of things, and then now, about four years ago, she decided to stop everything to start singing. So now she's singing. But I guess my family was kind of musical in a way but my parents just didn't believe in music as a career. You know, they come from Haiti, where now The Fugees, who come from Haiti are famous, before them, nobody from Haiti ever made money playing music (laughs), you know so, to them it was the career of death. He he.
Jesús: Since your COT debut in 1994, the band has released a new album every two years. Many fans think you release one great record and then one not so great record. I mean, Crown Of Thorns, great album, Breakthrough, good but not as good, Lost Cathedral, again great record, Destiny Unknown, so and so, and then Karma again a great album.
Somebody said something like that to me before. It's like the odds numbers in Star Trek , which people consider way better than the even numbers, ha ha. I don't know, you do what you do, you do the best you can, maybe when you make a record like Breakthrough, we were in a different place. I think this is one time, when we made Breakthrough, where we were starting to wonder, maybe we're working on different things, different influences, you know. And then with Lost Cathedral, i was like kinda getting everybody back on the horse. Destiny Unknown... I mean I like Destiny Unknown, but it's a little different musically. Maybe in a small way, no matter what you do, you get some influences from around, I thing at the time of Destiny we got the whole Kid Rock thing all over around, and at the same time we were asked for songs for films, in Destiny had two songs on films, one on a film called "Bel Air Bitch Project" and another one on "The Guilty". It's interesting to have your songs on films, you find yourself hearing the album, in that direction but maybe, keep a little bit of this... So films were an interesting thing, and then with this last record I didn't had to think about films, I didn't had to think about anything, just let me see what comes.
Mariano: Your collaboration with Doro have been mutual, as you collaborated on the latest Doro album and then she collaborated on your record.
That was interesting. I've known her for many years, not very well, but I first met her in a concert in Germany ten years ago. I thought she was cool, you know, one of the last female rockers, and very talented. And last year she was touring Germany and she asked me to go onstage and play a song with her. And we talked and talked, she also knew the Kiss guys and we had so many stories in common. So we decided it would be great to do some things together, so she called me i went to the studio and we did some songs with the band. Besides COT I've been doing a lot of pop productions in Germany, something that I don't really like that much, you know, spending more time trying to get a voice to be in tune (laughs), than to actually come up with the songs. You know the labels, they started bothering me with things like: "I've got a singer, she can't sing, but we're signing her, for all this money... Produce her, make her sound good!". So it was really refreshing going into a reahersing studio, with a band all playing togheter and then maybe the guitar did something and I go "Hey, I think we've got a song!", it felt really like the old days. So we wrote two songs from there, and then I asked her to do "Shed No Tear", which was one song I had originally wrote for her, and she thought on the beginning it might be too soft for her record. So I kept it and asked her to sing on it. Then she loved it and was like "I wish it was on my album!" Ha ha.
Jesús: You have produced the last COT albums and you also have produced a lot of albums by other people. How much of an influence as a producer has been Max Norman to you?
I learn something from everyone, you know? There's always something to learn from everyone. Yeah you're right, Max has been very good, the first time I came in contact with him was for Voodoo X. I was looking for somebody, I didn't want to produce the album myself, even though I had produced my solo albums, I wanted someone different to do it this time. I was actually listened to diffeent records, by different guys, trying to find the guy who could get the best sound. I wasn't so concerned about music in itself, but to get the best sound. Till I came accross one of his work, so I contacted him and asked him to get involved. So, after that we became good friends, so, even latter, when the budget got smaller like in Lost Cathedral, he still came to my house and we worked in the record together, I'm not so happy on the way that record sounds, even though he thinks it was a good record. We work together, he just like me, we like each other. But I think there's always some techniques to learn. I learned a lot working with Little Stevens, you know, you learn many things just by watching how this guy do this and that, slowly you get all the pieces and it all end up falling into your thing. And hopefully by getting this, the records get better. Just by combining techniques from guys like Max Norman, Little Stevens, and other people and even my experience as a pop producer in Germany you always learn things that helps you.
Jorge: Karma has been released in Europe, and Japan. Has it been or are there any plans to get it released on the US as well?
Not yet. We're working on it.
Jorge: What do you think about the present situation on the US where so many rock bands have their albums released on both Europe and Japan, but have to fight really hard to get a domestic release?
I'm going to find out! Ha ha. Actually after my first disappointmet with Interscope, I was living in L.A. at that time, then I moved to Florida, to a small island at the south of the Keys, and decided I would do Crown Of Thorns records for the companies that wanted them. I never shopped another deal in the US since then. So, now I'm trying to shop all of the COT records in America, but I've spent so much time in Europe that I don't really know what are my chances. Even though you're right, I've got a lot of friends working as producers in the US calling me every week to try to get releases in Europe and they're located in L.A. I think it must be as much difficult there just as there's happening in some places here, the record companies are looking for the new modern thing, so as we are not so new... I guess the US has always been difficult. You have more chances to get a company in Germany, in England, but in America is more like black and white, they want you or they don't want you, there's not so much in between.
Mariano: If you are on MTV you can sell, if you don't then you cant...
But it's more expensive to market records there, to get exposure.
Jesús: Some bands like Savatage have told us hard rock and heavy metal is very underground in the US. So American bands come to Europe because it's a better market for them.
I think this goes for a long time. It's always been, in a lot of ways. Of course when you have success in America you've got a situation where they do want you. You can get big deals, big offers... it doesn't means something is going to happen, but Europe has always been, you know from the beginning of my career, in The Plasmatics, with Little Steven with all his Bruce Springsteen records and my first solo album, I was signed to Virgin in England first, then after that I was signed in America. If you look at everyone, like Jimi Hendrix, it's always been that way, because I think Europe's got a wider acceptance of music. America is a lot more black and white, the rock's in they want rock, the rap is in, the want rap, this is in, they want it.
Maybe we don't go for trends that much, maybe we're more loyal fans.
Exactly, that's very true. You keep your minds more open to different music than that on fashion.
Jorge: I'm about to see you live at the end of next month in England...
Oh, you are? You're coming to England? Cool!
Jorge: Yeah! What are your touring band right now?
Same as it's on the record.
Jorge: Any plans of doing a more extensive European tour besides your forthcoming UK tour? Any plans of coming here to Spain?
We're hoping to. We're working on it you know. The UK tour was the first offer to come in so we now have added a German show, and then maybe to Spain, we'd love to, we really want to tour more, play in festivals, you know, we're in an attitude to tour. It's been a long time, we haven't toured since 1996/97.
Jorge: I recently watched a video of your 1995 Gods of AOR show...
Oh God! (Laughs)
Jorge: Yeah! Are you still as glipsy on stage as you were back then?
As crazy? Ha ha. Nah, I got it. I thing I am, to tell you the truth when you come onstage, you come alive, you know, and that's something you don't plan like what am I doing tonite onstage? When I get onstage I just feel a certain thing, and it's like feeling home in a way. I haven't been on tour for a while, so I'll have to see what comes, so it's not something I can predict, but I'll do the best show that I can do.
Jorge: Does it comes as a heritage of your punk background or something?
(Laughs)I think that it comes just naturally that you like to entertain. And it comes from the band, you know, it comes form the people, you feel it, that's why you try it not to be that way but if maybe you can go on the show and not feel anything you would have a hard time doing that. You go out there and feel like the people are there ready to be entertain then you can entertain them.
Jesús: You've been one of the few acts being all black people playing rock. There was a show on the Lost Cathedral tour in Germany, where you played in a bikers meeting. How was it?
I thought they would kill me! (Laughs) Nah, I've never felt strange. Even though sometimes when I opened a magazine and sometimes you realize, you know, you're the only black guy playing rock in any magazine ha ha. It's strange in a way, but people have never meade me feel that. People of course ask me this, but fans never made me feel that, I think at the end of the day if they feel like they're getting the music, specially in rock music, if they think it's real they go for ya. If they feel you're faking it, that you'd be doing rap instead of rock, they'll let ya know. And yeah, I remeber that show, there were some strippers down there, it was wild (laughs). I saw them and thought, hmm... this coudl be interesting, we should get them involved in our show! And then, ten minutes before the show we got them involved, and we created a whole kind of a thing.
Mariano: Both the titles and the lyrics on your albums refers ussually to religous matters, do you consider COT to be a Christian rock band in a way?
No! (laughs) I'd said spiritual in a way but very basic, not religious, no preaching! (Laughs). If you mean some titles on some tracks, like Secret Jesus, is exactly what I'm saying, not "that" Jesus, but a secret one, someone who watches and cares over you personally, which I believe there is. I mean, I'm Catholic, I'm not very religious, but I beleive there's somebody who controls, when I get in trouble, gets me outta trouble, you know, or something or some force. Where I come from we have some voodoo and some catholic and so many different religions, so sometimes I use religious issues but not in that way, like Karma is a basic feeling, when we made this record, we felt like kind of a peace, you know? You get the idea, spiritual.
Jorge: Do you listen to any new stuff? Which kind of stuff do you listen to when at home? do you still listen back to your own records? If so, are you the kind of perfectionist guy who can't stand listening to his records because you go like "oh it should have been this instead of that" and such or you can feel it was right at that time?
Yeah, I can be like that, you're right, but it takes me time to get back to listen to any of my records. This record for instance if I try to listen to it like three weeks after is finished, I can't. I can't see it for what it is I go like"oh the hi-hat should have been louder here" and such and then I have to say to myself, "turn it off! Come back in one month, when you can listen to the record for what it is". Like I said about Lost Cathedral, I wasn't so happy with the sound, but never ever I've heard someone said something about the sound. All they say is they love this record, you know, but after a while I can go back and listen to the record and it kinda tells me where I or the band was at the time, so I do that sometimes. Other bands? I don't honestly get much chances to listen to. I work so much I don't get much often to sit and really listen to a full album. Other than a song, I heard Nickelback and thought, oh that's a cool song, and try to listen to a couple of songs more from that record. But i don't really get much chances. And at home I ussually listen to stuff that's nothing to do with what I'm doing at the time. It depends on the mood, whatever, you wouldn't believe it but I can put on an old TOTO record, the original TOTO record, and it just makes me feel good, it's different, I can listen to Bee Gees, I can listen to all Aerosmith records, it really depends whatever I might be on the mood for.
Interview by Jorge Antonoya & associates