Digging deeper into Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ (TT5BR Interview)
Two months ago, I came across a seemingly obscure Beastie Boys remix project through Diggers With Gratitude. TT5BR? BB PB EP? Luckily, the full project description on Bandcamp made a tiny bit more sense. The Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique Extended Play consists of five tracks–but again, confusion galore. All tracks sound extremely similar to the originals off Beastie Boys’ seminal sophomore album, Paul’s Boutique.
The maker? Equally as puzzling: TT5BR. Without a “real” name linked to it, and social media channels only filled with the EP. But in a short Q&A with a Blogspot called The Witzard, “TT5BR” mentions visiting a concert of Beastie Boys in Paradiso (that’s Amsterdam) back in 1994. Bingo: he’s from The Netherlands, just like yours truly.
A few emails later, this led to meeting the man behind the mystery to talk about his Paul’s Boutique remix project: recreating five tracks in a similar production style as that of the Dust Brothers. Replacing all samples with other samples, staying as close as possible to the originals.
A conversation about sampling, 1989-era Beastie Boys, experimenting with the TR-808, his 12″ record, and the masterpiece that is Paul’s Boutique.
Finding you was pretty hard, to say the least. The Star Wars-worthy alias TT5BR, and that’s it. What’s that all about?
The original idea was to remix To The 5 Boroughs in a Licensed to Ill 1986 era production style. Hence why I started using the abbreviation TT5BR as kind of a working title.
Why did you pick To the 5 Boroughs out of the Beastie Boys’ catalog?
I wanted to make the productions in a Licensed To Ill style because they also seemed to flirt with that on To the 5 Boroughs. But according to a lot of fans, I included, it just didn’t work out that well… Partly because they used a lot of newer software and gear to produce the album. Such as Reason by Propellerhead. I would’ve preferred a bit less of that; I’ve never been a fan of modern preset sounds. And you can clearly hear those on To The 5 Boroughs. But despite that, I did like the album! Only the politically engaged lyrics didn’t really work for me.
So yeah, I thought by myself: what would happen if I take their flirting with 1986 a bit deeper, by using the actual TR-808 sounds?
As far as I know, that remix project never came out, right?
It was supposed to be done within one weekend when my then-girlfriend was on holiday. I wanted to release it the Monday after. I thought it was easy peasy: program some 808 drum patterns and record some cuts. How naive of me… [laughs] That was back in 2012. Right after MCA passed away. Man, that really touched me… So I just had to do something with the music of the Beastie Boys.
What went wrong?
Soon it led me to realize I’d need the actual hardware to properly do it. I messed around with samples of the TR-808, but I didn’t get to the sound I was aiming for. Then, I made a TR-808 myself out of Eurorack modules. But that also wasn’t it. A bit later Ronald released a digital version of the 808. I bought that–it also didn’t work… I can be quite the perfectionist. [laughs] So that’s when I decided I couldn’t do this project without buying gear like the TR-808 and Oberheim DMX or DX.
Then, I realized doing a remix project based on sampling would be much more convenient; easier to get the sound right, as I had way more experience with sample-based productions. That would be much easier than spending all my spare time trying to get the TR-808 and Oberheim sound the way I wanted.
That’s when I started working on my Paul’s Boutique remix project. I was instantly sold when I heard that album for the first time back in 1989. Back then I was a huge fan of the Bomb Squad productions for Public Enemy, so the Dust Brothers’ productions on Paul’s Boutique were a seamless fit.
“BB PB EP had to become my own analysis of Paul’s Boutique. It had to be related to what the Dust Brothers and Beastie Boys did back in 1989. So closely even, that listeners might confuse it with originals or alternate takes…”
Since Paul’s Boutique is such a sampling masterpiece crammed with TONS of samples, styles, and references: where the hell do you start?
The vocals. From the get-go, I decided to not touch their vocals, flows and tempos. The idea was to study the album and to stick to exactly the right production and sampling style. I think it’s boring to “just” make remixes, so I always need a concept to work with. The five a capellas I worked with for the BB PB EP was all I could find. The EP had to become my own analysis of Paul’s Boutique. It had to be related to what the Dust Brothers and Beastie Boys did back in 1989. So closely even, that listeners might confuse it with originals or alternate takes…
Did you also work with huge amounts of samples, just like the Dust Brothers?
Yes, I did. I followed the very same style as them. Tracks that completely flip and switch up throughout only a few minutes, with samples from many different genres.
That sounds like a crate-digging challenge… Where did you start scouring samples?
Well, it sounds very romantic like I had to bivouac inside of record stores. But sourcing for samples was actually mostly a digital process. When I lived in Amsterdam, I didn’t have my vinyl collection with me. So I simply started looking for music online, downloading a lot of files. WAV, FLAC, sometimes MP3. Album after album after album…. Hundreds of albums. All in the same direction as the tracks on Paul’s Boutique. I initially started looking for samples close to the original sources.
Can you give an example of that?
Take “Hey Ladies”, for example. The original samples “Machine Gun” by The Commodores. My version samples another track from the same Commodores album. In some cases, I also used the same samples. I mean, a track like “Hey Ladies” can’t exist without that cowbell. Or the synth in “Shake Your Rump” simply has to be there. So I kept a handful of existing elements like these ones but combined them with different drums.
But in most cases, I replaced samples with material that gets quite close to the original sample. Either literally, or just with a similar kind of groove or sound. In that sense, it was kind of an archeological project.
Which “archeological sample discovery” are you most proud of?
The drum roll in the intro of my version of “Shake Your Rump” sounds almost identical to the sampled drums from Alphonse Mouzon‘s “Funky Snakefoot” in the original Beastie Boys track. It’s only slightly different. So there’s a lot of easter eggs for real diggers and Beastie Boys fans. That kept it fun for myself.
Did you have to force it to be fun? I can imagine overanalyzing music kills the fun of listening to it–or even the joy of making music…
Yes, everything deformed. As a producer, I can’t listen to music without analyzing it. This project made that even worse. I even started noticing things in Paul’s Boutique I didn’t know yet. Such as? In “Shake Your Rump”, there’s a ‘tick’ in the drum loop. I’ve never noticed it before. Now, every time I listen to that track, I hear a tick in the loop… That can’t be undone.
For the Dust Brothers, producing Paul’s Boutique was carte blanche: picking any sample they desired from any genre. Complete freedom. How was that for you?
I worked in a reversed way, which was very restricted. Indeed, the Dust Brothers could make any kind of beat with all samples imaginable, and have the Beastie Boys rap over them. That way, vocals can be easily adapted to the beat, and vice versa. But I was completely restricted to their tempo, flow, delivery, and also to the style of the samples. So I had to work in reverse. That’s of course always the case for remixing, but even more so for BB PB EP because I wanted to stay so close to the original samples and production style. So the biggest challenge was that the more samples you add, the more there is to match with each other and with the vocals.
That took a lot of time–and wasn’t always fun. [laughs] At times I had to try 20 to 30 short loops for a tiny bit of music. For example, “Shake Your Rump” was the last track I finalized. It was super hard to find exactly the right drum loop with the right groove and impact.
When is a track “done”, with so many samples to dig for and loops to go through?
At one point, I just decided to wrap things up because it was taking too long. One of my friends wanted to have some acetates and dubplates cut, later followed by a small vinyl run. So mentally, I’m completely done with it. But if I would open up my Pro Tools sessions again, or if I listen to it more often–I rarely do that–then I can probably find things I want to do differently on a couple of tracks. But overall, I’m still pretty content with the outcome.
The Dust Brothers didn’t do any major chopping or pitching of loops. Did you even stick to that way of working?
I tried. But I had to cheat a few times. In “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” there’s a loop from Pink Floyd’s “Time”. In the original, it’s very far away in the mix–even under the drums. I put it higher in the mix. But there’s a part which didn’t properly match with my drums, so I did some chopping and rearranging to make it work. And for some samples, I changed the groove a tiny bit to make them fit in better with other samples. So yes, I tried, but I didn’t manage to make everything work without any chopping.
“It’s not important who made this music. I’m not important.”
Anything else you paid extra attention to, to make it fit in well with late 80s hip-hop?
On Paul’s Boutique, there’s mostly two-bar loops. If you compare that to the album after that, 1992’s Check Your Head, there are much more one-bar loops. And on Ill Communication from 1994, there are also a lot of drum loops of half a bar. So yes, the vast majority of two-bar loops is something I also tried to work with.
Is the use of so many samples the reason why you’re so anonymous, with only the sneaky TT5BR-code and little online presence?
[laughs] Not at all. It’s not important who made this music. I’m not important. The fact I now released two tracks off the EP on vinyl is an extra reason not to add a name for legal reasons. But that wasn’t the main purpose. I simply wanted to make it, put it online anonymously, and let the music live on by itself.
What’s next for you?
I would love to remix the discography of Beastie Boys in chronological order. I’m now working with two high-res a capellas from Check Your Head, “Pass the Mic” and “So What Cha Want”. That’s going to be an EP as well. Aside from that, I work fulltime as a graphic designer. So these days producing music is more like something on the side.
So why all-things Beastie Boys? And not, let’s say, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising or DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…?
Since MCA’s passing, the Beastie Boys can’t really make any music anymore. I think that’s partly why I was so attracted to remix their work. And that’s also one of the reasons why I don’t want to add my name to it too much. It’s not about me, it’s about the Beastie Boys and their work that is no more.
Nobody comes to mind apart from the Beastie Boys?
I really love Marley Marl’s productions. Back in the mid to late 80s–moving from drum machine-oriented productions–you had a lot of James Brown loops in hip-hop. Marley Marl was, of course, one of the pioneers in sampling. I think he was even the very first to ever sample the “Impeach The President” break…
Matter of fact, I could make a project in his style of production! I have a Roland TR-808 now, and I have the Korg SDD-2000 digital delay he used a lot for his earlier work. So I could make the same style of beats with the very same gear as him. I’ve been thinking about that. That could be fun…
Have you ever tried to contact Mike D or Ad-Rock to share your EP?
Well, the address of Mike D’s Malibu beach house isn’t hard to find. But it felt a bit too intruding to send over a record. I can imagine you feel a bit stalked when you get a copy of your work, reworked in the style of your own work, with your group’s name on it, shipped to your private address… The artwork for my record would go well with his blue-themed interior, though. [laughs]