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Adam Yauch on Happiness: Part Two

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We recently posted portions of our interview with Adam Yauch on Project Happiness. I wanted to share the full interview. This is part two of a two part series. You can read part one here.

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PH: We've been discussing that we're conditioned to keep going. We need to work hard, it's almost like there's no time to slow down and take a break and just self-reflect. In your music do you see that you're helping people to understand how to really slow down, to stop and think and reflect?

ADAM: I definitely agree. It does seem like society's moving faster, and it seems like the more machines we get to make things more convenient -- computers and cell phones, and everything -- it seems to make things more hectic, rather than more convenient. If somebody calls you or writes to you, they expect a response within five minutes rather than like, a few days. What was the question?

PH: I was wondering if you see that your music is helping people to reflect?

ADAM: Oh, yeah. At certain times I've tried to put constructive ideas into lyrics. It's a delicate balance. It's easy for music, for lyrics, to get kind of preachy. Sometimes I've tried to do that, to put some constructive ideas into lyrics or into songs. But sometimes it's all right for music to just be entertainment. It's a fine line, trying to find when that works and when it doesn't. I think the main thing is just trying to keep it from being destructive.

PH: People are claiming that the media is desensitizing our generation and robbing us of our consciousness. Do you agree? What can we do to change it?

ADAM: That's a good question. There's a fine line between entertainment and what's destructive. I don't really know what the solution is. I don't like my daughter watching regular cable TV. We usually just rent DVDs of stuff for her to check out. There's a lot of stuff out there that's pretty hectic.

PH: Whose place do you feel it really is to step in?

ADAM: It's tricky. Having the government involved in censoring media is a can of worms. That kind of censorship is sort of dangerous. At the same time, you do want some kind of guides... like with film ratings. On one level, it's important to have film ratings to know what films to take my daughter to, what's going to be appropriate. But, the way that the rating system works now there's just a handful of people that are making sweeping decisions. I don't quite know what the right way is to do it, but it needs to be figured out.

PH: Do you feel that with this question about how can we lessen the destructive media that kids our age are seeing, as a musician, do you feel that you have an opportunity to help in this with your music?

ADAM: I think everybody does. Music can be a very important form of communication and it can communicate to a lot of people. It's not good to underestimate what any one person can do. Like I was saying before, every interaction that we have, every thought that runs through our heads ultimately has some effect on the world. We all need to look at that. Rather than just thinking, "Oh, this person's a celebrity, they should be doing X, X, X." Everybody has a responsibility for what they put out into the world. Rather than trying to figure out what other people should be doing, work on your own interactions in the world, and whatever influence they have. All of it has an effect.

PH: How do we get people to have a space where they feel vulnerable with each other? How can we bring people together? Do you feel that you communicate this through your music?

ADAM: I look at music like it's a form of communication. In some ways it's more abstract than having a conversation or writing a book. It's just another form of communication. I think that's really the key. Work on your own interactions in the world, and whatever influence that it has, it has. And it does, all of it has an affect.

PH: We are trying to make Project Happiness accessible to everyone. We want it to encompass all beliefs, all likes, all dislikes. Do you have any ideas for how we can reach everyone?

ADAM: You guys have a good motivation, it's a great project that you are working on. I think just by having that as an objective, you're moving in the right direction.

Another thing that I have learned playing music is that the people who are interested in it are going to find it, and not everybody is going to be interested in it. Some people are going to be critical of whatever you do and it is going to resonate with some people. You have to make what you feel comfortable making and it will find whoever is interested. I wouldn't pay too much mind to the people it doesn't connect with. I don't know if there is any way to make something that connects with everybody. You just make what feels right to you and then see what happens.

PH: Was there a point in your career where you felt that people might not connect with what you're doing?

ADAM: We started out as a punk band, and it was a really small scene in New York. There were maybe 30 kids that were into punk music. We weren't really trying to appeal to or connect with anybody else, except for our group of friends, the people that were into it. We just made what we felt like and were comfortable with and then it found people that were interested in it. There's always going to be some critics out there. You have to take that with a grain of salt.

PH: How have you dealt with criticism? Does it affect how you think about your music?

ADAM: I don't think I'm too affected by it, but sometimes you hear something and you're like, "Ouch, that was cold." But it comes with the territory. If you're going to make stuff that you put in front of a bunch of people, especially when you have a record company trying to market it to as many people as they can, then you are bound to piss off a handful of people. What are you going to do?

PH: For Project Happiness, we really want people to discover happiness for themselves. What piece of advice would you give about how to really help people understand, instead of forcing them to understand.

ADAM: One of the most effective ways of communicating is talking about your own experience rather than talking about what other people should or shouldn't be doing. When I was around 15 or 16, the first Minor Threat record came out. Ian MacKaye, he said, "I don't smoke, I don't drink." For some reason that was very effective to me, that he's only talking about it in the first person, about what he does, rather than preaching what anybody else should do. That feels like the most effective way of communicating.

PH: So we should teach with experience.

ADAM: I think so. That's what resonates with me when I hear people saying what their own experiences are.

PH: I know that technology is such a huge part of your music. Project Happiness has been using technologies to connect students in really disparate places like Nigeria and India. Are you positive about technology being used as a tool to connect people, or is there kind of a guiding principle for making real connections between people with technology?

ADAM: I'll actually quote the Dalai Lama on that one. People had asked him whether they thought technology was a good thing or a bad thing. He basically just said, "It's just a tool." Tools can be used in constructive ways or destructive ways. It really comes back to human motivation of how this stuff is used.

PH : What brings you fun in life? What's fun for you, and what brings you peace?

ADAM: It's such a simple question, I don't know why it feels complicated. In terms of what brings me fun in life? Just goofing around with friends... laughing at myself. As for what brings me peace? Just trying not to do anything that's destructive to anybody else, or trying to do things that are constructive in the world, that really brings me peace. The times when I feel unhappy, I can almost directly trace it to, oh, I shouldn't have done that, or I shouldn't have said this, or whatever. That's what would take away my peace, or make me lose sleep. If I feel like I've done the best that I can or conducted myself in the most constructive way that I can in a situation, then I feel peace.