Interview: Mike D of Beastie Boys

words by Rupal Parekh | photo by Vanya Edwards
| Friday, September 7th, 2007

beastieOriginally published in Verbicide issue #21

On a brief break in his tour schedule, amid tending to the gardeners and playing with his kids, Michael Diamond (the Beastie better known as “Mike D”) chatted us up — despite the band’s recent mute tendencies.

For their latest release, The Mix-Up, the Boys put down the mic and focused on instruments. The result is a collection of surprisingly tasty grooves that are less “fight for your right to party” and more “perfect for a dinner party.” Still, Mike D insists that he and the Boys have not buried their roots. The next album promises a return to verse, and they still love samples. So have no fear, folks, hip-hop isn’t dead yet…we’re just waiting for our savior.

For the tour for The Mix-Up it seems like you are big on playing a lot of festivals. Why did you choose to sign on to so many of those when you could have had the limelight all to yourselves?
We like to hog the limelight, and festivals [provide] a bigger opportunity for us to hog more limelight. There are tens of thousands of people there, and we can just hog the whole thing. Basically, we’re attention starved.

Live Earth must have been a good opportunity then — that was one of the most publicized shows all summer.
Live Earth didn’t work so well for us because there wasn’t enough attention focused on us. All these people were talking about global warming.

Do you think that Al Gore’s aim for the concert — that it draw worldwide attention to the issue of global warming — was met?
I’ve heard different thoughts on it. I don’t understand how it would not be, but there was such a huge brouhaha over that show, a lot of it negative. I actually didn’t take the negative [attention] as a bad thing — as long as it’s out there as a topic of discussion, however heated or however cynical the reaction might be — I think that’s sort of a necessary part of the process. But I also think it’s kind of interesting that there were a lot of people who were so cynical towards it, and part of that I understand. But then there’s another part of me where I feel like well, okay, we could all just disregard advocacy altogether and not actually be active in any capacity and just be cynical and let the Bush Administration just, you know, run the world.

I’ve heard that you guys are “going green” for your tour. It’s cool that you’re not just fronting about your dedication to the environment.
We’re doing that for our upcoming US tour. We’re trying to ensure that they are all carbon neutral events; making sure that everything — onsite with the audience, in the backstage mechanics — is all carbon neutral. [Carbon neutral venues] are becoming a lot more common. I’m hopeful that in a couple of years, every tour, every venue will put that into practice.

I was reading the band’s tour blog and it seems like you’re contributing more entries than the other guys. How come?
Well…I could get overshadowed at some point.

So someone might take your place and become the “vicious blogger?”
I’m a little afraid to become the vicious blogger. I think [Adam “Adrock”] Horovitz is more of an innately talented blogger than I am…he’s got a knack for the blog. I perceive for him in the near future, he’ll have like 20 different blogs. I don’t want give away too many secrets — I’m not going to give the URL out — but he’s about to start a blog about just breakfast buffets.

That’s exciting.
We’re very obsessed with them.

What do you guys like at the buffets?
I look for the omelet bar. I want to know that there are some freshly prepared options, where you can customize. At a true omelet bar, they won’t flinch if you ask if they have eggs without butter or poached eggs or something like that. Whatever your customization might be…that, I think, is always a good test. Horowitz has a good barometer. His litmus test is more applicable to Europe than here, it’s that mush — you know, the Müeslix mixed with the yogurt. That’s his barometer in terms of quality. If that’s really good, that’s indicative of the overall quality of a breakfast buffet.

Yeah…so in your blog…
So what you’re saying is that Verbicide is not really interested in breakfast buffets?

Verbicide is all about breakfast buffets, actually. I’m kind of on the omelet bar tip myself. But back to the blog, you said you especially enjoyed Istanbul. What was so cool about it?
I liked it, but in certain ways I was disappointed. I thought it was going to be a little more like being in India or Pakistan, almost like being in Uttar Pradesh or something. But a lot of it was more standard European Union-style then I expected. Then again, we didn’t get out of Istanbul. On the flipside of that, I thought it was an amazing city because the history is so rich and it had a certain energy, a buzzing alive energy, that I’ve experienced only in certain places in the world. Also, we’d never been there before, so that was a big deal for us.

You’ve never been one to shy away from political issues. Who, out of the candidates out there right now, do you think is the country’s best bet for a president that would bring about some positive changes on issues like the environment, health care, education, or other issues that affect everyone?
I haven’t looked into it enough. I’m hesitant to weigh in because I don’t feel as informed as I need to be to back anybody. That being said, I’m already excited about the idea that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are real possibilities in terms of being viable options over the Bush Administration. But I’m not up to backing one or the other…before I put my foot in my mouth, as I often do.

Let’s shift gears and talk about your new album. What took the Beastie Boys so long to follow-up To The 5 Boroughs?
That was a not-so-long gap for us. It could be worse than that.

Yeah, I guess so. What were you guys doing in the meantime?
Not a lot. (laughter) We try to take our time. We toured for a while with To The 5 Boroughs, and then we took a year where [Adam “MCA”] Yauch was mostly working on the Awesome! I Fucking Shot That! DVD. That took awhile, and once the movie got finished up, then we pretty much got going on recording.

Okay, I thought maybe you were laying low after your brother Dustin (AKA “Screech”) had a sex tape that surfaced.
Wait, did Screech have a sex tape? Get outta here!

You didn’t hear about it?
No.

But he’s your brother.
That’s one of the big internet rumors, that he’s my brother. It’s in the “frequently asked questions” section of our web site. I wish he were, because it would be interesting to be related to someone caught up in the midst of a sex tape scandal.

Could be.
Maybe not. I haven’t seen the tape. It could be very embarrassing and wrong.

On The Mix-Up, the three of you play instruments on the whole album as opposed to sampling. Do you still consider sampling to be an art form?
Yeah, definitely. Us doing something more instrument-based as opposed to sample-based, we don’t want it in any way to come across as a critique of the form. We love samples. We looove samples. With To the 5 Boroughs we focused almost exclusively on that, so when we sat down to make this album our first reaction was like, “Okay, where do we go from here, how do we change our approach? Let’s just all sit down and start playing instruments together and see where that takes us.”

If you could master any instrument that you don’t currently know how to play, what would it be?
Hmm…it would be nice if I was masterful on the (Hammond) B-3 organ.

Any truth to the rumors that, down the road, an alternate version of The Mix-Up project may be released with vocals?
Yeah, it definitely might happen. You know, we need to get our shit together on that! (laughter) It’s an idea that’s kind of floating around; we started talking to some people about it and we need to follow up.

When might we expect that?
Sometime at the end of the year, maybe.

That whole thing about having no words on your album — was it hard to stay quiet, and not speak?
A little bit, but not so much. At first it was just an idea, and then we eventually followed through with it. There was a stage when I think we were listening to songs and started coming up with ideas, but then it made us feel that much more excited about working on our next record. That’s going to have vocals and we’ll just put everything into that.

So…is hip-hop dead?
I don’t think so. I think it’s just waiting for somebody to come out and just do something insane. Hip-hop is always based on somebody coming out and doing something that’s completely innovative, whether musically or [with] the vocals or how they combine all of the above. So it’s kind of in one of those moments where it’s waiting for that person to come along — whether it’s somebody who’s out there already or somebody who’s new, who nobody has heard of yet.

Is grunge dead?
Is grunge dead, or is flannel dead?

Both.
Flannel is definitely dead. About now, you could probably bring it back, Be ahead of the curve.

Speaking of things that are pretty weird, what’s with the “Country Mike” album [Mike D side project]?
Country Mike is not doing so well right now. I’ve heard he’s a homeless man and can be found around truck stops sometimes. And he went to rehab as an option over jail.

How many copies of the Country Mike album are circulating?
Country Mike had a burgeoning career. I think he’s a bit bipolar…he is a complicated man.

Did you really give free copies of that album to your family and friends?
Yes, because we were big fans of his. We spread the love…and blessed them with the Country Mike album.