LAist Interview: Manimal Records Founder Paul Beahan

manimal - through the wilderness - madonna tributeLA-based Manimal Vinyl Records recently released Through the Wilderness, a tribute to Madonna benefiting her charity. We discussed the concept of Los Angeles' burgeoning lo-fi/whatcha-call-it music scene taking on Madonna classics with Manimal's founder, Paul Beahan.


LAist: Tell us about your label, Manimal.

Paul Beahan: I started it in Los Angeles a little over a year ago. Our first release was the split Chapin Sisters / Winter Flowers vinyl-only 12” picture disc. Then we put out an the British group Bat for Lashes album and they ended up on EMI about 3 weeks after I signed them.

Manimal then expanded to all formats and I released the debut from Apollo Heights.

Then I started putting together the Madonna tribute, about a year ago. I called Devendra Banhart, The Chapin Sisters and asked if they wanted to be a part of it. Then I got involved with Madonna’s charity — Raising Malawi. Next thing I kept getting so many calls that I actually had to say no to a few of the acts that wanted to work on the Madonna project.



Winter Flowers - "Live to Tell"

LAist: Why Madonna?

PB: Honestly I’m not even a Madonna fan at all – I used to DJ and I think I had a few of her old 12-inches, but I’ve never been a Madonna fan. And now I really dig the new indie freak folk sort of thing. I just really feel like that’s the first musical collective scene where everybody seems to be involved with each other – that sort of do-it-yourself culture – everyone sort of helps each other instead of feeling insecure and competitive with each other.

lavender diamond, chapin sisters, golden animal, winter flowers

(l-r): Lavender Diamond, The Chapin Sisters, Golden Animal, Winter Flowers

Paul Beahan (cont'd): It’s the first music scene out of the good 4 or 5 I’ve been involved in that I truly feel that way -- and I’ve been doing this for at least 15 years. This particular collective, you know, Winter Flowers, Devendra Banhart, Hecuba, people call it freak folk, whatever it’s just this great group of people and I felt in a weird way that y’know Madonna would really get along with these people – especially Devendra Banhart.

LAist: How was the idea to do a Madonna tribute record born?

PB: I woke up one morning and just had this crazy idea and thought it would work. I came up with the title the same day and started calling the bands. Within two months I had the full lineup of all the bands that contributed.

LAist: So… why Madonna?!?

PB: I’d been thinking of a tribute record -- Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee had just passed away at the time – and I felt I should really do something to commemorate all these cult icons. Then I thought, no way, I should do something dumb, like Madonna songs and get these guys to make the songs sound really serious without it being a sort of novelty or parody record. I thought we’d do this once every two years on a different subject to help expose this whole musical realm.

LAist: How did the artists react to the idea? Did you have trouble asking them to participate with a straight face?

PB: No one questioned anything it was really bizarre. The few that did – are not on the record anymore. Everyone else was pretty much like, “Madonna? Alright, OK, let’s do it!”

LAist: How were the particular songs chosen for each band?

PB: Really I just told them to pick a song and hoped that nobody crossed paths. The only song that I sort of suggested was the Chapin Sisters – “Borderline,” because they kept saying “oh, we really want to do Like a Virgin,” and I was like “no – you’ve gotta do Borderline.” Then finally I started singing it to Abigail (Chapin) in her voice and helped her with an arrangement and so they ended up doing it.



The Chapin Sisters - "Borderline"

Within a week Becky Stark called me up to say “I really wanna be on this Madonna record,” and it turns out she had already been practicing “Like a Prayer.”

Same with Lion of Panjshir – Arianna literally recorded a rough demo of “crazy for you” and emailed it to me saying – hey if you need another song….

LAist: What inspired the album title?

PB: I thought about it on the spot because – “Through the Wilderness” – it’s the first line in “Like a Virgin.”

LAist: Ah yeah, "I made it through the wilderness...." Only a true music geek knows the lyrics to songs they don’t care for. Has this project given you a new appreciation for Madonna’s music?

PB: It has, actually. I’m considering buying the album Like a Prayer now. I feel that that’s what the reaction has been so far – oh, OK, I wasn’t a fool for thinking “Borderline” had a really good hook.

LAist: Has Madonna heard it?

PB: Apparently she has. Originally I heard she hated it and now I heard she likes it.

LAist: So her people weren’t cool with it – at least at first, but now it’s available on Amazon, a decent review from Pitchfork. How is the response on radio and elsewhere?

PB: It’s getting a lot of airplay. Jonesy just played it today on Indie 103.1 – Indie 103 has been very supportive – I did a little radio/pr campaign with a company in new york and they reported back that it’s been added to 36 college stations around the country.

LAist: What did Jonesy play?

PB: Winter Flowers – “Live to Tell “ and last week he played Golden Animals version of “Beautiful Stranger” which was really surprising and cool, I guess he’s a fan of the Golden Animals and he likes the covers record as well. KXLU has been real supportive, they have been playing it for month, WNYU, KEXP in Seattle, it’s been doing really really well I can’t complain.

LAist: So you’re thinking about doing another tribute album in the next couple years?

PB: Yeah, I’m already working on a Cure one and it’s gonna have a lot of bigger bands on it -- I haven’t told anyone about it yet. It’s kinda under wraps but there’s been talk about Blonde Redhead, Bat for Lashes, The Album Leaf, and Indian Jewelry doing some songs. Probably gonna get like 30 bands on this one it’s gonna be crazy. I checked out all the other Cure triubutes out there and they all suck!

There’s a really bad one called Give me the Cure and it’s like a D.C. tribute to the Cure with a couple of Dischord bands – it sounds like it would be OK, but it’s really horrible just a bunch of East Coast emo bands and then there are a couple electro tributes and they’re both awful.

But there’s a new kinda scene out there, some people call it New Weird America, some call it NeoFolk or psychadelic or whatever. I figured get together a bunch of these really crazy, experimental indie artists to do Cure songs, and that’s kinda the next step.

LAist: So is it the "scene" that brought you out to LA?

PB: I started out playing music in San Diego – hard core bands as a teenager and then I moved here and associated with the whole retro rock scene which was pretty dead end. But so far, this whole new thing, it’s really indescribable – freak folk, new weird America, whatever you want to call it – it’s the only sense of community I ever really felt that everyone is really just accepted so long as they’re a walker and not a talker. You don’t have to have long hair and a beard to be accepted.

LAist: How many releases does Manimal have?

PB: We have 6. Are you serious about becoming a serious indie label. Yeah totally I want this label to be what Electra Records was in the 70s. Diversity, but keep it where any of the bands could play together and it would make sense. I want this label to set the new standard for independent record labels. Eventually all the major labels will be gone in the next few years probably with the exception of Warner Bros. I feel like all the major music companies are gonna vanish and live off their back catalogues. I feel like Matador and Sub Pop are gonna be like the Capitol and Columbia of the muisic business -- Drag City could be the Atlantic… you know what I mean?

LAist: What else is in the pipeline for Manimal?

PB: The debut 12-inch from Hecuba is set for February. Have you heard them? They are incredible. They’re gonna play in February at The Echo. It’s like if you crossed Portishead with the Fairport Convention and Siouxsie and the Banshees, it’s like totally nuts. They’re gonna be huge....

LAist: How do you get these bands?

PB: Well usually I assume these bands are already on a major label but it turns out theyre not. Like Hecuba, for example, 5 or 10 years ago they would’ve been on Sony or some other major label selling half a million records but that’s just not the case anymore. The bands don’t ask me, I don’t ask them, but one day it just all comes together.

Kinda the same with Giant Drag, for example, she got the boot from Interscope, so I just picked her up.

LAist: Cool what’s she got going?

PB: She’s got one of the guys from the Icarus Line and someboey else from a band I don’t remember maybe, I don’t know, The Go! Team or something – she’s gottwo new guys playing with her – a bass player and a drummer and already has about 7 demos ready and they’re amazing. Yeah she is prolific, I mean she’s literally has a back catalog of about 40 songs for the first album that weren’t even released. So we’re probably gonna do a 5-song EP in the spring and then the full album in the spring or the fall.