How Did an L.A. Indie Label Wind Up Releasing Yoko Ono's New Album?

Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono
Charlotte Kemp Muhl & Sean Lennon

The octopus-like Manimal Group is an L.A. record label, distribution, publicity and film/TV music-syncing company that for several years has been busily reimagining what the music biz can be all about. The company’s success owes much to the prescient vision of its hard-hustling founder Paul Beahan, who has enabled the rise of many of our more relevant pop and rock acts, such as Bat for Lashes, the Chapin Sisters, Chains of Love, Jenny O., Papercranes and Warpaint.

Manimal is about to release the new Yoko Ono album, Yes, I’m a Witch Too. The sequel to her 2007 collaboration record Yes, I'm a Witch, the new set finds Ono teaming up with probing musical units including Death Cab for Cutie, Sparks, Moby, Miike Snow, Cibo Matto and Tune-Yards in remixes and remakes of vintage Yoko songs.

Scanning Beahan’s label roster, you’d correctly gather he admires women and the music they make. But his favorable bias wasn’t the first building block of his label. While the majority of the artists at Manimal are female, Beahan didn’t make Woman Power a manifesto.

“Especially with bands like Bat for Lashes and Warpaint, I’ve never used the words 'girl band' — I didn’t have to, they’re just amazing bands,” he says. “But I’ve never been a fan of tough-guy rock, whether it was Skynyrd or Oasis or even metal. Some of the first records I ever owned were Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nancy Sinatra, Kate Bush and Patti Smith, just as much as I loved The Cure or Duran Duran or Depeche Mode.”

It was at the suggestion of Beahan’s Manimal partner, Chains of Love's Nathalia Pizarro, that they pursued working with a mutual idol, the iconic Yoko Ono. Manimal had previously released the music of artists who had worked with Ono, and Ono’s team knew about Manimal’s Doctors Without Borders 2010 benefit show, for which she had donated items for a silent auction.

Beahan approached Ono and her son Sean Lennon’s Chimera label with the idea of doing an exclusive Ono single or whatever else she was working on. Turns out Ono had the Yes, I’m a Witch Too album ready to go, and as the prolific artist's own label had a bit too much on its plate to handle its release, she was looking for an aethestically like-minded record company to put it out. Enter Manimal.

Says a well-chuffed Beahan, bringing the label together with Ono seemed fortuitous, and just made a kind of personal sense.

“I’ve been defending Yoko Ono from fascist Beatle fans since I was in fourth grade,” he says with a laugh. “The one record I really wanted was John and Yoko’s Two Virgins, because I loved ‘Revolution 9’ off the White Album — it was my first exposure to experimental music and it opened up a lot of possibilities for me.”

In these enlightened times, does a witch — or any female artist — really need defending? The answer is yes. By email, Yoko Ono gave the Weekly her views on the subject.

Yoko, are you really a witch?
We women all have the power of the witch. Some of us haven’t dealt with it. Deal with it, and you will notice what a difference it creates in your life. A witch is somebody who knows their limits and unlimitedness.

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What was your concept behind these Yes, I’m a Witch albums?
At the time, I was persecuted by the world as one who was bad, for no reason. They called me a witch, a bitch and more. So instead of kowtowing to them, I decided to dig deep into what is a witch. And realized that women are persecuted for no reason and were always called by these names and sometimes even put on a cross for being called those names, to justify what they wanted to do to the women. So I was just saying, "Yes, I am another woman who has been persecuted — for nothing."

The Yes I’m a Witch projects have allowed you to dig deep into your own music as source material for something new.
It’s good to know one’s power and present it to the world and to ourselves. The song "Yes, I’m a Witch" was a strong song of a woman who was saying, "You are persecuting me for no reason, and make me live or die." I did the song rather light, but it was not a light matter. I literally saved my life for writing and singing this song.

The remix/re-versioning of your old compositions is in the spirit of what you’ve long done, artistically — i.e., devising fertile scenarios for surprises to pop out. You don’t view your music as untouchable and sacred.
Think of Joan of Arc and the woman doctor in Salem. Both were put on the cross and died. If they had songs to explain themselves, would they have been killed so easily? They happened to have been famous, but many women died that way. What do you think of that?

Yes, I'm a Witch Too is out Feb. 19 on Manimal Vinyl.

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