If You Hear Any Noise…: An Interview with Beastie Boys

Mike D: Look, Adam. You found a VW sign. Did you wear it around your neck? No, you…

Adrock: I gave it to you. It’s actually Laura Schulson’s.

Mike D: Right, but that’s what I’m sayin, see.

MCA: It’s weird, it’s coming back.

Mike D: What I’m sayin’, Adam, is that you blessed me with [the VW sign]. And I tried to bless you with the paper chase look. [laughs]

Adrock: And I appreciate that.

Walking into a Beastie Boys conversation midway is enough to gather their appeal. Like neighborhood stoop buddies, like a barbershop social club, or like three guys that have grown up with each other and played music together for over a quarter century, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “Adrock” Horovitz, and Adam “MCA” Yauch live in their own world. Granted, the trio has the distinction of being historic, commercial, and critical notables in hip-hop and, subsequently, the rest of the world clamors for a peek over and over and over again. However, in person, they appear unfazed and impartial to the outside. Their greatest pleasure still appears to be their selves as they unconsciously graft each other’s thoughts into seamless exchanges — a dizzying flurry of ideas, thoughts, and wisecracks.

So, it’s only natural to wonder why the group would subject their selves to the formality of a press conference, even to promote their own concert film Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That! The premise alone should sell the film: at the group’s 2004 homecoming show in New York’s Madison Square Garden, 50 pre-selected audience members were given camcorders and asked to film the concert. The result is a 93-minute document of the entire show — from pre-show warm-up chants to post-show congratulations in the green room — culled from this amateur footage, as well as some back-up pro coverage, that looks like … a 93-minute concert film. As one can expect from the B Boys, especially after outdoing themselves in packaging their Criterion Video Anthology, the show is brisk, the sound is crisp and the film is a sure-shot hit for any fan. So, what is foremost on the minds of these three MCs? Aliens.

In the cozy confines of the group’s office in a converted Tribeca warehouse with five other journalists huddled around a rickety table for two, the Boys spring to life when ruminating on their own ideas. Clubplanet‘s Naomi Baria asks the eye-opener, “So, say we [screened] this film in outer space, what do you think aliens would think about our civilization?” Before the question is even finished, Adrock has already leaned in and drops his voice, “Very good question, we’ve been talking a lot about that.” MCA hypothesizes a positive reception, but Mike D quickly interjects that there may be technological barriers, “Do you think they have the sub-bass?” Adrock reminds his colleagues of gravity’s effect on sound’s ability to travel through space. MCA finally concludes, “Can the aliens decode Dolby E? I think that is the real critical question.” From theorizing like Richard Feynman to riffing like Groucho Marx, the Boys share and pass ideas like a hot mic: quick enough to avoid a burn yet playful enough to eagerly anticipate another chance to speak.

Asking for specs — Who edited the film? Why did you film in New York? What was the inspiration for the film? — results in a litany of predictable responses: Neal Usatin edited the film. New York is their home and filming at home felt special. And why not film a concert properly, especially when fans are posting camera phone clips on your own website? But give their imaginations room to roam, such as asking about their latest tour’s costume design, and the three promptly lighten up. After clarifying that the proper term is “work clothes,” they expand about their wardrobe selection process. “Work uniform catalog,” MCA deadpans while Mike D expands, “We have experts that look at the conditions. Because… we need fabrics that breathe. That allow movement.” Even when Adrock breaks character to add that the outfits were courtesy of a sponsor (Adidas), Mike D jumps back on track, “We also had Jean-Paul Gautier design us a full line of clothes. But we didn’t wear them.”

As conversation about the nationally distributed film winds down, each Beastie Boy finds humor and wit in explaining their current projects. “I’m currently working on a big album by Faith Hill,” says Mike D. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the artist. I do some of the digital editing. And some of the special effects and the graphics. The album cover. The airbrushing. And I play the glockenspiel on it, too.” On the flip, Adrock has production work in the pipe for Lady Sovereign and MCA is working on another film, a drama about graffiti writers in 1981. Not that the group is already past the Awesome: I Fuckin’ Shot That! experience. In discussing the inevitable release of the film on DVD, they quickly recognize the bonus features as the final frontier of their imagination. Perhaps the best summary of the group’s personality is an exchange over the inclusion of the video clips that were played during breaks in the show and were edited out of the final cut of the film:

Adrock: But none of them are funny. I was talking with Fredo [Alfredo Ortiz, Beastie Boys percussionist] about this: the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding one?

Mike D: That was funny. The crowd didn’t play well?

Adrock: Why was that in Detroit? The Olympics weren’t in Detroit.

MCA: Mission Impossible was all right.

Mike D: Mission Impossible was great.

Adrock: I don’t remember it.

MCA: A guy came in. There’s blow all over the table. Everyone’s doing blow. Then there was the…

Mike D: The Mad Max joint. What’s the one where we shot the guys in the band?

MCA: Yeah, that’s Mad Max. They come on the golf carts.

Adrock: Slipknot.

MCA: You guys don’t know what we’re talking about.

So, go the Boys: let them play … and maybe they’ll let you in on the joke.