The Beastie Boys: All Growns Up (Relix Revisited)
If they didn’t really care to talk about it backstage at the Hammerstein, here’s what you should know about The Mix-Up : It’s a collection of 12 tracks born out of bass riffs or jams, all recorded at the band’s Manhattan studio, Oscilloscope Laboratories. While working on the tracks, Diamond, Yauch and Horovitz all agreed to enter the studio in what the latter refers to as “jazz-cat mode” : The same suit-and-tie look that has carried over onto the group’s current tour.
“We came up with guidelines,” Horovitz says later. “It had to be late-‘50s or early-to-mid-‘60s suits, mod and Rat Pack suits. And we had casual Fridays, but it had to be period-casual Fridays.” Every day, the three tried to top one another with a new thrift store or eBay find. And the dress code was all encompassing: When longtime collaborators Money Mark (keyboards) and Alfredo Ortiz (percussion) came in to record their parts, they too had to don the monkey suit. “It was cool, because it gave you a different demeanor and a different outlook on your morning,” laughs Ortiz. “When you get up and put on a tie, you’re like, ‘I’m going to work.’ This is how it used to be back in the day when Old Blue Eyes was going to the studio: He got up, put his suit on, put a tie on and put his hat on and that was cool. But after a full day of recording, I have to admit, it was nice to get that suit off.”
Ortiz, who made his recording debut with the group on The Mix-Up – after performing in the touring band for over a decade – even plays on trash cans and ladders at different points on the album. It’s an example of the trio’s anything-goes approach.
“We would all just show up and start playing immediately, and our engineer would turn the computer on and start recording,” says Mike D. Grooves from Tuesday were copied and pasted onto stuff from Thursday. The goal, if there was one, he says, was to create the “that great rock album with the crazy beats on it.” “When I first heard one of the songs,” says Ortiz, "I was like, ‘Hey, that sounds like the bassline to En Vogue’s ‘Hold On.’ They even had like this Bauhaus-sounding song. They were trying to be all funky, and together we were experimenting, trying to take it in different directions. Everybody goes home and kind of just brings in their own ideas, and everybody listens to something more than the other. Nothing’s really planned. I bring a different light and Money Mark brings a different light. And between the three of them, it just kind of blends together. Ad Rock is the kind of guy who’s listening to The Buzzcocks, Mike D would listen to Arcade Fire and MCA would throw on some salsa. That’s the diversity of them. When you have all those three vibes, you’re gonna get The Mix Up. "
Of course, that hasn’t necessarily translated commercially: While still relatively new, The Mix-Up is on track to becoming the biggest dud of the group’s career, numbers-wise. While each of their previous records have sold more than a million units in the U.S., the new disc has moved less than 150,000 in the States. But, of course, that’s what you’re going to get with an instrumentals disc.
If they wanted to do something different this time around – after issuing the pure hip-hop disc To the 5 Boroughs in 2004 – originally, none of them thought that that thinking would manifest into a vocal-less disc. And that’s probably going to change very soon, kind of.
The Beasties are working on a new vocal version of The Mix-Up featuring the likes of former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, Lily Allen, M.I.A and Mark Ronson. Each new track will either find the selected guest layering their vocal over the current track or remixing the song altogether. The Beasties themselves won’t really be involved, beyond sending the artists tracks. “We’re just asking people to do their own thing,” says MCA, who adds that the band has been filming the shows supporting The Mix-Up and will possibly release a visual companion to the instrumental record. What that will be hasn’t exactly been defined yet.
If The Mix-Up offered the group a chance to mellow and kick out the jams – or funk – it’s also inspired a significant change in how it tours, one that compliments its members’ lives as fortysomethings. To support the disc, the Beasties played a pair of shows in the bigger U.S. cities, with one night dedicated to a mix of hip-hop, punk and funk, and the other to instrumentals. Here’s the wholly Beastie Boys twist: For the latter shows, dubbed “gala events” – after a track on the new record – the band asked fans to dress appropriately – no jeans, sneakers and especially no cargo shorts.
Of course, some have obliged, and some haven’t. The Hammerstein gig was one such gala event, where a few hundred among the thousands showed up in ties, jackets, loafers and cheeky tuxedo t-shirts. There were even a few dozen women in ballroom dresses and heels.
“The gala event and the regular show are two different kinds of shows and two different audiences,” says Mike D. “We get this nice, shared experience at the gala event, where the people who are coming really want to hear us play stuff we’ve never played before, or don’t usually play. Those shows are for the heads, the regular shows are for the peeps.” “Doing the shows with more hip-hop in ‘em,” says Yauch, “reminds you of the energy of doing that show: You have to think about which songs you like playing and which lyrics you like saying, so it puts you in the right frame of mind for writing for the next record” – and by the time you read this they will most likely have already begun initial work on that disc, he says – “Doing the gala events just gets you just in the mind of playing.”
By stopping for two nights in cities like Boston and Chicago, touring has become less of a grind, and more welcoming to their families. All three of the Beastie Boys are married. Mike D has two sons, while Yauch has a daughter, who occasionally travels with the band. With a laughs, he notes that on their recent European tour, she had more fun hanging out with the crew than traveling or even watching her dad perform.
“It’s definitely a little different,” he says. “When we were 18, 20 years old, we were going out to clubs every night and getting wrecked, but I’m definitely enjoying having the family life, and spending time with my daughter, and my wife, I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m not longing to be going out to a club and getting wasted till 6 in the morning.”