When you’re offered five minutes with one of your heroes, you jump on it with vigor like Kool Aid-geeked grade schoolers on a trampoline. Or at least, you should. Such is the case with one Mike Diamond, aka Mike D, the high-pitched smooth talker in the archetypal Beastie Boys. In this humble man’s opinion, if you don’t own Paul’s Boutique, you are missing one of the greatest contributions to modern American music (License to Ill and Check Your Head notching only a slight level below). That’s three albums on The Madman’s Best 100 Albums of the 20th Century list, when Guns N’ Roses only has one. As do Nirvana and NWA. The Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame seems to agree, as next month they’re inducting the Beastie Boys into their hallowed walls, making them only the second hip hop act to achieve the honor (after Run DMC).
But that’s not all Mike D has in store this spring. On April 20 Mercedes Benz is launching a multi-media gallery experience called Transmission LA: AV CLUB at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, and they’ve handpicked Mike D to curate the exhibit. This will be the second installment of the Transmission series, following last year’s Berlin edition with avant garde Belgian designer Raf Simons at the helm.
Artists include Peter Coffin, Benjamin Jones, Mike Mills, Tom Sachs, chef Roy Choi (of Kogi Foodtruck fame), Sage Vaughn, Public Fiction (Los Angeles) and Still House Group (Brooklyn). “It would bum me out if people only go once and then cross it off their list — we want to make it a hub where people go in downtown LA,” explained Mike D emphatically at the preview. As for things to look out for, Mike insisted to visit the coffee bar, which will come “with some surprises — a special thing for those that enjoy caffeine. And Ben [Jones]’s installation will shock and thrill all, and even nauseate some.” Sounds appealing. Well enough about that — his name is Mike D and he gets respect, your cash & your jewelry is what he expects…
You’ve worn many hats in your creative days, going way past the Beastie Boys to organizing mega-concerts like Tibetan Freedom Concert, and putting together that huge video anthology boxset you guys did. Out of all those creative titles you wear, which is the one you draw the most joy from?
I guess the one I come back the most to, and still enjoy and the one I’m most thankful for is musician, creating music, because there’s a certain purity in that. But one of the things I also feel blessed for are these opportunities I’ve had. Certain musicians are probably just content making music, whereas we were always interested in the bigger presentation, of all the visuals — whether it’s record covers, videos, whatever. It was something that we took on that was always an equally interesting adventure. So I’m thankful for all these different directions that I as an individual and we as a band were able to go from music.
Certain videos of yours — like “Hey Ladies” and “Sabotage” — always had a very comic element, but were always really innovative. How much was it the Beastie Boys vision, and how much of it was riffing with the director?
Well they’re collaborations. “Sabotage” was obviously Spike Jonze, who we’ve worked with a lot and have a close relationship with. But honestly there was a lot of that [riffing]; the conception of that video was just spent hanging out, I guess it was in Yauch’s apartment in Los Feliz, we were hanging out, watching things and coming up with ideas. And literally we went out and shot that thing without any of the permits that we should have had. And we just did it.
No way — so you stole all those shots?
Well we didn’t’ steal them all, we had a couple permits [laughs]. It wasn’t like we had the Fire Department there or anything. We didn’t really follow the safety guidelines.
Hit the Jump to continue reading our interview with Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Mike D, plus enjoy the very low-fi “Sabotage” video directed by Spike Jonze below…
“I think they tried to tell us we had lost our minds, but we were young and arrogant enough that it didn’t’ really matter…”
Well you never really have, right? What’s interesting to me, is in that License to Ill/Paul’s Boutique timeframe you guys had two distinct eras: the New York years and the L.A. years. Obviously your hometown created you, inspired you out of your punk/hardcore days as you moved into rap, but what was it like moving to L.A.? How did the city affect you, or inspire you?
Umm, honestly we had a lot of fun when we moved out here. I think we eventually tired of it and missed New York, and that’s why we moved back there. But umm, coming from New York, LA always has this iconic fantasy, where it’s this kind of city of blank possibilities. So at the time we came here we wanted to get away from… we had the falling out with our record label at the time, Def Jam, and we wanted to get away from a lot of our associations in New York and just start fresh. And LA’s an interesting place for that, because it’s a city where a lot of people move here to do that.
That also seemed to be an era where you guys went from really juvenile antics, and pop music, to a considerably more experimental sound. I mean Paul’s Boutique was initially looked at as a commercial disaster…
…and now it’s seen as genius, as this landmark of sampling. So you guys were transitioning from party boy joke band to real, legitimate artists. How much of that had to do with moving to LA, and how much was it due to the Dust Brothers?
I guess… I don’t know, it’s funny because honestly it wasn’t a pre-meditated move on our part; I don’t think we really intended to become as much of a self-parody as we kind of did post- License to Ill, and I don’t think we intended to then become perceived as making an important piece of art as Paul’s Boutique became. In both cases we were sort of enjoying ourselves, and just making what we were excited about making.
I think wherever, whenever you are influences what you make. At least for me that’s been inescapable. We as a band, myself as an individual, I don’t operate in a bubble — we very much feed off of our environmental circumstance and condition. But so really, Paul’s Boutique was to me, if anything, it was more of a moment in time where it really had to do with the freedom we had. All of a sudden, it had to do with the combination of freedom and significant resources, honestly.
Almost infinite resources, really.
Right. Because we went from being at Def Jam, and working tightly with Rick [Rubin], him kind of having tight control, making that first record really cheap, and suddenly we left Def Jam and had a lot of money to book studios wherever we wanted, and we decided we wanted to record with the Dust Brothers. People were like, ‘Huh?’ They hadn’t really heard of them, so we could just really keep pushing and pushing. It was a funny position, we didn’t really have anyone around us that was like, ‘Guys, this is crazy! This record sounds nothing like your first record!’ [laughs]
Capital [Records] didn’t say anything to you guys? Cause they must’ve thought you had lost your minds.
I think they tried, but we were young and arrogant enough that it didn’t’ really matter. [Laughs]
Good for you.
So how much influence of Paul’s Boutique was the Dust Brothers, and how much of it was Beastie Boys? Because that album gets really trippy at some points, way beyond anything rap at the time, that’s for sure.
I think musically the Dust Brothers obviously brought a lot to it, and they taught us in terms of technology. They had a lot going on that hadn’t been done in music with sampling before up to that point, and then we kind of really wanted to keep pushing it and making it trippier and more out there. Because that’s just where our interests were at the time.
OK, so what’s the aspect of this new Transmission LA: AUDIO VISUAL CLUB exhibit that you are most excited about? As curator, what will you be paying attention to the most?
It’s the combination of events, really, of having music and art and food, and hitting on having a fully sensory experience. And also honestly, like hopefully having fun with it. Hopefully people will come to it and keep coming through it, and will have a lot of fun. Because part of my frustration with museums or art galleries, is that it’s a very static, starchy, not fun environment typically. And so I want this to be a lot louder and a lot more fun.
Is there one specific element you’ll be watching closely to see how people are reacting to it?
Honestly it’s all of it, it’s really how people interact with all the different elements. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun…
If you’re in Los Angeles from April 20 thru May 6, make sure you make it down to the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA for the Transmission LA: AUDIO VISUAL CLUB exhibit. From what we were previewed, it’s gonna be a helluva show (plus free for all!) On a quick sidenote, it’s important to underscore that Benz is not simply just paying someone a bunch of coin to throw their name at the top of the marquee and become title sponsor of this event. Mercedes has created the event from Day One, taking a very hands-on approach to who it selected as curator, handpicking a venue, and ensuring that all creatives are on the same page aesthetically. In typical subdued fashion, Benz will also keep branding to a minimum, although there will be an artistic staging of the Mercedes-Benz Concept Style Coupé, which will be unveiled to the world for the first time. See you there!
Transmission LA: AV CLUB at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
April 20 – May 66
152 N Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013