The Beastie Boys: All Growns Up (Relix Revisited)
Before we’ve made any ground, the band’s publicist approaches to end the interview and nudge the band out the door. Yet they insist on giving me a chance to ask a few more questions: “We’ve been bullshitting. Give ‘em a few more minutes,” says MCA. But when I look over and see another impatient minder at the door, to their surprise I suggest that we stop there and set up phoners—as in phone interviews.
Mike D: “Cold as Ice!” [Humming the song’s intro] Dunt-nunt-nunt-nunt-nunt-nunt-nunt-nunt… Let’s talk about Foreigner.
Ad Rock: He doesn’t want to, man. It’s not on his list [looking down at my notebook].
Mike D: Alright, come on, just pick a question.
Not expecting much, and picking something off the top of my head—instead of from my list—I ask them what they’re more excited to hear these days, the new Arcade Fire album or the new Nas record.
Ad Rock: Nas excites me more than Arcade Fire.
Mike D: I bought both records on iTunes. You can check my account.
Ad Rock: You downloaded them? Whoa.
Mike D: No, I didn’t. Tamra bought the CD, so I loaded in the CD. And Nas’ Hip-Hop is Dead, I bought the CD. And, largely, he delivered. The whole album wasn’t off for me, but, he delivered. Arcade Fire, too. I’m not shittin’ on them.
Having their attention, however momentarily, I try to rattle off one more question, and bring up the press conference they held the day before during which a group of writers, mostly from fanzines and websites, repeatedly brought up the trio’s race and prodded them for their thoughts on hip-hop. One interviewer from South America asked in an odd, round-about way, if they were disappointed that more white rappers had not found success. Other questions seemed intended to get them to bash current hip-hop, especially Southern hip-hop, which they wouldn’t do. I ask whether they find it strange that, 25 years into their career, they’re still being asked about race.
MCA: We get that every time we tour.
Mike D: And it’s really outside of America, because I really think that now we’re at a point in America and American culture where it’s like hip-hop is such an integrated…
Ad Rock: We gotta go, son. [MCA laughs]
Mike D: If you’re starting a band, you’re going to be influenced by whoever—The Who, Bob Marley, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, whoever. You can’t help it. It’s in your blood at this point.
Having bullshitted their way through the entire ten minutes and then some, all three agree to talk more—and more seriously, hopefully—on the phone the following week. While that week ends up being a month, when each of three pick up the phone, they agree to temper the jokes and give me something I can use. And they do.
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.
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