The Aquatic Sessions — A Rumoured & Unreleased Beastie Boys Album

Beastie Boys in 1997 — Source: Anthology: The Sounds of Science on Archive.org

Beastie Boys were a hip hop group featuring Adam Horovitz (Adrock), Adam Yauch (MCA), and Michael Diamond (Mike D), the later of whom also ran their record label Grand Royal. The Aquatic Sessions are the name given to a rumoured Beastie Boys recording session which probably never existed. They were either an undersea themed album/song, the initial demos of Hello Nasty, or just a joke made up by a band who are renowned to make things up in interviews. So where did it all start?

Underwater Rhymes

In September 1995 the Beastie Boys website announced “BEASTIE BOYS FLEE NYC IN SUBMARINE” with a link to a press release with the headline “Underwater Rhymes” and a page title of “Submarine Recording”. The press release’s mixture of fact (Beastie Boys will be touring soon) and what appears to be nonsense (the new album features the entire cast from the Broadway show Showboat) led to years of questions and rumours.

A screenshot from the Beastie Boys ‘Underwater Rhymes’ press release.

According to the press release “the band is travelling around the world in a submarine to finish recording the album”. Images of the bands “underwater studio” were also included, as well as a possible title for one song, Ason, You Caught A Bad One. While at the bottom of the press release the sound of the album was described as “Afro cuban jazz ska core smoothed out on the hardcore hip hop smooth lover tip. Srtictly for lovers, posers, freaks , and weirdos.” The mention of Ason, You Caught A Bad One stands out, as a song called You Caught A Bad One did feature on the bands punk EP Aglio E Olio, which this press release was also announcing. But the above descriptions of “Afro cuban jazz” obviously don’t fit in with the punk You Caught A Bad One, and the paragraph mentioning Ason, You Caught A Bad One is further described in a supposed diary entry:

Sept 1995: Ason, You Caught A Bad One

One day in the studio, one song created. The preliminary title for this song was “Ason, You Caught A Bad One”. “The spirit of O.D.B. was thick in the studio last night,” reported Mike D in a phone conversation the following morning. “After the recording Ricky Powell and I were accosted by a homeless woman in the food mart across the street. She kept trying to kiss us.” Surprisingly, Ricky declined.

Following the release of the punk filled EP Aglio E Olio in December 1995, fans understandably hoped that the Underwater Rhymes announcement meant the band were recording a hip hop album next. Release dates began to be thrown around, 1996? 1997? But nothing was clear, and later in 1996 Grand Royal wrote on their website:

It seems the one question everyone is always asking us is this: when is the new B-Boys shit gonna drop? The only answer we have is: how the fuck should we know. Those boys are on their own agenda, to which we are not privy. However, we do know that they have been dividing their time between NYC and LA, writing songs and starting trouble wherever they are. We’ve heard rumours of Beastie sightings in cities accross America and we can neither confirm or deny their truth, however we can confirm that the studio/submarine that they have been working in for the past year is currently in dry dock in Long Beach while it is retrofitted to conform to 1998 ANSI safety standards, with modifications including an earplug dispenser outside the control room and a new trampoline.

With the submarine references continuing fans spent years wondering what was really going on?

Quasar and Recording Continues

Back in 1995 following the release of Aglio E Olio, Beastie Boys held and a series of small punk shows which they performed under the name Quasar. Then in 1997 the band toured under the name again and donned nautical themed costumes for a performance in Australia which was held on a boat.

Meanwhile recording continued on a new album, and in 1997 when Adam Yauch was interviewed by Rolling Stone he was asked about the new Beastie Boys album being delayed. He explained:

It’s taken a long time. It has — if it comes out in the spring, we’re coming on four years…we’ve been focusing on other things. But we’ll periodically go into the studio for a few months and then take a few months off. We’ve just been living our lives and hangin’ out. But the record’s coming along now — I wouldn’t say it’s done, but it’s starting to jell...There’s a bunch of songs that are half-done, and they’re pretty weird. As it’s going now, it seems like it’ll be a pretty weird record…Although there is some country music on [the new record], so I don’t exactly know where that fits in [laughs].

Three New Albums

In 1998 the new Beastie Boys album Hello Nasty was announced, and it featured a space theme, as heard on the first single Intergalactic and seen in the albums artwork. Originally though there had been a different concept suggested first, and artist Bill McMullen told Juxtapoz in 2013 that when he was creating the Hello Nasty artwork he had originally planned for it to feature an “undersea base, sort of like weird bottom of the sea type thing.” But when McMullen showed Adam Horovitz he said, “under sea stuff, that’s pretty cool…But you know whats really cool? A space station.

Hello Nasty was released in July 1998 with a mix of rap, instrumental jams, and no country songs. But the rumours continued, and on July 19 1998 New Zealand’s Sunday News wrote in passing:

From the strange but-no-one-is-saying-if-it-is- true file, comes news that the latest Beastie Boys album, Hello Nasty, was just one of three the group had been working on. The two that got the flick were a nautically-themed concept album recorded in a submarine and a country opus donated to Garth Brooks.

Much later the official Beastie Boys timeline also wrote of this era:

No less than three separate Beastie Boys albums are rumored to be in various stages of completion. These include a nautically themed concept LP recorded in a submarine, a country opus allegedly donated to Capitol stablemate Garth Brooks, and Hello Nasty, a more traditional Beastie Boys album recorded in a space station and/or back home in NYC…

Fans at the time naturally assumed that the nautical and country albums were a joke, as Beastie Boys joking and making up stories in interviews has became something to expect, and back in 1994 Rolling Stone even complained that, “The only criticism the Beastie Boys can really take these days is that in-jokes still render their every conversation vaguely similar to hanging out in the most cliquish junior-high locker room in America.

Country Mike

In April 1998 Mix Master Mike told Sonic Net about working on a Beastie Boys country album, and even the Beastie Boys themselves brought it up in interviews while promoting Hello Nasty, with the origins of these country songs part of another unrealised Beastie Boys project, namely a Beastie Boys movie directed by Spike Jonze.

Titled We Can Do This, the movie was announced in May 1997, but by July the band had reportedly backed out when they realised how much it would have cost, deciding instead that they should focus on their album. Jonze later explained that the film would have featured Country Mike, and that the country songs written at the time were intended for We Can Do This.

Fans would eventually get to officially hear Country Mike in 1999 when two of the country songs were included on a career spanning Beastie Boys Anthology compilation album. The next year, an album called Country Mike’s Greatest Hits was pressed on vinyl for friends of the band and it eventually was bootlegged and made available widely. The full album includes several songs, such as We Can Do This, Country Mike’s Theme, and Country Delight which features Mix Master Mike.

People had assumed the country album mentioned in interviews was a joke, but when that turned out to be real, why not The Aquatic Sessions?

Recording In A Submarine

In 1998, while discussing the recording of Hello Nasty, Adam Yauch told MTV:

There was one point when we were in the submarine crossing the Atlantic, we had a recording studio in the submarine and there was a flock of whales that actually came by and they were huge whales…I’d have to say they were the biggest whales in the world and Adam [Ad-Rock] went out in the scuba gear with the boom mic and actually caught some of the whales mating.

According to Rolling Stone Hello Nasty was recorded in “at least nine locations” which included initial sessions at their G-Son studio in Los Angeles, before moving to New York in 1996 were recording resumed “at a TriBeCa studio, as well as at Sean Lennon’s practice space, Mike D’s brother’s house, a SoHo studio, Lennon’s loft, a Greenwich Village studio and the Beasties’ practice room, affectionately known as the Dungeon.” No submarines are mentioned.

Beastie Boys would bring up a similar nautical story in 2009 during an interview with Jimmy Fallon where they claimed to have recorded parts of their album Hot Sauce Committee on Paul Allen’s boat, with Adam Horovitz recording guitar solos in a submarine. While it may sound like another joke, Paul Allen, one of the co-founders of Microsoft, really did own a large yacht which featured a recording studio and two submarines. This one actually does sound possible, though it’s worth noting that when Hot Sauce Committee was eventually released, the credits only list the Beastie Boys own studio as where the album was recorded.

RIP MCA and Hello Nasty Demos

Fans were left shocked in 2012 with the news of Adam Yauch’s untimely death, following a cancer diagnosis in 2009, and since his death no new Beastie Boys music has been released, with Adam Horovitz explaining, “We’re done…Adam Yauch started the band. It’s not like a thing where we could continue without him.”

While nothing new may be planned, in 2015 Adam Horovitz told GQ that he hoped some of their unreleased sessions might come out, but admitted it was hours of “really bad jamming” with “a lot of stuff of us talking in the middle of it, which is priceless. We were just really stoned, talking about, like, where we should get food, or Cirque du Soleil or some shit.” Later in 2018 Horovitz and Mike D published the Beastie Boys Book, and while promoting the books release, Horovitz told Rolling Stone about the bands unreleased sessions, explaining there were “50 hours of shitty stoner jams” which he further described as “not that good”.

While hours of stoner jams and studio banter might not sound appealing, longtime Beastie Boys producer Mario C has suggested there is more than just that, revealing in 2012:

There’s a handful of extra stuff from each record apart from ‘Paul’s Boutique’…I actually went through it all recently and checked out a few things that weren’t used for ‘Hello Nasty’ and there’s definitely two or three tracks that didn’t get utilized that could be utilized.

The 2009 re-issue of Hello Nasty included some unreleased songs, including studio banter on Description of a Strange Man, and instrumental jams for Switched On, and Auntie Jackie Poom Poom Delicious, among others. While none of these sound particularly nautical or aquatic in theme, it’s possible that The Aquatic Sessions name was invented by fans as they awaited any news from the band and relied on rumours based on jokes about submarines.

Further to this, back in 2004 fans were given the opportunity to ask Adam Yauch questions, and one was whether The Aquatic Session really existed? Yauch didn’t answer. It’s possible he just wasn’t sure what The Aquatic Sessions actually were, and unfortunately the Beastie Boys Message Board, which featured discussions on this topic during the early 2000’s, has been wiped of all conversations prior to 2004.

Let’s Recap

  • Underwater Rhymes was the name of a press release which announced the Beastie Boys punk EP Aglio E Olio in 1995. The press release joked that the band were recording on a boat or submarine, and fans assumed Underwater Rhymes was the name of a new album.
  • The band joked about recording on submarines and making a nautical themed album alongside Hello Nasty and Country Mike’s Greatest Hits. Again, this appears to have all been a joke.
  • Finally, during the early 2000’s fans took to the official Beastie Boys Message Board and continued to discuss rumours of The Aquatic Sessions. These sessions likely never existed.

While it’s possible there are unreleased Hello Nasty demos with aquatic themed lyrics or effects, these likely fall into the “50 hours of shitty stoner jams” Adam Horovitz has referenced, and at the end of the day an unreleased nautical-themed album appears to be unlikely.

An Australian writer with a passion for research. In 2020 he published Making Psyence Fiction, a book on the creation of UNKLE’s debut album. www.jamesgaunt.com

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