Interview with Cey Adams
[Conducted in February 2005]
From the Beastie Boys' days as a hardcore band , to the recent Pageant Tour, he has always been behind the scene working as a collaborator and friend. Here's our interview with Cey Adams:
You did the "Beastie Boys" lettering that appears on the cover of Cooky Puss 12". How did you first get introduced to the band? What is the story on how your Beastie Boys lettering ended up on the 12" jacket? The late Dave Parsons told me the original concept was to release a gatefold album cover which doubled as a gameboard "Beastieland" like the children's game "Candyland."
I was still active in the graff scene in the early 80's, when I began to make my transition painting on canvas. At the time I lived with my folks in Jamaica Queens. I had never heard of the Beasties before, nor did I know anything about punk or hardcore for that matter. I met Adam Horovitz and Dave Scilken back in '83. I was hanging out at Danceteria when I was approached with the idea of designing a logo for the band. Adam seemed nice enough and with Dave being a local graff writer, that was all I needed. The way I remember it, there wasn't a lot of back and forth. I came up with something the band was cool with, made a few changes here and there and that was that. Over the years I've done a few variations on the graffiti logo ('83-'86). As far as the 12" goes, that was all Scilken. I handed him the logo and he took it from there.
I know very little about The Drawing Board graphic design company. What I have gathered is it was an in-house group of graphic designers Def Jam employed. What more can you tell me? Did Dave Scilken work there?
The Drawing Board Graphic Design (1986-1999) was a design firm formed by myself and partner Steve Carr. We handled most of the creative needs for many top record labels. Some of the artists I have worked with include Mary J. Blige, Run DMC, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, LL Cool J, Chris Rock, and Dave Chappelle. The company began as a way for Def Jam to have more control over the visual image of its artists. In addition to Def Jam we also designed everything for P Diddy's Bad Boy label. Although Dave Scilken was not a member of the Drawing Board, he was someone I took under my wing. We worked together on many projects before he took a job in the early 90's as a designer at Jive Records.
David Scilken and I share the same birthday on March 6th. I miss him more everyday.
Your graffiti work is legendary. Do you still do pieces?
I'm 42 years old. I think that would be very sad, not to mention stupid!
You were working at The Drawing Board when the Beastie Boys split from the label and moved to Los Angeles. What was the general feeling in the air at the time?
When the Beastie Boys left Def Jam things were crazy, but I never really got involved between them and the label heads. Naturally, like everyone else, I was sad to see them leave. In the late 1980's, Def Jam was a second home to many a stray rapper; a hip hop group home of sorts. You had artists camping out day and night, so the Beastie Boys leaving was a real drag for everyone involved. I'm sure they felt they did what they had to do. Business is business.
Did you stay in contact with the Beastie Boys throughout the time they spent in Los Angeles? It seems like your creative input was there from Cooky Puss to Licensed to Ill, but then was absent until Hello Nasty.
My relationship with the band never changed over the years. I would fly out to Los Angeles often, splitting my time between their homes. I would stay with Yauch who lived in a real log cabin, real wood I tell you. I would dive off the roof of Adam's [Horovitz] house doing cannonballs in the pool or ride Mike's cool vintage bike collection.
I really believe mixing business with friendship can be the ultimate test. As far as my work with the band goes, I never really asked to work on anything. Whenever we have collaborated it was due to the Beastie Boys asking for my creative input. Throughout most of the the 1990's I was crazy busy with Def Jam or Bad Boy stuff. While the Beastie Boys were recording Hello Nasty they asked me to design the cover. It started with us sittin' around a table eating. Massive hours of brainstormin', kickin' ideas back and forth, and trying to figure a clever way to include food in the cover concept.
You have been on tour with the Beastie Boys multiple times. Is there one tour or one performance that stands out in your memory?
I just returned from the touring pageant with the band. This time out, the music took centerstage. The Beastie Boys have a new found energy on stage and off. After each show, they meet new friends, sign stuff, take flicks. Plus, the fans are crazy creative. There are so many great costumes and everyday is Halloween. The thing I remember most is after travelling the world over, they still pack 'em in and send folks home happier than when they came.
Since the dissolution of the Drawing Board, are you working independently now or have you joined a new creative team? What projects do you presently have in the works?
Magic Johnson offered me a job as a creative director on his team, so after many years of freezing in New York City, I left to check out the warm weather of Los Angeles. After 9/11 I felt the need to return, I missed the smell of the city. I'm freelancing on some fun projects right now. Dave Chappelle asked me to create a logo for his Comedy Central show and I also designed the logo for the new Asylum Records. I've lately spent a few months designing new merchandise for the band's tour and website. For years I've been collecting all my crap for various book projects.