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Punk bands have short shelf lives. That's the conventional wisdom: that the pace and other physical demands of the genre are so intense that even the greatest punk practitioners can expect only five, maybe ten years on the road and charts. The Beastie Boys must have anticipated this when they morphed in the early 1980s from one of New York's silliest and intentionally juvenile hardcore/punk acts into one of the most influential, genre-blurring groups of all time.
Take a look at their 25-year-plus tenure in the pop music world and you'll see a long list of accomplishments that include record sales topping 40 million, four number-one albums, several lifetime achievement awards, and numerous sold-out tours around the world to prove that this trio of Jewish homeboys has tapped into something special. But with all the countless awards and plaques they've amassed over the years, perhaps their most recent accolade is the strangest. Just a few weeks ago, the Beasties beat out Chris Botti, Dave Koz, Spyro Gyra, and Kirk Whalum to win a Grammy for, of all things, Best Pop Instrumental Album, for 2007's The Mix-Up.
The disc is a far cry from the outrageous punk sounds the Beasties were making around the time Ronald Reagan got shot and much more serious than the crass hip-hop and trippy rock albums they put out in the '80s and '90s. It's showcases the band's stellar musicianship, something that often gets overlooked in the hype of all things Beastie.
Yet if you've followed them throughout the years, it's still a stretch to think of Adam "Adrock" Horovitz, Michael "Mike D" Diamond, and Adam "MCA" Yauch as Grammy winners for Best Pop Instrumental Album. A chat on the phone with Horovitz from his home in downtown Manhattan makes it clear that the boys are having fun with this one.
"No, we weren't surprised at all that we won it," Horovitz says. "I feel like we're a well-oiled instrumental machine, and we we're guaranteed a win. And we paid extra money to win it. (laughs) No, it is weird... Best Pop Instrumental? I definitely wouldn't have thought that 20 years ago. But it's kinda cool. 'Instrumental' is a very wide spectrum... Twenty years ago, I was into jazz and dub-reggae, which are instrumental also... We're actually proud of it."
The group is in the studio working on its next project, which will have vocals this time.
"We're gonna be rapping, ya know, on the mic," Horovitz says feigning the voice of an old man. "We'll be MCing, or however the kids say it these days... Honestly, people always freak out about hip-hop. I don't understand — why do people think this is still an issue? It's clearly the biggest music in the world. It's as if they're still asking the question 'Is hip-hop gonna last?'... What does that even mean? Do people still ask is rock 'n' roll gonna last? It's silly. Record sales in general are down. People don't buy records anymore. That's the way it is. It's not just rap."
While he's quick to defend hip-hop, there are a lot of other styles of music the band is good at. Their biggest albums to date, like License to Ill, Paul's Boutique, and Ill Communication, strayed from the popular sounds of the time yet were all multiplatinum smashes. And The Mix-Up, which is the only album the Beasties have put out to date not to gain platinum status, finds the gang dabbling in psychedelic rock and '70s-style funk licks and playing around with the sounds of sitar. It's clear that these guys know their way around their respective instruments, but sitar?
"It wasn't actually a sitar; it's a guitar sitar — like an electric guitar with a few extra strings that make it sound like a sitar," says Horovitz, starting to laugh as if he's just gotten away with something. "I bought it on eBay for 100 bucks!" At that, you know that despite the group's graying hair, King Adrock and the boys are still just as mischievous as they were when they were sticking their dicks in the mashed potatoes.
It's not surprising that they're still a part of pop culture some 25 years after Rick Rubin and Def Jam helped turned the Beastie Boys into a household name. Horovitz says he can't even conceive of the group parting ways.
"What for?" Horovitz says with a laugh. "We're friends first, and we're gonna be friends if this thing ever ends. We just made a pact a long time ago that it was more important for us to be friends and enjoy what we're doing than any of the other stuff. That's the main priority. And it's like, why make it a bad thing? We're all friends, we're making money, this is paying our bills... what's the problem? We split everything evenly... It's just weird when you see all these good bands break up."
As for coming down to Florida this week to play Langerado, Horovitz says the band is stoked to get out of the frigid New York air for a bit. "Dude, it's 20 degrees up here," he says. "We're gonna get paid to be warm for a couple of days and play music... There wasn't really a second thought about it."