Adam Horovitz, better known as Ad-Rock, leans back in his chair on a balcony at L.A.'s Chateau Marmont hotel, considering the competing forces that motivate the Beastie Boys. "We think about music all the time and want to make records," Horovitz says. "And we're also really lazy. So when desire and laziness clash, it just takes some time."
The latest result of that clash is Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, the Beasties' eighth studio album. The disc was actually completed two years ago. But when Adam "MCA" Yauch discovered he had cancer of the salivary gland and a lymph node, they canceled its release. "That sent us all reeling," remembers Michael Diamond (a.k.a. Mike D), "both in terms of having your good friend and your bandmate diagnosed with cancer, and then also, 'Oh, so our record isn't coming out. We'll just put this on hold and see where we're at in six months.' And then 12 months."
Their goals for Hot Sauce Committee: vocals (2007's The Mix-Up was an instrumental album), a wide variety of sounds within any given song, and shorter songs. "It comes back to the theory of hip-hop being the most exciting four bars from a record, and going back and forth between two copies," says Diamond. Some of the best tracks are excerpted from longer jams, like the 49-second album closer, "The Lisa Lisa/ Full Force Routine." Diamond offers some chocolate mousse to Horovitz, who declines because he's smoking a cigarette: "I have a different flavor working."
Horovitz points out that most rappers just put lyrics over a producer's track, while many bands have a principal songwriter. The Beasties, however, collectively tussle over every single aspect of a track. "We don't like to relinquish control, so we have to do everything together in a room – or else it's like, 'Oh, you're the leader of the band now,' even though it's just a drumbeat."
"We don't have that many arguments," Horovitz adds. "But lunch, the decisionmaking process takes forever." Diamond sighs. "We labor a lot over the whole food thing." Some tracks came together easily: The blippy "OK" required only Diamond's suggestion that they do a New Wave rap song. The first single, "Make Some Noise," was built around a groove with Horovitz on synth and Diamond on drums. They had been frustrated because they had delayed getting some other jams on tape – and by the time they recorded them, a cool idea had lost its spontaneity. So when they got the basic track for "Make Some Noise," they didn't overthink it. "That's why it sounds the way it does," says Diamond. "That raw, open, driven sound."
Originally, the album was going to be titled Hot Sauce Committee Part 1, with a possible sequel planned. But after Yauch's illness delayed the record, they realized they weren't satisfied with the sound. They remixed the whole project with French producer Philippe Zdar. "Ultimately, we got to make a much better-sounding record," Diamond says. They switched the title to Part Two; they still have a lot of unre-leased songs that may come out as Part 1 someday. "We need to tie a bow around it," Diamond says vaguely.
Yauch is absent from the interview, as he continues to be treated for cancer. "Given the choice, he wouldn't be," Diamond says. "He'd love to be freaking completely fucking done with it." Due to his illness, the Beasties won't be touring anytime soon – but Yauch did write and direct the half-hour film Fight for Your Right Revisited, which features Elijah Wood, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen as the Beasties circa 1986, and Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Jack Black as the Beasties of the future. The Beasties are huge fans of wacky comedy, from Meatballs to Talladega Nights. "Everybody got really excited about Will Ferrell playing the cowbell in the video," Horovitz says. "But how badly did we want him and John Reilly to do shake-and-bake?" He shakes his head sadly. "Shake and bake."
The Beasties are still effortless cutups; during the interview, Diamond analyzes the stench of New York summer garbage and Horovitz mocks him for watching Notting Hill on the flight from New York to L.A. Asked about their stature in the world, Horovitz says, "I have countless friends that are better musicians than I am." Says Diamond, "I still feel like we're the kids that are in trouble for making music."
So is there an age where the Beastie Boys are too old to do what they're doing?
The 44-year-old Horovitz snorts. "We passed that age a while ago."
"I still feel like we're the kids that are in trouble for making music," says Mike D.
This story is from the May 26th, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.