Adam Yauch hasn’t been saying much about the Beastie Boys’ upcoming record, even though they’ve been working on it for nearly a year. So when he agreed to do an interview about Build a Nation, the forthcoming album from reunited hardcore legends the Bad Brains — a Megaforce Records release he produced that lands May 7 — well, we couldn’t resist slipping a couple of Beastie questions in.
“I’m not sure that I’m at liberty to divulge anything about it, but we’re definitely working on it,” he said of the yet-untitled follow-up to 2004′s To the 5 Boroughs (see “Beastie Boys Album Preview: Political Bleats And Old-School Beats” ). “We’ve been working on music since last spring, and we’re mixing right now. Hopefully, it will come out in the spring — at least that’s what we’re shooting for.”
As for what the album sounds like, he said simply that “we’re focusing on playing instruments,” and “we’re not even looking at samples right now, because we’re moving more in an instrument-driven direction for this one.”
That’s all he would say, so without further ado, onto the first new album from the Bad Brains in a dozen years, which features the group’s original lineup: frontman H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist Darryl Jenifer and drummer Earl Hudson. Over the years that lineup has splintered more times than anyone can keep track of — Dr. Know and Jenifer have performed with different singers and drummers, both as the Bad Brains and as Soul Brains — but there’s no denying the power of the original crew. On their first releases — 1982′s self-titled LP and the following year’s Rock for Light — the band played both blistering hardcore songs and smooth reggae. Later efforts found them fusing the sounds into a bruising but soulful form of hard rock.
“When they get together and start playing, there’s definitely some magic in the air,” Yauch explained. “I was psyched to produce the record, and they still sound so incredible.”
Yauch, who continues to cite Bad Brains as a chief influence on his own music, said that during a phone conversation with Jenifer, the bassist “mentioned they were planning to get back together and record some stuff, and I told him they were welcome to come down to [the Beasties' Oscilloscope laboratories and studio in New York], and that I’d work with them if they were into that, and it just came together.”
MCA said he had helped inspire a Bad Brains reunion more than a decade ago when he tried to persuade the band to ink with the Beasties’ now-defunct Grand Royal label. “They ended up doing a deal with Madonna [a reference to Maverick Records, then co-owned by the singer] and made that record [1995's God of Love],” he said. “This just sort of came together — I guess it was just the right time for it to happen.”
The arrangement is the latest culmination of the two groups’ long history, which stretches back to the early 1980s. “It was definitely a long process, and it happened over the course of many years,” Yauch said. “I just got to know them a little bit back in the hardcore days. We used to open up for them when we first started out. I think maybe it was our third show; H.R. was there and he started slam-dancing into everybody and got the whole audience excited — and when I say ‘the whole audience,’ I’m talking about all 15 people that were there. Afterwards, I was talking to him for a minute, and he asked us to open for them at [then-hotspot] Max’s Kansas City. That was a pretty exciting moment, playing a show with those guys.”
And when it came to producing a band he’s idolized for so long, Yauch said he let the fan in him come out.
“I talked to them a bit on the phone, and I told them the stuff I was most excited about was the early punk stuff, rather than the later stuff, like [1986's] I Against I, where they were fusing the reggae elements with the rock stuff. I liked it when it was more separate, when the dubs [reggae songs] were dubs and the rock tracks were more hardcore. And I think they took that to heart a bit in the writing process.
“I was pretty involved in getting the sounds right on this record,” he added. “I always loved the way [Bad Brains] sounded. That’s the way they’re meant to sound — the way they sounded live in those days, when the amps were really overdriven, on the verge of exploding. There was something about that level of energy. That’s what I was striving for. A lot of the later records, to me, were a cleaned-up version of [ Bad Brains]. I just wanted to capture that raw sound they’re known for.”
Fans will be able to catch both the Beastie Boys and Bad Brains this summer, Yauch said. While no definitive touring plans have been nailed down yet, both will be taking the stage for this year’s Sasquatch Music Festival in George, Washington, on May 27.