As the Beastie Boys
approach the age of 40, they're beginning to go gray and they're starting to
show some wrinkles around the edges of those familiar sardonic grins. But
they remain one of the most inspired, ambitious and raucous presences on the
Touring in support of "To the 5 Boroughs," their first album in six
years, Mike Diamond (aka Mike D), Adam Yauch (MCA) and Adam Horovitz (Adrock)
continue to offer a musically inventive, lyrically gripping mix of hip-hop
and alternative rock, trading fluid rhymes that vacillate from silly
pop-culture in-jokes to poignant political commentary with more lustful
energy and youthful enthusiasm than most 18-year-olds can muster.
The group will be in Chicago for a show at the United Center on Thursday
night. I spoke with Mike D, always the most loquacious Beastie, by phone in
the midst of the current tour.
Q. I've been reading reviews of the tour as it crosses the
country, and people seem to be having a great time with the dog act that
opens the show. You've said that you wanted to make these gigs "pageants"
and not just concerts. What did you mean?
THE BEASTIE BOYS,
7:30 p.m. Thursday
United Center, 1901 W. Madison
A. We just wanted to kick it up a notch. We've done tours with
other bands and so forth, and we just wanted to take it to the next level
and have it be a pageant. And I think a good way of setting the tone of
pageantry is by having the whole show start out with Bob Moore's Amazing
Mongrels. I think part of what we do every time is to try to give people
something a little different, and I would think this is probably pretty
unique for us or any other band, to have the first act on be a canine act.
Q. The United Center has more than 20,000 seats. Does the dog
act work in such a big place?
A. It varies a lot from city to city. I can't quite figure out
when it's going to be a very receptive and good Amazing Mongrels crowd and
when it's going to be a more dead one. I guess it just depends on the amount
of potential dog lovers in the audience at any given time.
Q. Have the dogs left any "presents" onstage before you guys
A. There was a supposed incident of a dog peeing on the DJ riser,
but I can neither confirm nor deny that.
Q. It seems like an appropriate segue to note that many
reviewers are contending that the Beastie Boys have finally "matured," but
that seems to be primarily due to the fact that some of you fellas are going
A. First you get a little annoyed about that sort of thing, and
then you laugh about it. It's been a pretty long span of time, obviously,
between our first records and now, so naturally you go through life and you
change. That's what happens. In certain ways, your relationships with each
other are innately affected by the state of fame as much as anything else,
and then you just change naturally as well. I'm kind of stating the obvious
Q. Well, it would be absurd for a band with a 23-year history
to stay in exactly the same place for all those years.
A. Or if you do -- the people who say, "I'm going to write 'You
Gotta Fight for Your Right to Party' for 20 years because that's what people
like" -- they're not really putting their hearts into their music. You have
to try something new.
Q. Parts of "To the 5 Boroughs" are intensely outspoken about
politics; I'm thinking of lines like, "George W.'s got nothing on we/We got
to take the power from he." Many of the musicians who performed on the Vote
for Change tour experienced a negative reaction from fans. I know that the
e-mail I got from 9 out of 10 readers ran along the lines of, "I wish these
musicians would just shut up and play their guitars."
A. I'm shocked, because I would think it would be running 9 out of
10 in the opposite way. Because we've been on tour, I didn't get to see any
of the Vote for Change concerts. In our show, it's a pageant, if you will,
but we take all of one minute out to encourage people to vote and to let
everybody know where we stand and what we feel. We encourage people to vote
and ask them to vote against George W. Bush and for John Kerry, but that's
actually one minute out of 90 or 100. To me, it would almost be dishonest
not to take that minute out. It's such a crucial time, and this is such an
incredibly important election for our country. It's the most important in my
I feel the same way with our album. Of course, a lot of the album is just
us having fun and writing lyrics in the studio, trying to make each other
laugh -- having silly rhymes about what we've eaten for lunch that day or
whatever. But at the same time, we made that record in downtown New York,
where our studio is, and we all live close to Ground Zero. In the post-9/11
world, I think it would have been almost forced not to somehow comment on
the situation at all.
Q. It's been six years between albums, but you guys seem to be
dodging the question of why it took so long.
A. You'd think we would have come up with a good excuse by now. At
this point, no one believes the old, "Having families and kids and taking
time out to do that," or the other excuse of, "We were on tour with 'Hello
Nasty' for a year and we needed some time off after that." I think when you
get down to it, we're lucky. We feel really fortunate that we're in the
economic position to really only make records when that's what we want to be
doing together. We wait until we all want to sit down in a room with each
other and make music -- when we want to do that more than anything else that
we could possibly be doing in life -- and that's a great feeling. We're
really lucky to only have to make a record at those times. In the current
crazy situation of bands and record labels and everything in the industry,
it's unfortunate that a lot of people are making records when they don't
have that feeling.
Q. What spurred the Beastie Boys to come together in the studio
again for "To the 5 Burroughs"?
A. Part of it was what was going on in the world. We all felt
compelled, like, "Gosh, of course we have something to say now, and we want
to get together and work through that." The other reason was that we're not
yet at an age where we can escape our love for music and what a huge part
that is of our lives. It's our shared life together: Our main means of
communication is listening to music and making music, like, "Here, check out
this record!" That's our common ground.
Q. Was there ever a point during the break when someone said,
"Maybe it's time to retire the Beastie Boys?"
A. I think a lot of people outside of the group said that!
[Laughs] But it honestly never occurred to us; we were never like, "We have
to put the band on hold." We did the "Hello Nasty" tour, and then we decided
to focus on some other things, but meanwhile we still had band things going
on, like the "Anthology" CD and DVD, that we had to come together for. Then,
finally, it was that time again where we were all with each other and we
decided we all really wanted to do a record.
Q. Tell me about making the album. What was special about this
A. It's really kind of a mundane thing: We all just meet every day
in downtown Manhattan, where we have our own studio, and we bring in ideas
that each of us started on our own, on our computers in our home studios. We
bring some of that stuff in and sift through it all together and say, "OK,
that's my favorite thing" or "This I really like," and we come to a
consensus on, "Let's start working on these six things." We also
collaborate, saying, "I have something that would work really good with
that" or "I have this really cool break for that part." There's a good
amount of that.
We always start with the music first. Probably the biggest difference
between this record and other records we've done is that with technology
being where it is, we could really do a lot of it unassisted. We could come
in, just the three of us, and have a song and fire up Pro Tools, add a
couple of things to it, listen and take out our notebooks, then grab the
mikes and just try to impress each other. We'd kind of react off of each
other, hear what the other guy was saying, and go, "That's kind of cool;
let's do that." It builds from there, and hooks and choruses emerge out of
Q. You were talking about trying to make each other laugh. Do
you have any perspective after working with these guys for so long on what's
so special about the chemistry between you three?
A. Honestly, I would say that at the heart of this group is the
exchange of our ideas and the way that our voices react to one another. But
what that really is, I think I'm as much in the dark as anyone else. I can't
Q. Let's go back to 1989 and "Paul's Boutique," which remains
the group's masterpiece and a high point in hip-hop history. As a critic and
a fan, I've been disappointed by how few artists have tried to forward the
music in that genre-hopping, psychedelic direction, picking up where the
Beasties or De La Soul left off in the late '80s.
A. I think you have some of that with Talib Kweli [who will follow
the Amazing Mongrels as an opening act at Thursday's show], and Mos Def and
Common. I would even say that Kanye West is the most commercially successful
example of that. Like Common, he's a Chicago native.
Q. We're proud to claim him! But while Kanye is going platinum,
Common is still struggling to go gold. Sad to say, the most musically
adventurous hip-hop is still much less successful than cliched gangsta rap
like 50 Cent.
A. But you never know. To me, Common is an artist who's one song
away -- his next record, which he's doing with Kanye, could be the one that
finally connects with a lot of people. Common is an artist who has a career,
who's clearly very talented, and who's just one song away from having that
song that changes his life and his career.
As for "Paul's Boutique," I kind of feel like it's more your job than
mine to talk about its importance or whatever; I don't really have the
perspective. I will tell you one anecdote that sort of plays into your
hypothesis, though. I remember when we were making "Paul's Boutique," we
were in the studio and we got an advance copy of De La Soul's "3 Feet High
and Rising." When we listened to that, there was a combination of all of us
being really excited that it was such a great album but also feeling
completely deflated and destroyed, like there was no way we were going to be
able to do anything as good as that.
Q. That brings to mind the Beatles talking about how they felt
circa "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" when they first heard the
Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds."
A. Well, I can't at all put us in huge shoes like that! [Laughs]
But it was like we were huge fans but also competitors. It definitely
compelled us to say, "We really have to work on our craft here." To some
degree, you don't see that as a mass movement in hip-hop today, but there
are always records that come out that inspire you. Kanye's album is a big
commercial record that also holds up as an album. And I think that's great.