Bad Brains: Picking The Brain Of The Doctor: An Interview with Doctor Know of Bad Brains and Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys

—by , June 20, 2007

Bad BrainsMotivated from the influence of a higher power and originating as a band of outlaws indigenous to the street corners of our nation’s capitol, the musical minds of creative genius that inspired a genre full of hardcore musicians have reunited with their original lineup to bring the spirit of a once breathing beast back to the people.

Once again Bad Brains will run rampant across the land, pillaging with their innovative brand of punk fusion. Consisting of Doctor Know (born Gary Miller) on guitar, H.R. (born Paul D. Hudson) on vocals, Darryl Aaron Jenifer (bass), and Earl Hudson (drums), the band reunited for the first time since 1998. Forging ground in the studio with Beastie Boys henchman Adam Yauch resulted in an effort that will be released by Megaforce Records later this month.

“I speak through music, and I speak through my words,” says Bad Brains founder Doctor Know. “It is the spirit that made this happen and brought us back together. We never broke up in our minds, we just chill. We have been doing this for a long time and people at times have to pursue different things. But then the spirit said, ‘you need to get together right now and do this.’

“When we were kids back in DC we were just trying to figure it all out. The key to what I am trying to say is the ‘spirit.’ We didn’t know anything and it guided us,” the Doctor offers in quick, concise verbal bursts.

“It’s the spirit, man. You have to understand I am who I am. I am a blessed person and it is not something I take for granted. Everybody is blessed; the key is finding your niche. The music thing just came to me. I didn’t grow up in a musical household, it just happened when I was 15. The key is knowing yourself because you don’t have to be a musician, you could be a doctor, or a lawyer, or whatever. Everybody has their gift and I was lucky enough to find mine. I am able to voice myself via that guitar and speak to people who inspire.

“I just open myself and give myself to the music,” the Doctor explains. “You just have got to let the vibes flow. I am very motivated by spontaneity.”

Entitled Build A Nation, the studio effort was under the production supervision of Adam Yauch, most notably of the Beastie Boys, and comprised of a session geared towards reviving the tone that Bad Brains assaulted audiences with, in the early ’80s, delivering reverberating chaos.

“We did the record with our brother Yauch. He is a very good friend of ours along with the rest of the Beasties,” the Doctor offers.

“It was pretty intense,” Adam Yauch explains. “Those guys definitely have a specific energy when they play together and you can feel it in the room right away. There is something about it, it is amazing. Words don’t really do it justice. There is something unique being made outside of the realm of words. I think a big part of what I was trying to do was get the sounds that I remembered from them when I was a kid. I felt like a lot of the later recordings seemed too clean to me when I would hear them. There used to be a certain rawness to it, I mean, maybe it was because they had crappy amplifiers and the equipment was distorting. I can remember the whole band blaring out of the PA system at CBGB’s when I was a teenager.

“This all kind of came together not too long after 9/11,” Yauch explains as he begins to dive into the origins of the recording project. “I had just finished building a home studio and I was with the Beastie Boys doing a little bit of work on the Five Boroughs album. We decided to take a long break because Mike D. had to go to the West Coast. I started talking with Darryl [Aaron Jenifer] and he was saying they were thinking about recording. I had some free time, so I just said, ‘Hey you guys should come record in my studio and we can work on it together.’

“I may be wrong on this, but from my perspective they were the first band to really push the tempo up that far. They were much more intense musicians than just the regular punk act in their level of musicianship and diversity of their influences,” Yauch calmly praises. “What they brought in terms of their chord progressions was very different. The chord progressions were put together from a lot of jazz fusion and from funk records. It was forms of music that a lot of other kids were not growing up on. Kids playing punk probably just listened to punk.

“The influences that Brains were bringing were crazy,” Yauch continues. “I mean, just the syncopation of the changes and the technical aspect of what they were doing. Even lyrically they were on a whole different level. They are a completely unique and innovative band. The fact that they went back and forth from playing straight dub to hardcore demonstrates a dimension that other bands didn’t have.”

Residing as the founder of one of music’s most revered and influential musical projects, Doctor Know provides commentary on the music that has inspired his own artistic legacy.

“I am inspired by music that comes from the heart,” the Doctor shares. “I think people are looking for conviction in music during these times. Music carries and touches, and the scriptures talk about that. Hopefully musicians will get some consciousness, and I am not just talking about American music. This is something that is very important to me because the Brains have lived through all the isms, the racism and the separatism. Bob Marley talked about that way back when because he knew that music was the unification of the world and the people. We just have to break down barriers.”

The philosophical outlook of the Doctor is staggering. His Rastafarian beliefs mixed with his sociological vehicle of musical transcendence weighs heavily on the scope of comprehension. “This is not a project, this is our lives,” he says. “I am a different person when music is flowing through me. I am in a different space and another world. The father used us as a tool to inspire consciousness and positive vibes; in turn, we inspire. The trickle down effect is what it is ultimately about, and being one with the music.”

With the band already embarked on selected road work the project made a stop at the Gorge Festival in Washington state last month alongside compatriots the Beasties.

“People seemed really into it,” says Yauch. “It was a good crowd. It was pretty funny actually though, seeing a bunch of hippies dancing around, which is not really the way I remember seeing Bad Brains,” he says as a laughter follows. “But for real, these guys are amazing on so many levels. The power in those early shows was some of the most powerful music I have ever heard in my life.”

Bad Brains will be appearing at the School Of Rock in Asbury Park on June 24, and in NYC on June 25 as part of the Rocks Off Boat Cruise Summer Concert Series. For more info on Bad Brains including full biography and additional tour info, visit badbrains.com

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels III


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