Beastie Boys talk band legacy, new book at SXSW

Jordyn Zitman

The Beastie Boys underwent multiple transformations throughout their career, but fans have remained loyal, turning up by the hundreds to see two of the three original members at SXSW.

Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond sat down with Amazon Music head of editorial Nathan Brackett to recount their decades-long career, filled with number one hits like “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” The band, which lost third member Adam “MCA” Yauch to cancer in 2012, seemingly has no expiration date, as they remain one of the longest-lived hip-hop acts since forming in 1981.

To culminate their career, Horovitz and Diamond released memoir “Beastie Boys Book” in Oct. 2018, featuring personal anecdotes and tales from the road. The book reached the number one spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

“It’s a lot harder than you think to sit down and write stuff, especially trying to make it interesting,” Horovitz said. “It was nice to write and write and think about all the fun times we had. It kept me in the band that I loved to be in, in this different way.”

Diamond said the book is meant to encapsulate the community that the band built over time, which reaches far beyond the three guys on stage.

“Our band isn’t just three people. It’s New York City, it’s all of our friends, its us, it's the music we listen to, it’s the fart jokes, it’s everything,” Diamond said. “That’s what we wanted our book to be.”

New York City is a large motif in the band’s music, having matriculated in the underground punk scene.

“We were somehow lucky enough to grow up in NYC during this time when all this stuff was happening, and we got to bear witness,” Diamond said. “We couldn’t tell our story without giving that context.”

Another important character in the book had to be Yauch, they said. Horovitz said Yauch was incredibly smart and innovative, often knowing about new trends and technology early on.

“He just instinctively knew all these details of life,” Horovitz said. “Just random s— about so many things in life, not just music. We just wanted to let people know that that’s the sort of person he was.”

The band owes a lot of its early success to hiring a New York University student to DJ at their shows. This student was Rick Rubin, who would go on to form Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons and serve as co-president of Columbia Records.

“Rick was from a different background, he was more suburban and into heavy metal,” Diamond said. “We were punk rock kids, and it wasn’t cool to like that. But then he started opening our eyes a little, like ‘maybe Led Zeppelin is a good band.’”

A rift occurred when Yauch decided to travel to Nepal and learn about Buddhism, studying with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Diamond said broader experiences for Yauch only helped the band in their writing.

“He’d always been interested in the world beyond what we were. It wasn’t just an interest in the world, he had an interest in the people who lived in the world,” Diamond said. “He related to them, and he’d bring that back into the studio. That’s how we grew as a band and as friends, because we had this place to come back together and put what we learned to use.”

With years of experience and a lifelong friendship, Horovitz and Diamond traded jokes and stories back and forth throughout the panel. Some of the most shining moments in the panel were born from improvised banter.

The future was unclear for the Beastie Boys, until the members announced that they aren’t quite finished. The band will play several shows in Philadelphia and New York City in April, which will be filmed and directed by Spike Jonze.

Brackett asked Horovitz and Diamond about their favorite Beastie Boys records, discussing the highs and lows of their extensive discography. Diamond said to them, it’s all music that marks their history.

“It’s not like we listen to our own records, so they really are just moments in time for us, and they reflect that time,” Diamond said. “They were definitely long periods, because we don’t work quick.”