Picking through 'American Trash' with Jean Beauvoir

Former Crown of Thorns mates team up on new album
By Peter Lindblad

Beauvoir-Free - American Trash 2015
Names tend to get dropped all over the place when discussing the unique and fascinating careers of Jean Beauvoir and Micki Free.

Once upon a time, Free plied his craft in a reconfigured Shalamar, filling in after Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel left the glittery disco-driven soul/R&B outfit.

With Shalamar, Free earned three Grammy nominations, helping make "Dancing in the Sheets," from the Footloose soundtrack, a Top 20 hit in 1984 and actually nabbing a Grammy for 1985's "Don't Get Stopped in Beverly Hills," included in Beverly Hills Cop. Free and his striking looks later gained more recent fame when he was, at least in part, the subject of a famed "Dave Chapelle Show" sketch, with none other than Eddie Murphy's brother, Charlie Murphy, making mention of photogenic features.

And then there's Beauvoir, a former member of scandalous New York City punk provocateurs The Plasmatics – famed for their destructive, and often lewd, behavior and the shocking theatrics of Wendy O. Williams – and later a part of Steven Van Zandt's Disciples of Soul, before his song "Feel The Heat" caught the ear of Sylvester Stallone, was featured in the movie "Cobra" and became a Billboard Hot 100 hit.

Jean Beauvoir and
Micki Free
All that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface with these two, who've individually collaborated over the years with the likes of The Ramones, KISS, Debbie Harry, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Carlos Santana, The Pretenders, Lionel Richie, Queen's Roger Taylor, former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin and the list goes on and on and on. Not to mention that Beauvoir once served as musical director for Gary U.S. Bonds and sang lead with doo-wop legends The Flamingos.

Behind the scenes, both Beauvoir and Free have grown into powerful entertainment executives – Beauvoir having partnered with such industry heavyweights as Richard Branson, Ted Fields and Jimmy Iovine, and the aforementioned Little Steven of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, "The Sopranos" and "Little Stevens Underground" fame, among others, and Free, proud of his Native American heritage and making more gritty, bluesy rock concoctions these days, working with Hard Rock International and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Their paths crossed again in the early '90s when Beauvoir – conspicuous by his flowing blonde Mohawk hairstyle – and Free founded the melodic hard-rock combo Crown of Thorns, a much-beloved group that gained popularity throughout the world.

In 2003, they reconnected, both of them having moved back to Los Angeles. Reviving their partnership, they set about writing and recording a new album titled American Trash under the Beauvoir-Free moniker that's just about to be released via Frontiers Records. Big, soaring choruses that make your heart burst, powerful hooks, strong vocals and thick, tasty riffs are the stuff American Trash is made of, and it features some of the best songwriting they've ever done together or apart.

Beauvoir talked recently with the All Access blog about the new record, his creative partnership and friendship with Free and his incredibly diverse career. 

The new album is fantastic. Explain how you and Micki reconnected and decided to record together again. And what do you remember about meeting for the first time?
Jean Beauvoir: Thanks!!! After the split following the debut, we reconnected some years later finding ourselves living in the same neighborhood in LA. We started hanging out together and talked about recording or playing together again. We did a couple of gigs in the UK, Hard Rock Calling main stage with Springsteen, Aerosmith etc. It was fun! I mentioned to Frontiers that we were thinking about doing a new album, they were into it and so we made a deal.

I actually met Micki back in the '80s when he was with Shalamar. We'd run into each other hanging out at clubs in Paris, N.Y. and L.A. We each thought, "Yeah, that is cool! We should do something together someday."

Why do you think you and Micki work so well together? And how have you grown as songwriters?
JB: We have similar ways of thinking and we just have fun doing it. We take a real casual approach. We sit at my house with a couple of guitars, like we did at the beginning and it just flows. He'll play a riff, I immediately hear a melody and it turns into a song. I think the growing comes with the more you do it, the better you get.

As with Crown of Thorns, there’s a wonderful blend of meaty guitar riffs and melody. How did the making of this album hearken back to the days of Crown of Thorns for you and how did it differ? 
JB: That's always how I see things, good riffs and good melodies. That's the recipe in my eyes. From the first Crown Of Thorns record, to the other albums I did after Micki and to anything we do together or separately. We like good music, melodies and songs that move you, make you feel. So we try to make that happen whenever writing.

Where does the title American Trash come from?
JB: It has two meanings on this album. Not in a negative way, but we were hanging out together and the name came up. We feel in some ways we're outcasts – I from the Plasmatics, Micki always being a rebel and we both always kind of go against the grain. Also, in the song, it's an imaginary strip club. I was in Key West and went to see a cool rock and roll DJ named Rocko; he's a big rock fan and he told me, "Jean we need some great rock tracks for me and my DJ friends to play in the strip clubs across America!" It kind of inspired me and made us think of how those clubs and the girls have always been sisters to rockers and have been supporting rockers while they were trying to make it. We decided to write a song that would pay homage to them.

“Shotgun to the Heart” has great hooks and guitars that just sound mean. Tell me about how that song came together and what you like about it?
JB: It started with a cool riff from Micki for the verse and I just heard melodies right away. Usually from there, I hear a chorus that would complement musically and we add that in. From there, the lyrics just come from the vibe we feel. It just felt like "Shotgun to the Heart." I usually lay down a guide vocal that has certain sounds or syllables that come naturally. Then the lyrics come – "Shotgun To The Heart" was just right!

Two of my favorites are the title track and “Cold Dark December,” both of which have really funky grooves but I also really like the vocal treatments for both, even though they’re pretty different. How crucial are these elements to the Beauvoir-Free sound, and how much time did you spend on them in creating these two tracks in particular?
JB: Very cool! Our backgrounds have back beat and groove – where we come from, other styles of music we've played, so this comes naturally. I think that is part of our sound. We actually don't spend much time to get the initial song; that usually comes in 10-30 minutes to be honest, basic structure and melodies. Then the final production that I do and getting everything right takes two to three days for each song including vocals, backgrounds, getting the lyrics right etc.

Do you enjoy recording songs like the title track and “Whiplash,” which are heavier rockers, as opposed to a soaring ballad like “Just Breathe”? 
JB: I enjoy it all! I think it's great to have an album with balance and that takes you on a journey. Different subjects, an overview of life as we see it, personal or mirroring what we see happening around us. I always think that way when making albums.

Why did it make sense to position “Angels Cry” as the album opener? That song in particular seems to represent what the Beauvoir-Free sound is all about to me.
JB: It was not carefully thought out. I guess we felt the same that "Angels Cry" was the most representative and should open. It just came from a feeling.

“Never Give Up” seems like a very personal song. There must be a story behind that one. Talk about coming up with the lyrics for that one.
JB: Good call, that was very personal and I really feel those lyrics. It was late at night and the lyrics just came to me. It addresses everyday struggles and believing in yourself. Contrary to what many may feel, we all go through our ups and downs. I truly believe you have to work through them even if you hit bottom at times. I think this rings true for lots of people and a song like this is meant to inspire and make listeners feel that they're not alone in feeling this way. Never give up.

When the two of you get together to write and record, do you find you agree on most things or is there a creative tension, like it’s always been for a lot of the greats, that leads to great results?
JB: Actually, there's no tension. It really flows. There's a mutual respect and we both admire and are excited of each other's contributions. When Micki plays something, I always like it and immediately dig it and hear where it should go. When I finish a track and send it off to Micki, he always texts me back with excitement and positivity!

Jean Beauvoir and his trademark
blonde mohawk
Your musical history is absolutely fascinating. How did you go from being musical director of Gary U.S. Bonds to singing with The Flamingos and then becoming part of the NYC punk scene and joining The Plasmatics?
JB: Hell knows! Thank you!!! I know, pretty wide... Gary and the Flamingos came to me early in. It was great musical training and made me adaptable to all situations – serious school as a kid. Then I discovered punk, which due to my rebellious personality and desire to be groundbreaking and unique, it fit right in. I loved the rawness, power, anger and effect it had. The fans were amazing! Even with Gary, I would play my original songs between his sets and they would always rock. He really liked it and supported me. The Flamingos was great vocal training singing with one of the best vocal groups of all times. I learned a lot about harmony, vocal structures etc. – didn't get to use it much with the Plasmatics, but really came in handy later on in my career.

I remember living in a small town in northern Wisconsin and seeing the Plasmatics on TV, and just being completely blown away by what I was witnessing. How did you like the attention you were getting, and were the stage antics planned out or were they made up on the spur of the moment?
JB: I loved the attention. We couldn’t walk down the street without being mobbed. It was pretty exciting. All the TV exposure and press really made the band recognizable around the world. A lot was planned out. We rehearsed the show quite a bit – Actually more than I have ever rehearsed! It was like a day job! Eight hours or so everyday that we weren’t on tour.

How did you come to join up with Little Steven and in what ways has he impacted your career?
JB: After leaving the Plasmatics, I wanted a solo deal as an artist/singer. Actually I wanted to make my record my way playing everything. Every label turned me down and basically said, if I want to continue along the lines of the Plasmatics, they’d be into it, but musical singing etc. was not an option. I met Steven through my manager from Gary U.S. Bonds. Turns out he had organized the Gary U.S. Bonds [collaboration] with Bruce Springsteen and Steven producing. He thought we’d get along and suggested that they rehearse for Gary’s album in my N.Y. loft rehearsal space. Steven and I met and Steven loved what I was doing as an artist. I was really against playing in someone’s band at that point. I had offers from Prince, Billy Idol and so on, but I really wanted to be solo. Steven convinced me to join his band, the Disciples of Soul. He felt that doing that would give me the credibility that I needed, since Springsteen and The Plasmatics couldn’t be further opposites. He was right and was very helpful to me moving into my solo career.

How much did it mean to you to have Sylvester Stallone choose “Feel the Heat” for the movie “Cobra” and did it change the career path you were on in any way?
JB: It meant a lot! After leaving Steven, I met a manager Gary Kurfirst right before totally giving up. He told me he’d have me a deal within weeks. I went to Sweden where I had received a singles deal offer from ABBA’s company. He told me not to sign and then called me to say Richard Branson loved my demos and was offering me a deal, actually our own label imprint! I flew to London to meet Sir Richard Branson and sign. Shortly thereafter, Al Teller from Columbia offered me as well! Exciting times!!! Right before the release, Gary received a call from Stallone saying that he heard my song while editing his film in L.A. and wanted my song for the biggest film campaign in the history of film to date – “COBRA.” I was freaking and I can still remember going to Times Square, hearing my song loud as the trailer for the film. It was used in every commercial in the world and was amazing. The song became a big hit around the world because of this! Besides, I’m a big Stallone fan, so it was so very cool!

You’ve written with so many big names in the music industry, from KISS to the Ramones to Deborah Harry and Lionel Richie and The Pretenders. That really speaks to your versatility as a writer. Who were your favorite people to write with and what experience sticks out in your memory as being particularly special?
JB: I hate to sound diplomatic, but I loved it all. They are all so different, but masters of their own worlds. To be asked to contribute to greatness is incredibly fulfilling. Also, Nona Hendryx, N’SYNC, Doro Pesch. I had the opportunity to taste all genres and they were each the best at what they did. As time goes on, they’ve all become even more important and recognized – really glad to be a part of that!

Your entrepreneurial work is just as impressive as your musical exploits. Do you find the business side of your career just as gratifying as the creative side, and who has been especially inspirational in this aspect of your life?
JB: I don’t know if it’s as gratifying, but at times necessary – even though I do enjoy doing business that makes a difference, helping artists, breaking new ground like being involved in Lilyhammer that brought Norwegian talent to the US, [and] other TV shows that I’ve done which gave exposure to talent. I’m involved in a children’s TV show, books and film called “City Of Friends,” which is really great – incorporates music as well. I like doing new things, breaking new ground. That is fulfilling to me. People who have done that or do that are inspiring to me.

Given your history, your perspective on the current state of the music industry would be invaluable. Gene Simmons has talked about how “rock is dead” and how young rock artists simply don’t have a chance today. Do you agree or is there hope for a younger generation of rock musicians to experience the same success you have?
JB: I agree, they don’t have a chance. Only kidding!!! I think it’s different, definitely not as easy in some ways to get heard, but much easier in other ways. Back in the day, you had to be one of the chosen few by a major label to even have a chance of success. Now, bands can get their own fans, make their own music at home without the need of a big budget – do their own videos with an iPhone. The problem is, everyone can do it and there’s a lot of talent out there, so its really hard to shine amongst the millions all trying the same thing. So a young band still needs to differentiate somehow, so that the cream rises to the top. The other difference is that they have to do it themselves, without the same support as before.

Jean Beauvoir and Micki
Free reconnected when
both moved back to L.A. in 2003
Going back to American Trash, was there a point in the making of it where you felt that the old magic between you two had returned or was it always there from the beginning on work on it?
JB: Yeah, right away, we have a magic when we work together. It’s always there.

What would you like to listeners to come away with after listening to American Trash?
JB: Enjoy it, love it, take away the messages 'cause they’re for you. Use it to live your life.

Lastly, the blond Mohawk is such a distinctive look. How did you come up with it and do you think it’ll always be something that’s a part of your style?
JB: It’s been a part of me so long, that I actually never feel like myself without it. It came when I joined The Plasmatics. I had a white stripe before that, like a skunk! I shaved off the sides when I joined the band

It was natural to me and the blond hair at the time represented racelessness. I felt that you should be who you wanted to be, do what you wanna do ... self expression. I had lots of problems from people back then; they felt I was going against my roots. I’m glad to see that now all that thinking has changed – was nice to see the great Sly Stone sporting my blond Mohawk look at the Grammys and even happier to see that the press wrote the he was channeling Jean Beauvoir from The Plasmatics!

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