In December of 2009, we had the opportunity to interview Adam Yauch, the Beastie Boy and founder of the film production company Oscilloscope Laboratories. It was six months after Yauch had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his left parotid (salivary) gland. At first MCA seemed optimistic about the diagnosis, saying, "I just need to take a little time to get this in check, and then we'll release the record and play some shows. It's a pain in the neck (sorry had to say it) because I was really looking forward to playing these shows, but the doctors have made it clear that this is not the kind of thing that can be put aside to deal with later." Last Friday, however, Yauch succumbed to cancer at age 47.
Here's our full interview with Yauch, during which we delicately broached the subject of his health, dove into questions about his Oscilloscope projects, and asked about what ended up being the Beastie Boys' final performance, at Bonnaroo 2009. (For further reading, here's our much more upbeat Q&A with Adam Horovitz two years prior.)
How is your health situation? I'm doing all right! I'm in Hawaii right now, feeling good. The sun is shining, the waves are breaking. There's some giant squall coming through and there are sixty foot waves hitting. It's pretty crazy.
So what is "the circle of trust?" Well, it's our DVD club. The idea is that people can sign up and get the next DVDs that we're putting out. The way I look at it is that, one of the things we're trying to do with the company, the idea from the start was to find films that we really like. We put out films that we really like, which ironically is not the way that distributors tend to work. So I think the idea is that over a period of time people will start to identify with Oscilloscope. Somebody who is liked-minded, who liked the last five or ten movies that we put out, that person might want to take a chance, and go for the next ten movies we put out. I guess The Circle of Trust would be trusting our taste.
In general terms, how would you describe what kinds of films you look for? Well, there's certainly not one specific genre type. We're picking up documentaries, we're picking up foreign-language films, domestic films, American films, and some are smaller budget, some are larger budget, some mainstream casts, some are unknown casts. But, I'd say the common thread is really just films that I and other people at the company like for one reason or another. Films that make us laugh or that are informative, but it's pretty all over the place. You have to feel like the film has some redeeming quality, feel moved by it for some reason. We're not going to pick up films that are just marketable because they're marketable, if we don't like them that much.
The press releases and e-mail blasts are hilarious and really inspired. Do you write those yourself? Yeah, a lot of times. Probably the stupider ones I'm responsible for writing. The stupider it is, the more likely I had my hand in it. Like The Circle of Trust one.
The company seems to share the humorous, word-bending style of the Beastie Boys, which obviously makes sense. Do you foresee any projects that would bring those two worlds together, like a Beastie Boys movie, something like "A Hard Day's License to Ill?" [Laughs] That's definitely something we've discussed many times over the years. I think we've actually started on three different Beastie Boys movie projects at various times, but for one reason or another, they never really managed to come to fruition. But maybe someday, something will come together. It would really be fun, you know. I love working with Adam and Mike, and we definitely have a lot of fun together. We just work quicker when we develop music than when we work on films.
Do you have any more directing projectors yourself in the works? There's a Beastie Boys music video, probably the most immediate thing on the horizon.
I noticed you have these action figures in your likeness? Yeah, they're about the same scale as G.I. Joe.
How did those come about? I'm not sure whose idea it was, it might have been Nigo, from A Bathing Ape, he's the one who produced the action figures. I think it was his idea. I think we had gone to him and asked him to do special packaging for a Japanese release, it might have been Hello Nasty or something, and his idea for doing special packaging was to do these action figures and put them inside this sardine can, and this whole thing. And Capitol Records/EMI said it was too expensive and they didn't want to do it, then he said he wanted to do it anyway, even without the CD, so we just ended up letting him make the dolls. It's kinda funny.
Back on Oscilloscope, what's coming up that you're excited about? Of course, you know about The Messenger; we've been getting a lot of great attention going into the awards season and all the stuff going on with that. It's picking up a lot of awards and attention. In terms of what's coming up, what's coming out, we have a film called Terribly Happy, that's a Danish film, a lot of people are comparing it to Coen brothers and David Lynch film. It kind of has this weird, creepy feeling about it. We have a film coming up called The Paranoid, an Argentinian romantic-comedy, kind of quirky film, really nice. Then there's an Irish film called Kisses, that's also a narrative about two young kids who fall in love and run away from home. I don't now if you've seen Burma VJ; it's pretty amazing, it came out recently. It was specially shot in Burma on camera phones.
This had to do with the monks uprising? Yeah, I forget exactly what year it was, but there were demonstrations and uprisings there a few years ago, and people were documenting it on their camera phones, then uploading the information onto the internet, and they were putting themselves at great risk by documenting that stuff and posting it virtually. And it was cut together from the perspective of the people doing that, particularly focusing on one reporter.
Is that out on DVD yet? No, the DVD is not out yet.
Is that one that would come with "the circle of trust?" Yeah, all those films certainly would. We also have a Michel Gondry film, a documentary that he did.
That sounds fascinating, it's described as a "personal family documentary?" Yeah, it's very interesting.
And he made it about his family, and I assume he's in it, too? Yeah, he's in it a fair amount, quite a bit. It's fun to see him, with his kids, and even the way he lives and interacts with his family is very interesting to see. They're very French, very real people, all sit down at the dinner table together, cook together. It's especially nice to see how a family lives in the country in France.
We're also hoping to release a film soon that Spike Jonze did, a documentary about Maurice Sendak, called Tell Them Anything You Want. So we're in the process of getting that together right now. Spike's working on the DVD extras. He did it with another guy, Lance Bangs, the two of them directed it together, so they're working on putting together the bonus material, doing the artwork together, the cover and all that. It's been fun hanging out with Spike lately.
I was at Bonnaroo, and that set you guys performed was so fun and high-energy. How was your experience doing that? You guys had never done Bonnaroo before. Yeah, Bonnaroo was fun, good crowd. It was definitely nice being out there.
And you had a special guest, Nas. How did that come about? He wasn't even on the line-up for the festival. Yeah, we just invited him out. We had done a song with him for the new album, it's going to be on the Hot Sauce Committee record. So we asked him if he wanted to come out and perform the song with us. He just got nominated for a Grammy, so that's kind of interesting, kind of cool.
I have to ask, and I'm not trying to make anybody feel bad, but when you played "Sabotage" during that set, there was some sort of snafu, and I'm just curious from a technical point of view what happened? I vaguely remember that we did kind of fuck up that song, but I don't remember exactly what it was that went wrong. But we tend to mess up a lot, because we just play live music up there, and we tend to wing it a lot. And I think it might have been some mess up with the monitors; there's a part in the middle of the song where I come in and play a bass break by myself, and then Mike comes in, and I think Mike couldn't hear what I was playing, because his monitors were messed up, so I think he came in wrong, against what I was doing, and then we had to figure it out, put it back together somehow.
But that's what makes the shows so exciting. When you guys played in Brooklyn at McCarren Park, that was just an unbelievable show. Thanks, it does make for more energy, but it does make for more screw-ups. We don't know what's going to happen live a lot of times. Especially with the hip hop stuff, we don't know what beats Mixmaster Mike is going to throw in when, but he's constantly changing the beats while we're mid-song, so a lot of times he'll come into something that's really fast or really slow, or strange sling, or cadence, and we need to try to keep it together, so sometimes it comes out really good and sometimes it screws us up, but it keeps it interesting.
Last question: what's the status onHot Sauce Committee? We're just figuring that out right now. But hopefully, it looks like it'll be coming out early part of next year. I don't know that it's official yet, but that seems to be the direction we're moving in.