|‘THE MILD MANNERED JANITOR’ TEXT:
“Squatting on a bed of dubious cleanliness in a motel on the most dilapidated stretch of Sunset Boulevard, is Money Mark. And he’s scratching. Not, it should be said, on account of the various insects with whom he is sharing this $25 room (‘No refunds after five minutes’) for photo-shoot purposes, but because he just happened to find his son’s portable Fisher Price record player in the boot of his people carrier, and it just happened to have a Seasame Street seven-inch on there.
“There are some great sounds on this,” he says, nudging the stylus across the vintage vinyl. “That reverb at the end…” His exceptionally short attention span is drawn to the bed-head, lovingly carved with the names of innumerable previous occupants. “That’s a piece of real quality workmanship,” he says, noting without irony that one of the ornamental balls has been hacked off prior to our arrival.
Welcome to the cabinet-crafting, Espace-driving, roach-toking, child-rearing, desert-dwelling, Cheap Trick-loving world of the Beasties’ experimental keyboard king Mark Ramos-Nishita. A world where out mild mannered hero, previously a full-time carpenter and part-time session player, was hired to build record shelves for Adam ‘Ad Rock’ Horowitz – having had his handyman skills recommended by Beastie collaborators the Dust Brothers – without once recognising his employer.
“I had no idea who he was,” he later muses between mouthfuls of tofu omelette in a less terrifying part of town. “But then I went to a party at Adam’s house and he had a drum kit in his room, so I figured he was a musician.” From such beginnings an enduring relationship was formed, however, which saw Mark – by now christened ‘Money’ after an old friend of Mike D adding his signature lo-fi funky keyboard motifs to ‘Paul’s Boutique’, ‘Check Your Head’ and ‘Ill Communication’ before releasing his own album, 1995’s ‘Mark’s Keyboard Repair’.
Three Years on, the rough edges of ‘mark’s Keyboard Repair’ are being honed into a much more commercial form. “Everything I do is experimental in some way. On the new album [as yet untitled, due early 1998] I’m experimenting with a four-track cassette player and some instruments conveying the vibe through a little plastic microphone.”
The evolution is best appreciated when listening to his latest Mo’Wax release, ‘Got My Hand In Your Head’, an all-star re-working of the ‘Mark’s Keyboard Repair’ track. Where the original had the essence of a filthy ‘In The Midnight Hour’, the new version, augmented by Russell Simins of John Spencer Blues Explosion on drums, Sean Lennon on bass and a somewhat less rudimentary recording system, is fleshed out and shot through with passion. So what music does Mark like?
“Apart from my own?” he replies, in all seriousness. “Well, I get kinda monkish when I’m recording, so I’m not tending to listen to other people right now. But, y’know, I don’t see painters going to museums and seeing other artists’ paintings.” Pausing to greet an old LA punk pal, he continues. “I try to listen to nature – field recordings of instruments and musicians.” Oh. “And Blue Note recordings.” Sanity prevails.
“What I like about Blue Note is the high regard for tone and sound. Like, the bassist will find that one note that’s so sweet.” Peaking with excitement, he adjusts his hat. “It’s like when you’re listening to the radio and you spot a whole song from a single sound and as soon as that certain sound begins you go ‘Oh, it’s that song.” It’s something beyond the notes, it’s the ambience and the feeling. When whoever invented the idea to fixate sound on a medium, Thomas Edison or whoever, that’s hi-tech to me. Anything beyond that is the feeling that cannot be transcribed.”
In terms of music in the wider world, however, is Mark making a contribution to the Beasties’ new album?
“I’ve played on some recordings, but I don’t think any of us see it as ‘We’re gonna make these songs to make this album.’ So we’ve gotten together but it’s not really on a regular basis.”
late for a meeting with Beastie Boys and Buffalo Daughter video director Evan Bernard, Mark concludes his audience with Select with a sneak preview of the new album cover. By way of illustration, he reaches into his pocket for a playing card. “You see the layers?” he asks, delicately tearing the eight of diamonds, “That’s what fascinates me.”
Lest we reveal out ignorance of all things wood-based, we make our excuses and big farewell to the world’s coolest ex-carpenter. After Harrison Ford.
‘HAND IN YOUR HEAD’ TEXT:
Hand In Your Head
Superbly funky reworking of the standout track from ‘Mark’s Keyboard Repair’, Sean Lennon’s bass-playing, Russell Simins’ drumming and some serious improvements on the technological front allow Beastie Boys’ carpenter Mark the space to fully exploit the potential of the comatose original. Backed with the Dust Brothers’ remix of ‘Cry’ a modern ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, it’s a seriously close contender for single of the month.”