How the Beastie Boys Wasted ‘So. Much. F—ing. Money’ on ‘Paul’s Boutique’
Remember Q-Tip's fateful warning: "Industry rule No. 4080: Record-company people are shady"? Yeah, well, so do the Beastie Boys. They got a first-hand look at it while they were recording their second album, 1989's Paul's Boutique.
Vulture shared an excerpt from the just released Beastie Boys Book by group members Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), and they admit that not only did they waste a ton of money making the record, but they got pushed to the side for, of all people, Donny Osmond.
It all started when the group decided to part ways with Def Jam and head over to Capitol Records. Hot off their seminal debut album, Licensed to Ill, the guys admit they were feeling themselves.
"Capitol was betting millions of dollars on us. They wanted a new record immediately. We were … in less of a hurry," Mike D admitted.
They eventually started recording music with the Dust Brothers out of a makeshift studio at Delicious Vinyl founder Matt Dike's apartment. In hindsight, Diamond conceded they should've just recorded the entire album there, and saved a lot of money.
"I’m not exactly sure why we didn’t," he said. "Capitol may have started to get nervous that we were holed up in a shitty apartment in the middle of a drug-and-prostitution zone. Or maybe we were just insecure and thought that to make a 'big time' record, we had to do it at some 'big time' studio with dudes with mullets crouched and poised to set up a mic or coil a cable. Or maybe we thought it was funny to record where Debbie Gibson and Lionel Richie might have recorded."
So, they ended up at the iconic L.A. studio the Record Plant redoing the material they'd already recorded, making the sound glossier but causing it to lose some of its grit. One day while they're there recording, in comes an army of dudes with walkie talkies and a lot of Persian rugs.
"Turned out Guns N’ Roses was there to film the video for 'Patience,'" Diamond recalled. "First we ran into Slash, briefly. Nice guy. Big hat. Then, by the reception desk, we stumbled into the bass player, Duff McKagan. We started talking about hardcore, and it turned out he was in this band we’d heard a lot on 'Noise the Show' in our hardcore days: the Fartz. A Seattle hardcore band. So here we’re meeting someone from a ginormous band traveling around the world on floating magic carpets, their feet never touching the ground, and we realized we had more in common than we’d ever have thought. We never ran into Axl [Rose]."
What they did run into though, was the realization that what'd they'd been recording in Dike's apartment studio was better than the songs they were getting from the fancy studio. So, they did the only thing that made sense—headed to another fancy studio, the same one where Quincy Jones worked on Michael Jackson's Thriller.
"This spot had a crazy Harrison mixing console that looked like it belonged at NASA mission control," Diamond explained. "It was the first generation of digital console, a fucking humongous thing with all kinds of micro green and red lights. The wave of the future. Unfortunately, at that time, the future still sucked: Nothing — and I mean nothing — worked on this thing. We’d sit around for hours while guys in button-down shirts ran in and out of the room in panic mode, unable to figure out why the entire studio was inoperable. After several days of doing nothing, bored out of our minds, we finally just canceled the session."
Did they go back to the apartment where they were making music they actually liked? Nope. They headed back to the Record Plant, and finally finished the album, in between playing the mountain of video games they'd rented, of course.
"The upside was that we finally did finish Paul’s Boutique in that second push at the Record Plant. The downside is that we wasted So. Much. Fucking. Money," Diamond said. "I don’t know the exact amount, but it was hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars fronted us by Capitol, which would come out of our royalties. It was even more of a fucking waste because we still liked many of the instrumental tracks from Matt’s apartment best anyway. Soon enough, though, the amount of money we’d just wasted would be the least of our problems."
What's worse than wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars? Donny Osmond. Turns out, Capitol had a major personnel change. A new president entered the scene and the A&R person that signed them left, too. After an unfortunate meeting with the label's new Street Awareness Program aka SAP (the label's "street team"), a horrible suggestion to pick a fake beef with their label-mate MC Hammer (they didn't take the bait), and record sales that didn't come close to what'd they done with Licensed to Ill, they met with the label's new head.
"So we sit down, and before we can ask our whats and whys, he’s like … 'Look, guys. I’m a Dead Head, so I know where you’re at. The company’s just really busy right now. We’re all just focusing and working really hard on the new Donny Osmond album, so, next time. Okay?'" Horovitz recalled.
Shocked might've been an understatement. Horovitz remembers it well.
"Wait … What?! What he had just said to us, the multiplatinum fight-for-your-right-to-party guys, is … Forget about the record you just spent the past couple years making. Forget that you made a huge and bold move severing ties with Rick [Rubin], Russell [Simmons], Rush, and Def Jam. Forget all this life-changing shit that’s happening to you as a band, people, and friends. Because … Donny Osmond’s new record is just a little more important than yours. Just go back, make another record, and we’ll see what happens when that happens. Everything’s gonna be fine."
"Industry rule No. 4080: Record-company people are shady," Horovitz surmised. "The teeny-ponytailed/phony-baloney hippie-costume/looking-like-an-undercover-cop guy was replaced soon after by … some other middle-aged-white-guy record executive. To quote the great Donny Osmond … 'One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.'"
Still, he says don't get it twisted. The label really did basically let them do whatever they wanted to do musically, so it wasn't all bad.
"Important note: Besides this glitch, Capitol Records has always been really supportive of us and what we make," Horovitz clarified. "I’m not talking shit on the label, because really, for a major label with a big business to run, they left us alone to make what we wanted to make, and we probably couldn’t have done that somewhere else. That being said … for a good time, look up 'Donny Osmond Sacred Emotion' on YouTube. That’s what this Dead Head had the company locked down with."
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