Legendary hip-hop group the Beastie Boys needs little introduction.
Originally a hard-core punk group, the New York trio shot to fame and fortune in the mid-'80s as one of the original Def Jam bands, an early MTV sensation that released the first hip-hop album to reach number one on the Billboard charts. They have remained critical and audience favorites in the past 20 years — releasing at least one album, “Paul's Boutique” (1989) that should go down as one of the most influential albums in popular music history with its inventive use of samples.
The group has long used its influence to support a variety of causes, from Tibetan freedom concerts to the environment — and it's now bringing the Get Out and Vote 08 tour through swing states, with an early stop in Richmond.
Style caught up with Michael “Mike D” Diamond, as he was woofing down breakfast at Nasty Little Man, a public-relations firm in New York.
Mike D: How you doin'? I'm all about the Style. Very appropriate interview. I'm very much about the fashion within this group. … So what's the vibe there right now toward Obama and the election?
Style: I think he's bringing young people out. Richmond is still largely conservative. But we have a lot of colleges nearby, so there are lots of young voters.
Well, that's definitely the idea of this tour. Impress upon people how crucial it is to vote. Remind them of the last two elections being decided by small numbers of people. It really makes a difference if people vote this time. In my lifetime, this is by far the most crucial election, for us and our kids.
How did the diverse lineup for this tour come about?
We were trying to think what we could do to make sure people get involved in record numbers. So we started calling different artists, that word got out, and a couple artists called us, it went from there.
You guys are veterans of charity work and political causes. What have you learned is most important in making these tours successful?
I don't think we have learned yet (laughs). We're still trying. I think you've got to have a reason or cause that speaks for itself. And you gotta have a blind passion, be relentless calling people and doing whatever it takes. You know, the attitude that behind every “no” is a hidden “yeah.”
Palin stopped here this week with Hank Williams Jr. in tow. He sang his tune “Family Tradition” but changed the lyrics to rail against the liberal media. I don't guess we'll get an appearance from Country Mike [Diamond once released a country album] on this tour?
Hmm, I didn't think about that. Maybe that would be good. Maybe Country Mike should come out and battle Hank Williams. Yeah, I need to think about that.
Will the Beasties be playing any new material?
We're making a new record right now, still in the middle of it. To be honest, the timing of this tour didn't work out great, but it's too important not to do. … We'll probably do a shorter set in Richmond, since there are so many bands. … I really like the Santogold album she did with Diplo.
Nation of Ulysses' James Canty and I once talked about how there aren't any political bands anymore. Any theories on why this is?
Glad you mentioned them. Great band … I don't know. It seems to ebb and flow. You look back in history and there's pop music that isn't weighty, but you've got moments where collective consciousness will shift — a miniexplosion. The interesting thing about music is it provides incredible background for ideas and emotion; put it all together and it's extremely powerful, especially when it's done right: Public Enemy, MC5, Bob Dylan, even Sly and Family Stone. Marvin Gaye. You get incredible bursts of energy, those records last for a long, long time. They don't become dated.
You guys sort of grew up in the media spotlight. What's your overall take on the current direction of the media?
Where to start? It's amazing how easily manipulated the media is. You're writing for the entertainment section, so people call you about coverage. And you realize the front page isn't really that different. They're reporting what the campaigns tell them.
It's interesting. With the Iraq war, more than ever, it was so tightly controlled by the White House. … Then in this election, when Palin got crucified in the media, McCain took a quick turn and started to demonize the elite, liberal media. I think we're all kind of used to divisive tactics, and people looking at the country with geographic divisions. But when you look at the media, which educates the people, as evil — that's really scary.
We just had a rule passed down here where you can't wear any advertisements of political candidates within 40 feet of the polling center.
Huh … What worries me more is the scare tactics — the way Republicans tried to stop early voting. Early voting is something that enables more people to vote and makes it more convenient — if you're opposed to it, it can only be because you're afraid your candidate is gonna lose. And they tried to put the misconception out there that people who go to vote are going to be checked to see if they have any outstanding warrants. You know, that's unconstitutional, and it ain't gonna happen — but it's a rumor they effectively put out there.
What are the most important issues to you personally in this election?
I really look at it as a quality-of-life election. It's gonna effect all of us for decades to come in terms of reliance on oil, developing alternative fuel sources. Of course, the economy needs to be fixed. Analyzing what our relationship is to the rest of the world, making stronger allies; not having the world think we're a bunch of jerks. Letting the world know what our core, American democratic principles are guaranteed in our Constitution: You know, things like freedom of speech and expression.
You're lucky to live in New York and have good mass transit. Drivers don't take too kindly to bikers around here. They get no lanes or respect. A lot of locals own scooters now. What are you guys doing in terms of environmental awareness?
Oh that's kinda cool [about the scooters]. … Our last tour a year or so ago, we tried to make it a carbon neutral tour and let everyone know about it. But you know, it's more like us trying to do whatever we can in a nonpublic way. Like you said, we live in New York, I'm about to go to the studio, and I'm going to walk or ride my bike to the studio. That's pretty much the only way to get there (laughs).
You guys played here before with Run DMC and Madonna back in the day. Any specific memories or knowledge of Richmond?
Um. No. I'm pretty ignorant. S
The Beastie Boys perform with Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Jack Johnson and Santogold for the Get Out and Vote Tour 08 (www.getoutandvote08.org) at the Richmond Coliseum Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35. Call 262-8100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.