The Fresh Air Interview: The Beastie Boys
This interview was originally broadcast on March 29, 2006. The Beastie Boys released a new album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, on May 3, 2011.
To film The Beastie Boys' 2006 concert movie, Awesome; I... Shot That!, fans attending a concert at Madison Square Garden received 50 cameras.
Awesome, described as "an authorized bootleg," includes more than a thousand edits, as footage was spliced together to give an omniscient view of a Beastie Boys concert. The Hi-8 cameras capture the scene as the rappers tear through a 24-song set.
From standard stage shots to multiple visions of a crowd going wild, the images flow with the music, forming a pastiche that's not unlike the sampled, tweaked beats of hip-hop.
In the concert, Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock — who go by Michael Diamond, Adam Yauch and Adam Horovitz when they're not rhyming — are backed by Mix Master Mike, Keyboard Money Mark and percussionist Alfredo Ortiz. The set also includes an appearance from rapper Doug E. Fresh.
Awesome had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and its director is listed as Nathaniel Hornblower — the nom de cine of Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA. It's the first full-length film for Yauch, who created much of the art and video associated with the group.
The Beastie Boys have been making music since the early 1980s, and their catalog includes party songs like "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right To Party)" and "Brass Monkey," which is performed in the concert film.
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Terry spoke to the Beastie Boys in 2006, when they released a concert filmed called "Awesome; I... Shot That!" Adam Yauch directed the film using footage from cameras that were distributed to fans in the audience of one of their New York concerts.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Now, the movie was shot in Madison Square Garden. The first time you performed there, you opened for Madonna. Now, I understand on that tour, her fans booed you just about in every performance.
Mr. MIKE DIAMOND (Musician): Oh, they did a lot more than that.
GROSS: What did they do?
Mr. DIAMOND: Some audience members were crying, actually, yeah. It was touching but actually...
Mr. ADAM YAUCH (Musician): We also got - I remember getting yelled at by a parent because we were cursing, and they were like: How could you do that when I'm here with my child, young child?
GROSS: What was it like early in your - relatively early in your career to be booed so frequently on, you know, on somebody else's tour?
Mr. DIAMOND: We got up for it, really.
Mr. YAUCH: You get kind of like into pro-wrestler mode, where you kind of get into for a while. It's kind of funny.
Unidentified Band Member: Come on, come on, come on.
Mr. DIAMOND: That's where the whole king of paramount came in.
Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, we got into - actually, we got into a mode for a while where we'd come out, and they wouldn't boo, and then we'd try and do things to get them to boo.
Like they would be applauding, and we'd just say: You know, it's really hard to get up here, and you should...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. YAUCH: We need to be appreciated by you people.
GROSS: What's it like now to sing things that you wrote, you know, 20, 25 years ago, when you were much younger? You've changed a lot over the years. Do the lyrics still fit you?
Unidentified Band Member: It's a little awkward at times.
Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, some of them are dumb. But yeah, it's just fun. You know, it's - sometimes it's fun to just play the old songs anyway, no matter how stupid they are.
GROSS: Have you revised any lyrics that you're no longer comfortable with, lyrics from...
Mr. ADAM HOROWITZ (Musician): Yeah, we - I mean, I know I do, personally. Some of the stuff that I say on "License to Ill," I say some real dumb stuff. And so, you know, I like the song, and the song's important to, you know, people that like us or listen to us. And so it's important. And so if that's what people want, you know, we should - you know, why not play the songs? But definitely, there's some things I don't like to say.
GROSS: Can you give us an example of something you've changed?
Mr. HOROWITZ: I can't think of anything off the top of my head but just some dumb things about, like - I don't even know.
Mr. YAUCH: It's usually the more sexist ones.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Yeah, yeah.
Mr. DIAMOND: I do have one that I'm particularly proud of, and I'm not sure even who it came from, but in "No Sleep Til Brooklyn," I say: And Yauch's in the back at the Mahjong board. And I'm not even sure what is the original...
Unidentified Band Member: I don't even know if we could say it on the air.
Mr. DIAMOND: Yeah, I don't even know what, yeah, if we could. But I just particularly like that because it kind of really reflects where we're at now.
GROSS: Your first hit was "Fight For Your Right," and Adam Yauch, in the liner notes of a best-of collection, you write that the song began as a goof and that it started as a satire of "I Wanna Rock" kind of songs. So what did you have in mind when you wrote that?
Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, basically that. I think you saw - it was just kind of like, just one of those, like, "Smokin' In the Boys Room" type things, just thought it was kind of funny.
But I don't think we realized that it was going to be the sort of the main focus of the album, that it was going to - like I think the way we were looking at it, we were just kind of making this dumb song that would sit somewhere on the album. But I think that CBS and Rick saw it as being able to be something much larger than what we imagined, and they kind of made it the main focus of the album.
GROSS: Let me play the record, and then we'll talk about it a little bit more.
Mr. DIAMOND: Oh, okay.
Unidentified Band Member: Fantastic.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: And this is The Beastie Boys, "Fight For Your Right."
(Soundbite of song, "Fight For Your Right")
THE BEASTIE BOYS (Music Group): (Singing) Kick It. You wake up late for school, man you don't wanna go. You ask your mom, please, but she still says no. You miss two classes and no homework, but your teacher preaches class like you're some kind of jerk.
You gotta fight for your right to party.
Your pops caught you smokin', and he said no way...
GROSS: So, okay, so this is like your first big single, really big hit, and you're saying it started out kind of as a goof. So did your fans misunderstand who you were?
Mr. YAUCH: I think maybe we just ended up with a different bunch of fans than we expected. I mean, like, I think if we could have picked at the time - like if I could have known, like, how much that record would have, that song would've informed everyone about the album, to use Mike's word informed, I probably - my choice would have been more to pick, like, a different song to be the main single, like "Hold It Now" or "Slow and Low" or "Posse In Effect" or one of the other cuts.
But anyway, that song was the one that informed everyone, and so the next thing you knew, we would go out and play shows and look, and the whole place would just be full of, like, frat boys, like drunken frat boys. And so it was - and so there we were.
GROSS: Yeah, we were talking earlier about going from punk to hip-hop. So I don't imagine you had a big, you know, frat-boy audience for your band when you were playing punk.
Mr. DIAMOND: We never did when we were punk and then also when we were playing hip-hop. Like, what we came out of by hooking up with Russell, we actually, we had - we got like a really good education in terms of going on tour and opening up for Run-DMC. Like, we were on a tour opening for Run-DMC, Whodini, LL Cool J. So that was like a completely hip-hop audience.
So to then all of a sudden go into this world of, like, kind of like, I don't know, I guess a more pop audience and, like, kind of college kids wanting to party and drink beer and go see a Beastie Boys show, that was completely foreign to us and beyond anything we ever imagined.
GROSS: Adam, in those liner notes, you write: By drinking so much beer and acting like sexist, macho jerks, we actually became just that. So did you feel like...
Mr. YAUCH: I never said that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Did you feel like you were becoming the image that you created?
Mr. YAUCH: I think so, yeah. I think in a way, you know, it's almost like we started out kind of like goofing on it but then just sort of became it, in a way.
Mr. HOROWITZ: It's the become-what-you-hate syndrome. It happens.
Mr. DIAMOND: So you set out with an agenda of parody, and then a certain amount of time goes by, and you kind of cross that line.
Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, like you parody something enough, you know...
Mr. HOROWITZ: It's kind of like when you go to England, and you do a British accent the whole time, and then you come home and you have a fake British accent.
GROSS: So was there a point where...?
Mr. HOROWITZ: Do you know what I mean?
GROSS: Yeah, was there a point where - no.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Was there a point where you said to yourselves: We crossed the line, we've become our own parody?
Mr. DIAMOND: Definitely, but I don't - I think the point - that point almost came, like we had to kind of get off of tour and almost have a second away from that to sort of assess and realize, look at where everything was at.
GROSS: And so what changed when you had that realization?
Mr. DIAMOND: We switched to weed.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Band Member: And then we made "Paul's Boutique."
GROSS: Which was very different from the - which I think some fans loved and some fans felt disappointed because it was a departure. What was different about it?
Mr. YAUCH: Well, weed is a good word. It weeded out some fans, too, and that was okay.
Mr. HOROWITZ: And found some fans that were weeded out.
Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, and the fans that got - that moved on, moved on to U2 or Scritti Politti or I don't know.
Mr. DIAMOND: I'm having - like with "Paul's Boutique," you had two things going on. You had, like, people who probably expected, like, "Fight For Your Right to Party Part Two," and they were very disappointed and were like this isn't what I want at all.
Mr. YAUCH: And they got weeded out.
Mr. DIAMOND: And they got weeded out. And then there were the fans that were, like: Wow, this is whatever. This is something I'm really into. And they got weeded out, too.
Mr. YAUCH: They got weeded out.
Mr. DIAMOND: They got in a different meaning of the word.
DAVIES: The Beastie Boys, speaking with Terry Gross. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of song, "Groove Holmes")
DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's 2006 interview with The Beastie Boys: Michael Diamond, Adam Horovitz and Adam Yauch. Their new album is called "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two."
GROSS: You each come from families with pretty interesting artistic backgrounds. So if we could go around, and if you could each talk a little bit about how, if at all, your parents' kind of artistic inclinations affected you when you were coming of age and developing your own artistic sensibility.
Adam Horovitz, let's start with you. I mean, your father's a pretty well-known playwright, Israel Horovitz.
Mr. HOROVITZ: Yeah. I grew up - my dad, every time I was with my dad, he was always - not always, but he wrote. He's a writer. So he was always in his office writing. He made a plan and, like, a point of: This is my work. I'm going to do this every day for these amount of hours. So I think that's where I got, like, a work sort of ethic.
That's why we - like, we work - so many hours we spend in the studio, and it just seemed kind of natural because of just watching my dad, how many hours he just spends in his office just writing and writing, even when he doesn't have any particular story he's writing. You know what I mean? He'll just go in, and just these are the hours he's got to do it.
So, you know, it was definitely influential to me just in terms of, like, a work ethic, just create whatever. You know, whatever you do, create something. And that was kind of the impression I got.
And definitely from - my mom was a very, very artistic person. And I got creativity from my mother.
GROSS: Michael Diamond, your parents were in interior design. Do I have that right?
Mr. DIAMOND: Well, my dad was actually involved with the art world. He was an art dealer.
Mr. DIAMOND: So, yeah, I don't know. For me, I'd just say my influences - I had two things. One was I was - the biggest thing for me, I was the youngest of three brothers. So growing up here in Manhattan and New York City at the time we grew up, like in the '70s and the '80s, it was such an influential time of so much music happening, you know, kind of like everywhere. And, you know, this is a time before the Internet.
You know, you really had to have local access to things, and it was just like you had hip-hop, you had reggae, you had punk rock. I don't know how I - what my entrance to all this kind of music would have been if I wasn't the youngest of three kids because it was kind of like whatever my oldest brothers were going through, I wanted to do the same thing at the same time.
So even though I was like 12 or 13, whatever they were doing when they were 16, I had to be involved with it.
GROSS: So what were they listening to that you loved?
Mr. DIAMOND: I mean, whatever, that transition. I mean, it went from, like, stealing my brother's, you know, Steve Miller "Fly Like an Eagle" album to then, like, discovering Elvis Costello through him to then, you know, getting turned on to hip-hop from my friends or stealing, you know, one of my brothers' Bob Marley records.
Yeah, I don't know. And then from my parents, I'm trying to think. I think, like, the biggest influence I got from my parents was just being exposed all the time to - like, they were really good about, especially since we grew up here in Manhattan, it wasn't like they would go to events, and we'd stay at home. It's like all the time, we'd be going to art-type functions.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Galas?
Mr. DIAMOND: We'd be going to - no, I don't know. Gala events, I think the kids got left at home for gala events.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Right, right, right. I'd leave the kids at home for a gala event.
Mr. DIAMOND: But, you know, if you're going to, like, an opening or - you know, all the time they were, like, you'd have, like, whatever, creative people kind of coming in and out. And I think, like, I learned as much from the kind of creative people around the periphery of, like, my parents as I did from going to school in a lot of ways.
GROSS: Adam Yauch, your father's an architect. Do I have that right?
Mr. YAUCH: Yeah, but he's actually more of a painter. He went to art school for painting for a long time, and then he switched over to architecture, and he was - he did that for a while, and now he's gone back to painting, and I think he's...
Mr. HOROWITZ: Google him.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: What influence has that had on you?
Mr. YAUCH: Well, you know, I went to college for a couple years, and I remember, like, I was mostly signing up for, like, music classes and, like, art classes and all kinds of things. And I remember my mom kind of being like: What are you doing? Like, if you're going to go to school, you've got to take some more academics. This is ridiculous.
And my dad just kind of said to me, like: Do whatever you want. If you want to take art classes, just take art classes. I wouldn't worry about it.
GROSS: Did you ever expect that the Beastie Boys would be together for 25 years?
Mr. HOROWITZ: No. We didn't know - I mean, it's not like we - we didn't have no idea it was going to be for 25 days.
Mr. DIAMOND: Yeah, I mean, I remember when we started the band, there - maybe I'm speaking for myself here. There was no, like, big ambition. It was kind of like, you know, that was a time when we were going to see bands all the time. A lot of our friends were in bands. So it just seemed like the natural thing. Like, okay, let's start a band and have fun, you know...
Mr. HOROWITZ: Play a couple of gigs and whatever.
Mr. DIAMOND: Yeah. We were in high school. It wasn't like: Okay, we're going to take over the world and do this for our whole lifetimes. I mean, I do think -I'd say about the last three to five years, my mom has finally realized that I'm not going to get a day job.
Mr. YAUCH: You know, I think if we knew that the band was going to be around for this long, we probably would've thought of a better name.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Yeah, that's true.
GROSS: How did you think of the name?
Mr. HOROWITZ: I had nothing to do with it. This is Adam Horowitz.
Mr. YAUCH: It just seemed like it was a funny idea at the time. It was literally like we thought we were probably just going to play a handful of gigs. You know, all our friends were in bands. Everybody was in bands. You just, like, used to throw together a band and like write a couple songs, play a couple shows, and you're done.
Mr. DIAMOND: I mean, also part of the fun of being in a band was coming up with the stupidest name you could think of.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Like my band New Wave Old Hat.
Mr. DIAMOND: That's a big one.
Mr. YAUCH: Angry Samoans is a good name.
GROSS: Well, thank you so much for talking with us. Thanks.
Mr. HOROWITZ: Well, thanks for having us.
Mr. YAUCH: Okay.
Mr. DIAMOND: Thank you.
DAVIES: The Beastie Boys, recorded in 2006. Their new album, "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," was released earlier this week. The extended video for the first single, "Make Some Noise," was directed by Adam Yauch. Also known as "Fight For Your Right Revisited," the video features Will Ferrell, Jack Black, John C. Reilly, Seth Rogen and others playing the Beastie Boys young and old. You can find a link to the video on our website, freshair.npr.org. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.