Money Mark takes the Zen approach
To quote Queens of the Stone Ager Josh Homme, "I can go with the flow." It's a mantra to live by.
Just ask Mark Ramos-Nishita, aka Money Mark. Rather than be guided by materialistic rewards or artistic accolades, M&M takes this sort of malleable, naturalistic approach to both life and music.
This path has allowed the former carpenter (insert hackneyed spiritual metaphor here) to transition from working on Paul's Boutique with The Beastie Boys to jamming with them a few years later on two classic albums: 1992's Check Your Head and 1994's Ill Communication.
Aside from being part of the Grand Royale posse, Mark also lent his keyboard skills to Beck on his hit, "Where It's At" and contributed overdubs to the famed production duo The Dust Brothers and the now-defunct hip-hop label, Delicious Vinyl. Recently, he scored a portion of the soundtrack for the movie Blow and worked with Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and Prince Paul on their classic mix-hop masterpiece, Handsome Boy Modeling School.
So how does a guy who claims to just play it as it lays become the mad Hammond B3 organist of alt-music culture?
"Natural magnetisms," he says without a hint of bravado. "However things unfold... all leads me to where I am now."
No, Money Mark hasn't been reading old interviews of the late, great George Harrison or watching sunsets with power crystals clutched tightly in his hands. This Detroit-born, California-raised musician has let all things musical take their natural course, and the variety of collaborations he has been a part of over the past 12-plus years is prolific.
Mark's first homemade recordings weren't even meant for public consumption. Mo' Wax commander-in-chief James Lavelle changed all that, however, when he caught wind of the tapes and released them as 1995's Mark's Keyboard Repair, a throwback to the soul-jazz-funk rave-ups of your parents' wilder years. Playing all the instruments himself, Mark's laidback worldview led to a laidback groove for alt-rockers to loosen up the thrift-store belts and dance. Mark's Keyboard Repair became a marquee album of the worldwide underground for hipsters house parties and impromptu dance jams in the parking lots of Beastie concerts.
The release of 1998's Push the Button showed Mark's grooves evolving into more traditional songwriting structures. He even added vocals when the moment felt right. Dipping his multi-instrumental hands in jazz, soul, funk, pop and even a few ballads, Mark continued his lo-fi quest for the groove.
When asked where his creative juices originate, Mark provides another casual proverb.
"I don't discount anything. The ideaÑthe original spark that initiates it is the most important part of the process," he says.
Whether he's recording old-school style on analog tape or pushing forward with the digital ease of Pro Tools, Money Mark is in a constant creative motion, and that's the way he likes it.
Whether he's playing with the Beasties in a packed arena or helping his pals Smokey Hormel and Miho play a small show at the Casbah last month, Money Mark says he is "fixated on the sound."
Constantly recording, Mark recently released a small offering of gratitude to his Japanese fans, entitled Love Stains. The demo is a collection of half analog, half digital recordings he has been working on since releasing 2001's Change is Coming album.
Money Mark's support roles
Money Mark was a specialist, the architect behind most of the Beastie's instrumental songs that interspersed their best albums. On Ill Communication alone, Nishita is given credit for co-writing nine songs. But his biggest success with them was penning the hit, "So Wat'cha Want."
Mike WattWatt and Money Mark first met on a 1992 Beastie Boys tour. Later, they would both play in the short-lived alternative jazz supergroup called Banyan, which also featured Janes Addiction's Perry Farrell and Stephen Perkins, as well as jazz guitarist Nels Cline. Mark also engineered Mr. Machinery Operator, the mediocre album by Watt's post-Minutemen band, fIREHOSE.
Mark was actually an early member of The Wallflowers, and handles keyboards on their self-titled debut.
Los Angeles Lakers
From 1971-1972 at the tender age of 12, Nishita, then an aspiring basketball starÑbecame a ballboy for the Los Angeles Lakers during their world championship season. In an old Grand Royale column, he wrote that during his first walk into the locker room he saw "Laker forward Jim MacMillan taping his penis to his thigh with some white adhesive tape." While wiping sweat from under the basket during the first game, Nishita failed to get out of the way in time, and was called for interference. As a result, he was only asked to work six more games that year. Interesting note: he recalls seeing Wilt Chamberlain smoking cigarettes after the game in the arena bar.