Mike D on the 'miraculous' power of Beastie Boys' Hello Nasty
When Beastie Boys released their fifth album Hello Nasty in 1998, it connected immediately. Sure, it was dense – 22 tracks and almost 70 minutes long – but it had so many moments of immediate brilliance that it took no time for the public to latch on to its most infectious jams.
It debuted at number one on charts around the world – including Australia – and sold hundreds of thousands of copies in its first week of release.
Speaking with triple j’s Richard Kingsmill in 1999, Mike D admitted the group weren’t expecting such a huge immediate response.
“I think it's probably just as surprising to us as well,” he said. “I know that might seem a bit anticlimactic or disappointing, like maybe we should have forecast it ourselves.
“We make a record that's just kinda like... we're focussed on it, and it's just material that we like musically. Things that we're inspired by as we're listening to different kinds of music and putting that together. Or lyrically, we hang out and we're reading each other's lyrics that we've written and we're saying, ‘Oh yeah, we like that part, let's use that in the song’, or ‘we like that’, and we'll all put that together.
“We're just so focused on coming out with stuff that all three of us all like and appreciate and then maybe beyond that, our producer Mario Caldato Jr., and some other people around us who get to hear it. It's almost like created for this small world.
“So, the fact that this thing that we create for this little world then translates to this much bigger world is miraculous to us, really.”
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The album came four years after the band found a whole level of success with their 1994 classic Ill Communication. In that time, the trio toured heavily, released a curious collection of instrumentals (1996’s underrated The In Sound From Way Out) and, vitally, took their time when making their next album proper.
Gotta kinda figure things out that work for the good of the family, really. Sometimes that involves a bit of compromise, a bit of self-sacrifice, but it's all good in the end.Mike D — triple j, 1999
This meant spending more time writing together, rather than working on ideas in isolation before bringing them to the rest of the team.
“I'm not sure if our relationship is closer, it's just that there are certain ways that we work on this record that we hadn't on our last couple records,” Mike D said.
“Mainly lyrically, because we spent a good amount of time hanging out with each other and really putting a lot of hip hop songs together using all of our vocals instead of one of us writing our part, and another one writing their part and just putting it together that way.
“It was something that we wished we'd done on License to Ill and Paul's Boutique, where we just spent a lot of time together and just read rhymes to each other, basically. This rhyme, or that rhyme, or putting songs together.”
By the time they released Hello Nasty, Beastie Boys were rapidly approaching 20 years of making music together. It’s no surprise to hear Mike D say they very much felt like a family by this point.
“Yeah, [there] definitely is a strong family aspect just being together so long,” he said.
“I think our relationship with each other is probably more analogous to having a family in terms of the support and at the same time listening to each other and at the same time recognising the fact that everyone might not agree on everything at any given moment.
“Gotta kinda figure things out that work for the good of the family, really. Sometimes that involves a bit of compromise, a bit of self-sacrifice, but it's all good in the end.”
One oddity that came out of Hello Nasty was the monumental success of a remix of one of the big singles.
By 1998, the world was enraptured with the work of Fatboy Slim. He’d well and truly crossed over from dance party legend to pop provocateur.
That said, he didn’t seem like the obvious choice to rework the trio’s compelling ‘Body Movin’’, which is perhaps why it worked so well. Fatboy Slim’s reworking of the track gave it a legitimate acid-house-cum-dance-pop sensibility and gave party DJs the world over an excuse to drop Beastie Boys into their sets.
“We were on tour in Europe over this summer and we kept hearing ‘The Rockafeller Skank’ everywhere we went. Then we saw the video and we were into it. We actually thought it was very similar to the ‘Hey Ladies’ video. I meant to ask him about that.
“But anyway... it came time to doing mixes for this song and we just immediately brought his name up, and I guess he was into it because it turned out he was a fan of the group. And then what we ended up hearing that he did was completely beyond what we would've imagined.
“I think you recognise it as being his music in certain ways, very recognisably him, but it really works with our vocals and the song. It came together, it was cool.”
Hello Nasty celebrated its 20th anniversary on Saturday. Karen Leng pays tribute to the record on her show right here.