Beastie Boys talk elections before Milwaukee gig
Lunchtime has arrived at the Manhattan studio where the Beastie Boys are working on tracks for a new studio album. Mike Diamond (Mike D) orders a cappuccino and the conversation turns to politics.
That, Diamond says, effectively describes the genesis of the "Get Out and Vote 08" tour, which will bring the Beasties, Ben Harper, Crosby and Nash and Tenacious D for a show Sunday night at U.S. Cellular Arena.
"Come lunch time, when we take a water filtration break or a cappuccino break, the dialog turns overwhelmingly to the election," says Diamond, who joins bandmates Adam (MCA) Yauch and Adam (Ad-Rock) Horovitz in supporting Barack Obama.
"Our shared feeling -- one that many, many others share -- is that in our lifetime this is by far the most important presidential election we've been faced with."
In advance of the short swing-state tour, Diamond sat down with his cappuccino and conversed via telephone with OnMilwaukee.com.
OnMilwaukee.com: What do you hope to accomplish with this tour?
Mike D: When we look at the more recent presidential electoral history and see how small numbers of voters in small numbers of places have decided those races, we thought we had to do whatever we could to basically help get the vote out in force.
I'm really hoping for a record turnout in terms of people really feeling compelled to vote in this election.
OMC: I think Bruce Springsteen, REM and John Fogerty said the same thing last time around ...
MD: (laughs) Yes. This is certainly true. Not to take anything away from them, because they put in the work. That's very, very true. At the same time, no credit to ourselves, but there are so many issues that are on the table and the timing of those issues is so much more pertinent and critical now.
Not that they weren't four years ago, but were we in the midst of the worst economic crisis we've been in since the Great Depression four years ago? No.
Were we so aware of our dependency on natural resources and those resources running out? No.
Were we so aware of the disastrous economic consequences of our government's policies? No.
Had we invested so many lives and trillions (of dollars) in two wars at that point? Not yet, we hadn't.
OMC: A lot of people in your industry are finding that it's difficult to get young people to do anything these days -- buy music, get off the couch, stay away from Facebook. If you get them to the show, how do you get them to take the next step and get involved in the process?
MD: That's where we're trying to make it as easy and transparent as possible. If there is early voting where you are, this is where you go. Come with us right now. We'll go to early voting. If there is still registration in your state, this is where you can go register and maybe vote at the same time. If you've already registered and there isn't early voting, this is where your polling locations are. This is how you can get an absentee ballot. We're not only bringing an immediacy to the process, but also a transparency.
OMC: This is kind of a surgical-strike tour. I know you're in the studio now, but how much time have you had to rehearse?
MD: Does the phrase "seat of our pants" mean anything?
I actually think, in a way, we look forward to these shows. It's like that not only just for us, but also for everyone else involved. Everyone is just kind of getting it together and we're all going to see what transpires. There is that element to it. Is this one of our regular tours where we rehearse forever to go out on tour? No. But, maybe that actually makes it a little more fun and interesting.
OMC: What kind of a show can fans expect? Will you break out some of the new stuff or is it time to "play to the base," so to speak.
MD: (laughs) I think we're going to shore up the base ... and ... I don't know. I think there is probably room for a solid game of Parcheesi, parlayed into Twister parlayed into a fine meal.
OMC: I get a sense that political awareness in your group came from maturity and international travel. Is that reflected back to you from your audience?
MD: It's interesting. It's a little bit hard to generalize. A lot of our audience, for lack of a better word, has kind of grown with us. Like anybody, we've been making records for --- pardon the expletive -- a long f*cking time.
People who liked "License to Ill" when they were in one phase of their life, "Paul's Boutique" another phase of their life and "Check Your Head" or "Hello Nasty" and all the different phases of their life -- they're sort of happy to go on this journey with us.
I think, like us, well, we haven't learned too much about maturity -- we're still pretty immature -- but (social awareness) is part of growing up. You mentioned traveling the world -- that is huge. You sort of become aware of how the world perceives you and the ramifications that can come from your actions. It's natural to get more involved with things of a social matter. The bulk of our audience has probably gone through that with us. Then there are people who started listening to us more recently or people who have probably given up on us, for that matter, because we were one thing and kind of changed and started becoming something different.
There is room for all that.
OMC: I see a parallel there to Milwaukee's Violent Femmes. It's a band that a lot of people discover when they are younger, then they either drift away forever or they drift away and come back -- often just as their kids are discovering the band. You guys are treading on that kind of stage, aren't you?
MD: We've had that, for sure. It is an interesting thing. It's nothing you'd ever anticipate happening, but it's sort of a common thing at our shows now. We see kids who are totally into it and they are with their parents, who are totally into it.
OMC: In a way, I consider you guys to be a "gateway" band. Because of the influences and the sampling, you can prompt listeners to go deeper into the roots of what you're doing and as a result of that, they spin into other avenues. Are you guys conscious of that at all?
MD: That is, in a weird way, what we hoped for with all the different kinds records we've made. We listen to so much different music and if, at the end of the day, we had to be in a gateway band in terms of hearing some of the influences that we have and digging further, we're cool with that.
You might hear an instrumental and discover a jazz record that's really good. Or, you'll go deeper into hip-hop than just the big commercial level. Or, you can get into funk or soul or certainly dub, because dub is a form of music that I like. All the music we make and how we present it mixes together.
I remember being a kid into punk rock. By listening to The Clash, that's how I discovered reggae. I was like "OK, this is something they seem to be into. I'll check it out." That became a big thing for me. If we have that effect on people, that's great.
OMC: How do you feel about the other bands on the bill?
MD: It's different generations; different genres, if you will. I think it's going to be a tantalizing evening of musical theater.
OMC: How will you separate the music and the politics? Or will you? Will there be speeches between songs?
MD: I think the focus in shows is more about the music. But, we'll be doing whatever we can to make sure people are going to hopefully get out there and vote.
OMC: Before I let you go, do you have any memorable Milwaukee stories for me?
MD: I remember we played this place -- I think it was Central Park Ballroom (The Rave, -ed.), or something like that. I forget the name of the place. Anyway, it was this place that had a balcony and it was on the "Check Your Head" tour. The place was packed; sold out. I remember in the midst of the show, a rather heavyset gentleman made it from the balcony to the top of the PA stack and then jumped from the top of the PA stack to the stage.
MD: I would not, by any means, encourage anyone to do this. This was a good 12- to 15-foot drop. This was a large gentleman; a big-boned man. He came down and kind of shook the stage when he landed. We all sort of looked behind us. He landed behind us. He was within inches of taking out the entire percussion riser and equipment. Somehow, miraculously, he landed on his feet without crashing into anything or anybody. I don't know what happened if he scampered off on his way or got taken out.
OMC: So the moral of the story is "When in Milwaukee, beware of heavyset guys flying through the air?"
MD: I wish the man the best.
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