Arts and craftsmen

After the Beasties and Beck, the Dust Brothers strike out on their own

"It seems like in music everything's been done before, and so rather than try to fake it and say, 'Hey, this is new,' we're just sort of acknowledging that everything's been done before, and sort of honoring it yet putting a new twist on it," Simpson adds, lying down on a dilapidated couch in the Brothers' bright, airy den. "I really enjoy hearing other people who are combining samples and creating new songs out of it. I just think the '80s were a really bad time in music, and I'm glad to see people are looking back to the '60s and '70s and kinda going for that sound."

Nothing brought the past into the future more successfully, more evocatively, or more hilariously than 1989's Paul's Boutique, the record that proved the Beastie Boys were more than white punks on dope beats. Where Licensed to Ill was a melange of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC riffs done up B(ar Mitzvah)-boy style--a party record for the apocalypse--Paul's Boutique was a lesson in history and the indestructibility of pop music and pop culture. Even more to the point, coming as it did on the tail end of the Beastie Boys' acrimonious split with Def Jam Records' Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, Paul's Boutique proved they could take the car out by themselves.

Stuffing slices from the likes of the Beatles, Johnny Cash, Public Enemy, movie themes, Joe Walsh, and innumerable unidentified musicians into the grooves of a double record, the Dust Brothers snatched the Beasties from the jaws of novelty-rock defeat. The record began as several Dust Brothers songs over which the Beasties simply added raps, and it ended up costing a fortune in licensing fees; despite the fact that it remains the band's poorest-selling record (it didn't go platinum until 1995), it more than paid for itself artistically.

"After we had the big falling-out with Russell, it was just 'Let's just get away from New York," says the Beasties' Michael Diamond, a Silverlake neighbor. "Let's just get away from everything we know. We hooked up with the Dust Brothers in L.A., and it was like, 'OK, we can go completely wild and do whatever we want.' It was a completely new world.

"Making [Paul's Boutique], as well as what happened in terms of how it sold commercially, was sort of necessary in terms of where we are now. The only way we could be in the position we are now is by accepting everything up to this point...I just remember Russell Simmons called us up and said, 'You guys are really on some art shit now.'"

Paul's Boutique was released in 1989, a lifetime ago in the record business. Since then, the Dust Brothers have thrived in anonymity, producing the likes of the Buck Pets and The Scream. Some said that the Chemical Brothers in England confused audiences when they initially called themselves the Dust Brothers and flooded the dance market with stacks of mediocre wax, devaluing the Brothers' coin. In reality, Simpson and King were tied up throughout the early '90s cutting a deal with Irving Azoff's old Giant label, which eventually became the inappropriately named Revolution label.

The deal would have allowed the Dust Brothers to become in-house producers. In addition, they would have been able to sign acts to Giant through their own subsidiary label, as well as release the first Dust Brothers album. But the deal fell apart after they waited most of 1992 and '93 and failed to capitalize on whatever momentum they had going.

"It was early on in our career, and we were kind of thrown into it," King says. "The first stuff we worked on went platinum, and it was unusual--the way most people get into the business and pay their dues. We kind of paid our dues afterward. Afterward, we bought this house and set up our studio and tried to work out the Giant deal, and basically we put off doing our own album. That's something I don't do anymore--hence we have our own label, and we're doing our own record...ourselves. We're open to working with big companies and big labels, but we're not waiting on it.

"We haven't been dicking around. The music business has been dicking around. Not much of the stuff we were working on has come out or came out at the time. At this point, there's tons of stuff coming out, but during the early '90s we were setting up our studio and developing artists we were trying to get signed."

"That Giant thing put our careers on hold," adds Simpson, who has actually gone to work as an artist-and-repertoire supervisor for DreamWorks, the Jeffrey Katzenberg-Steven Spielberg-David Geffen label distributed by Geffen Records. (Simpson brought the Eels to DreamWorks.) "We were actually getting offers from other labels to put these records out, but we were being advised, 'No, this Giant deal is happening,' so we sort of held off. In this business, if you don't have a record out in a year and a half, you're old news.

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