The iconic rap group’s Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz and Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond discuss their frank, hilarious, and bittersweet memoir – and reveal they’re still just trying to make each other laugh
“Quick question,” asks Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz, speaking over the phone from London. “When you get dressed in the morning, do you take your pyjamas off, naked, then put your shoes on and start from there?”
Horovitz has been telling me about the new trainers he bought the day before, which has somehow led him on a tangent about why he has zero desire to see himself naked, and his own post-shower routine (“I usually start with underwear,” he says with earnest conviction). He’s also convinced that I’m a 79-year-old man in a 29-year-old’s body. Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond, Horovitz’s bandmate in the Beastie Boys and the second voice on the line, is equally suspicious of me. “Jack’s a fake name,” he says. “I don’t appreciate you using some spy alias.”
Sitting down with Ad-Rock and Mike D is like drunkenly herding cats blindfolded in a multi-storey car park. Listen to 1992’s Check Your Head, 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, or, honestly, anything from the Beastie Boys’ 30-year career, and you’ll hear a band with hyperactive attention spans. In “Shadrach”, they draw fire at J. D. Salinger, Charles Dickens, KFC founder and mascot Colonel Sanders, and the fashion tastes of America’s 33rd president, Harry S. Truman – all in four lines. They speak in exactly the same way; a 40-minute conversation is like playing pinball on five machines at once.
It’s a New York bravado that you can trace back to The Young Aborigines, the four-piece punk band that Mike D formed as a 15-year-old, when he was more interested in fuzzed-out guitars than the rap music that Grandmaster Flash gave to New York. “You’re an ASSHOLE,” he slurs on the fittingly titled demo “Asshole”, Mike’s first iteration as a frontman – in a loose sense of the word. Pollywog Stew came next, a thrown-together EP of throat screams and 100mph, Black Flag-style thrash. It showed the first signs of what they’d morph into, or at least formed the prototype for Licensed To Ill, the record the Beastie Boys would eventually break out with.
With Licensed To Ill, the Beastie Boys became hip hop’s marketable ‘bad boys’, their image moulded by the founders of Def Jam, Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, who wanted riotous poster boys for white, middle-American audiences. They drank and trashed hotel rooms; Mike D’s iconic, Volkswagen-embellished gold chain even inspired its own colloquialism, ‘Being Beastied’ – or, in translation, waking up to find the VW emblem from your car had been nicked by an avid Beastie Boys fan.
Horovitz and Diamond haven’t changed entirely since those formative years – they’re hungry, gravel-voiced, and pushing through a champagne-tinged headache from the night before, although the indiscriminate hotel room they’re talking from remains resolutely untrashed – but they have grown up a lot. After three decades, Ad-Rock, 52, and Mike D, 53 with two teenage children, can’t afford the hangovers anymore.
They’ve also experienced tragedy. The death of bandmate Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch in 2012 marked the group’s untimely end. “We have not been able to tour since MCA, Adam Yauch, died,” Diamond stated bluntly in 2014. “We can’t make new music.” Instead, they’ve been revisiting their years together as three MCs (and one DJ) with the Beastie Boys Book, a frank, personal, hilarious, and bittersweet memoir that offers an inside look at life as a Beastie Boy. Alongside the book, they also collaborated with Sonos for a limited edition Play:5 speaker designed by Ad-Rock, Mike D, and graffiti artist Barry McGee, with proceeds going to charities supported by the Adam Yauch foundation.
Following the London date of their Live and Direct global book tour, we sat down with Ad-Rock and Mike D to hear all about the trials and tribulations of youth, becoming father figures, finding a political voice outside of the Beastie Boys, and why they’re big names in Yorkshire fetish circles.
You’re currently touring your new Beastie Boys book called, well, Beastie Boys Book. Did writing it make you look back on your early years and see that petty arguments that felt huge at the time don’t really have the gravity they once did?
Ad-Rock: We got very lucky. We were successful, but if we weren’t, I don’t know what I would have done. I know I’d be pissed and bitter, and Mike would be like, ‘Come on.’ (Laughs) Is that a good assessment, Mike?
Mike D: I agree. Rick Rubin came to the show we did in LA, and I was talking to him about how it all worked out. It sucked at the time, getting fucked over, not getting paid, and they (Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons) definitely behaved badly, but we were all really young, and in a weird way, we all got what we wanted. We all got to move on and be in this fortunate place where we got to make the shit we wanted to make. Rick produced a kazillion different artists, Russell just got paid – that’s all he wanted – but we got to be a band and have this relationship with each other. We never had to be bitter about it… but God, if it didn’t work out, and we sold literally three albums total, we’d probably be sitting around like bitter guys.
The Biz Markie stories in the book are hilarious. I think my favourite is when he was supposed to come to the studio while you were recording Hello Nasty, and called to say, “I’m downstairs in the car, I’ll be right up” – and then you never saw or heard from him for two years. A friend once saw Biz Markie in a Manchester shop after a show, buying as many packets of fig rolls as he could carry. Why do you think–
Mike D: (Interrupting) That sounds very Biz Markie. I’m guessing fig rolls are kind of like Fig Newtons? They get dry. If there was a more moist version of a Fig Newtons, I would buy a lot of them, too.
Ad-Rock: You have to consume Fig Newtons with either milk, or an alternative milk product. It’s like a conspiracy with the dairy industry. They’re in cahoots.
Back to Biz Markie – you have people like Steve Buscemi, Will Ferrell, and Jarvis Cocker reading these stories for the audiobook. Why do you think you’ve gravitated towards these pretty unique, special people over the course of your career?
Ad-Rock: Well, one of our lyrics (from “Get On The Mic”) is, “Well, Mike D is a special individual.” And he is! I feel like he gravitates towards special people, and special people gravitate towards him. Is that a fair sentence, Mike?
Mike D: The weird thing with that is that when you guys first said that lyric, I felt pretty special, like it was a bit of a fete, an honour. Then I realised, later in life, that actually Adam (Yauch) and Adam (Horovitz) were both saying that I’m a little bit slower, and not so smart. Once I realised that, it kind of hurt.
Ad-Rock: I’m sorry, Mike.
Sadly, the closest I ever got to going to a Beastie Boys live show was watching your filmed MTV set in Glasgow from 1999. You didn’t stop for an hour, Mix Master Mike was cutting up samples over “Shake Your Rump” – it was relentless. How do you channel that sort of energy today?
Ad-Rock: There are so many gross answers I could have said… (Laughs)
This isn’t going out on the BBC pre-watershed, so…
Ad-Rock: Um, Mike, how do you ‘channel your energy’?
Mike D: Well, for myself, when we were doing shows like the ones you talk about, it was physically draining. It was this high-paced thing, Mike was throwing so many beats at us and we had to kind of be on our toes. We’d come off the stage sweaty messes, needing to eat. With these shows we’re doing around the book, it’s not physically tiring, but it is mentally tiring. We’re not that smart, so we actually have to think the entire time. When we’re playing music, we’re not thinking at all. Being in this place where we aren’t comfortable, it’s incredible how much work you have to do.
Ad-Rock: It takes a lot of guts to get on stage.
Has writing the book become a creative outlet for you now, post-Beastie Boys and post-live shows? Is that creative release you found in the Beastie Boys something you still want and are searching for?
Ad-Rock: We’ve been doing interviews for this book, right, and people ask, ‘Was it hard to go back and go through all these stories?’ I guess they’re implying that Mike and I are stupid, and I get that. What we haven’t said, but what is true, is that it was fucking heavy – but it was nice to have a project to work on, you know what I mean? It was nice for me and Mike to have this thing to talk about, to think about the fun times, and actually, physically, be working on something. The emotional aspects are there, but sometimes they’re not there, because you’re working on creating a fun thing. So that was really nice.
Mike D: And books are old-fashioned objects, right? Everyone asks why we’d do a book in 2018, but they’re a delivery device for written words and images. They’re very satisfying objects, which is why, I think, we haven’t given up on them.
Adam, in 2016, you spoke at Adam Yauch Park after neo-Nazi graffiti was found there. Do you feel like you’re finding your political and social protest voice beyond the Beastie Boys now?
Ad-Rock: Well, that was an isolated incident. Me, Mike, our manager John Silva, and my sister Rachel worked hard on getting that park done, and that was a tribute to our friend. Somebody not only fucking defaced it in a stupid way, but it’s how they defaced it. To put fucking swastikas on my man’s park like that? You can’t fucking do that, and we’re not going to not say something. In 2018, living in America is fucking crazy. How do you stay silent about all the crazy shit that happens? How do you speak up?
Mike D: At this point, it’s all so overwhelming. I don’t know that anyone knows what the form is of protest any more.
Ad-Rock: The problem now is picking and choosing. Every day there’s some other fucking thing with Donald Trump. What are you going to fight against? What do you got? It’s non-stop. Everything. He’s a slumlord, it’s crazy.
“(Working on the book was) fucking heavy – but it was nice to have a project to work on, you know what I mean?” – Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz
Mike, I heard you spend a lot of time in Malibu with your kids.
Mike D: There is some factual evidence for that.
Are you trying to keep your kids away from some of the stuff you got up to as teenagers? Are you more conscious of that now?
Mike D: I’m definitely aware of it. The main thing about being a dad to teenagers is that when I get frustrated with them, I have to remind myself of how difficult I was back then (Laughs).
Ad-Rock: Oh my God, I can’t even imagine.
Mike D: I made a conscious decision for the first part of their lives to raise them in New York City, because I didn’t want them to not have the hassles of life. If you live in New York, it doesn’t even matter if you have money, it’s still a hassle, but in California, everything’s nice. The weather’s nice, you can surf, you’re in nature; it’s an easier, frictionless lifestyle. I was ready for that, but I liked raising my kids in a place where it isn’t so easy.
Have you become dysfunctional-but-lovable father figures, in a way? Did you ever want to go the same route as your former contemporaries, like LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, or Ice Cube, who’ve very openly mellowed out in their later years and are making family friendly movies and hosting lip sync battles?
Ad-Rock: No – but you know, Mike, we should do a buddy cop movie, right?
Mike D: Who’s gonna be the mean sergeant who always throws the book at us?
Ad-Rock: Jarvis Cocker?
Mike D: That’s the twist. We’re on a case stationed in London.
Ad-Rock: Jarvis Cocker’s our mean police boss. It could be a period piece from the early 60s.
Jarvis Cocker would be good with his sultry, Yorkshire vocal tones.
Mike D: (Laughs) I see that. I’m realising there’s no dog or animal element – maybe there’s another detective in the precinct that’s an English dog. People always like the dog.
Everyone’s creating cinematic universes now, so…
Ad-Rock: Shoe lines, perfumes, everything. That’s what we’re all about right now, global marketing and unicorns.
Well, you are global. A few days ago I was listening to the Beastie Boys on my headphones and, long story short, I got commandeered by this really weird guy in a shop who invited me to an S&M orgy in a Yorkshire pub. But he was just going on about how he loved the Beastie Boys. Even the nice lady who served me at the till was talking about how the Beastie Boys were her ‘era’.
Ad-Rock: It’s of no surprise to me, because we’re big in the S&M community, especially in small pubs in Yorkshire. Everybody knows that. The Yorkshire S&M scene, the plushy scene, the bear community – we’re there.
The pub’s called The White Swan in West Yorkshire, so if you’re ever around, that’s where you go. But anyway, my point was to say – is it still weird to hear of how your music has spread so far and become so ingrained into pop culture?
Ad-Rock: It is very weird. For me, Adam (Yauch) and Mike, our lyrics were usually meant to just make each other laugh. We didn’t assume anyone else would think that shit was funny. When people started buying our records, we thought, ‘Who are these people?’ Most people that I’ve met and become friends with over the years that have to come to see our band play could be in our band, do you know what I mean? A lot of us get the same references, a lot of us are into the same movies. It just sort of happens! So it’s surprising, but not shocking.
One of my favourite Beastie Boys lyrics is in “Shake Your Rump”: “Eating burgers and chicken and you’ll be picking ya nose.” I assume that was a lyric just to make each other laugh?
Ad-Rock: Yeah! (Laughs) What other purpose does that serve? I do like burgers, I do eat chicken – and I’m not proud of it, but I pick my nose, we all do. You know what it is? I should drink more water. I should hydrate more, and then I’ll have less crusty snots.
Don Letts, James Lavelle, and Miranda Sawyer will discuss the legacy of the Beastie Boys at Pass the Mic, an event presented by Sonos at Lonon’s Rough Trade East on December 12