Chill communication: 5 things we learned in an unofficial SXSW session with the Beastie Boys
Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond, a.k.a. Ad-Rock and Mike D from the Beastie Boys will give a keynote session on Friday at the Convention Center, but on Thursday night they sat down with Amazon Music’s Nathan Brackett for a freewheeling discussion about their album “Ill Communication.” The album turns 25 this year.
Here are 5 things we learned from the conversation.
They never made a decision to transition from a bad boy rap crew to a live band. It just happened.
After “Paul’s Boutique,” the Boys’ first album following their debut “Licensed to Ill,” flopped they were kicking around L.A. aimlessly. There was an explosion of sample-based hip-hop happening at the time, and they were voraciously collecting records. “We were hanging out smoking pot, having snacks, listening to records, having more snacks,” Horovitz said. They were pulling samples to use on albums, but samples cost money.
Diamond described the realization that they could actually play music themselves as a lightbulb moment. “We sucked at first, but we got better. We figured out a way to do it,” he said.
“Ill Communication” was an outgrowth of “Check Your Head.”
They played only a few live shows for “Paul’s Boutique” and then went on a touring hiatus that lasted roughly five years. When they released “Check Your Head,” their manager sent them on a small club tour. They were playing music live every night for a year and they loved it. When they returned to L.A. they didn’t want to stop.
Adam Yauch’s feminist rhyme on “Sure Shot” emerged organically after hours of stupidity.
On the track, Yauch rhymes: "I want to say a little something that's long overdue / the disrespect to women has got to be through / To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends / I wanna offer my love and respect till the end."
Horovitz said that they were going in a round clowning. Yauch did loads of rhymes about “2001 Space Odyssey” and Klingons in the same session, but then he dropped a verse that was very forward-thinking for 1994.
“In the middle of dumb jokes or whatever … your friend says some super deep (expletive),” he said.
They recorded the instrumental track for “Sabotage” in a day.
Yauch had the bass line and they jammed around the groove until it came together. “Usually it wouldn't be that fast because, we weren't good musicians,” Horovitz said. They struggled with the lyrics for months. Finally, they did a send up accusing producer Mario Caldato of trying to undermine them. Caldato took it in stride, they said. He was just relieved that they finally finished the track.
By the time they donned mustaches for the “Sabotage” video they were well-versed in the art of disguise.
Yauch had a whole closet in his apartment dedicated to disguises which included a whole mustache drawer, Diamond said. For a year or so Diamond and Yauch would go out in disguise just for kicks several times a week. It was more fun than going out as themselves. In addition to mustaches, they would occasionally incorporate rat tails and cowboy boots into their look.
(Update: The spelling of Adam Horovitz's last name has been corrected.)