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TALK: Money Mark

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The world of Beastie has been knee-deep in the film game recently. It was just a few weeks ago that Adam Yauch premiered his brand new basketball documentary, Gunnin’ For That #1 Spot, at New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival (which is set to hit theaters on June 27). Meanwhile, earlier this year, the Beastie Boys long-time keyboardist Money Mark was at SXSW, promoting the soundtrack work he did for the film Beautiful Losers.

(left: Money Mark welcomes you into the world of…Money Mark).

A short time ago, I tracked down Money Mark and we chatted about his work on the film, when his next solo album is going to drop, doing handstands on keyboards, and writing new songs with, you guessed it, the Beastie Boys:

Jim Shearer: How did you end up doing the soundtrack for the upcoming film, Beautiful Losers?

Money Mark: My friend Aaron Rose (director), called me a couple years ago, and said “I’ve got this thing that I’m working on, and it would be great if you could look at it and give me some ideas for music.”

Jim: How does that work for a film? Does he give you little snippets of the movie and say, “I want a happy song here and a sad song there”?

Mark: He gave me complete license to do whatever I wanted to do. It turned out really, really great, and I was so honored to be asked to do it.

Jim: Wasn’t your first film score for the movie Blow?

Mark: I did the happy parts before the movie got dark. I did a scene or two at a time, but I think people think I’m good for romantic comedies or something. I did Along Came Polly with Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller. Ben was a fan–maybe it came through him, “Yeah, let’s get Mark to do it.” I did about seven very Latin [influenced] kind of songs for that. I’ve done various other things, but I’m almost even uncomfortable to name drop–

Jim: Ah c’mon Mark, why?

Mark: I’m not the self-promoting type. Maybe you can look online or something.

Jim: How about the Napoleon Dynamite score? It sounds a lot like a Money Mark soundtrack to me.

Mark: On the actual Napoleon Dynamite Soundtrack CD one of my songs is on there, “Sometimes You Gotta Make It Alone.” The sound of that song was kind of mimicked–that’s a nice word–in the film. The sounds in that film sounded very familiar to me, and to a lot of my friends.

Jim: Didn’t a lot of your friends think that you actually scored the film?

Mark: [After they saw the movie] I got at least 100 text messages on my phone that read, “Great score!”

Jim: What was your response to these texts?

Mark: “Thanks–I guess. What movie are you talking about?” I guess at a certain point it goes beyond flattery. In my whole career, I listened to tons of records, and when the Beastie Boys hired me to join their group, all of the stuff that I wrote with them was from our favorite albums. Being a musician, I’m kind of half academic, like I would really get into the song and break it down to look at why a song made me feel a certain way, or what were the emotive parts of the music. Some of it was derivative, but none of it was copied.

Jim: Speaking of the Beastie Boys, you came to their camp because you were friends with Mario Caldato? Can we talk about Phase II and Jungle Bugs?

Mark: That was the moment when Mario decided, “I’m going to be the engineer/techy/producer guy.”

Jim: Are we talking Jungle Bugs now?

Mark: Yes–and then I decided, “Okay I’m going to be more the musician/song-writer,” being in more of the front part of the scene. The teamwork there helped us a lot on the Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head album. Even now I work with Mario on a bunch of stuff.

Jim: Everyone knows you as the long-time keyboardist for the Beastie Boys. During live performances of “Sabotage” you sort of flip yourself perpendicular to the ground. Have you ever injured yourself while playing keyboards?

Mark: No.

Jim: Never?

Mark: No. I practice that move a lot. In fact when I leave here I’m going to go practice that move.

Jim: How do you practice? Do you do it in a foam pit?

Mark: When I’m in a restaurant waiting for food, I just, like, move everything out of the way and do my handstand on the table.

Jim: Seems like you could really injure your wrists that way.

Mark: I’m actually pretty athletic. And believe me, on that song I’m only holding one note, the A-flat note, so I’ve got to do something. I can’t just stand there.

Jim: I saw the Beastie Boys not that long ago and during “Heart Attack Man,” you came to the front to the stage and began frolicking around.

Mark: Yes. I did my little one-man mosh pit.

Jim: Do you do that just for “Heart Attack Man,” or are you allowed to frolic whenever you “feel” a certain song?

Mark: I have license to just walk on the stage and be goofy anytime I want to. It’s fun.

Jim: When you are making a Money Mark album, how do you determine if you put words to it, and how do you determine if it is just instrumental? I think right now you are at 50/50, right? You have got two instrumentals, and two vocal albums.

Mark: That is a good question. It is just whenever I get inspired, you know? And sometimes I just say, “Wow, this sounds great, the music is great and I’m just going to keep it this way.”

Jim: Have you done a YouTube search recently on Money Mark?

Mark: No I haven’t.

Jim: There is a rapper called Money Mark and he has a ditty in which he sings, “Now Money Mark, now Money Mark.” So I was wondering if you planned on filing a lawsuit any time soon?

Mark: I think we sent a letter to somebody–

Jim: Because if it takes off, today’s generation will know that Money Mark rather than this Money Mark.

Mark: I think there has been other Money Marks. So I don’t know. I’m not all that concerned with that–yet.

Jim: Phase II is also the name of a hip-hop group?

Mark: Oh, okay, well. In Japan there’s a group called the Beastie Boys. There’s an island called Beastie, spelled differently though, and they’re the boys from that island.

Jim: Have you ever been to that island?

Mark: No I haven’t.

Jim: Let’s talk carpentry.

Mark: Ah hah.

Jim: Do you still have skills?

Mark: Yes, I still do that at home every once in a while. That’s kind of how I met the Beastie Boys and how we became friends. When they moved to Los Angeles I was making record shelves for them and whatever.

Jim: I know, there’s the famous lyric, “Give him some wood and he’ll build you a cabinet.”

Mark: That’s right.

Jim: So if I gave you some wood today would you have the kindness in your heart to build me a cabinet?

Mark: Sure, later on. I have my tools in my hotel room, but that is where the name [Money Mark] came from, in that song [“Finger Lickin’ Good”]. A few seconds from that line is, “Keyboard Money Mark, you know he ain’t havin’ it.”

Jim: Are you guys writing stuff for the new Beastie Boys album?

Mark: Yes. Every once in a while we will get together and do something. It is not very intense at the moment.

Jim: Can you prognosticate when this album will come out?

Mark: No, no, no. I would be out of line to say anything about it. I don’t know.

Jim: What about Money Mark? I know you got the Beautiful Losers Soundtrack, but when will we get a new solo album?

Mark: Working on that right now. So far I have a kick drum and a guitar (mimics playing them simultaneously).

Jim: You play both at the same time?

Mark: Uh huh, I’m doing Meg White and Jack White at the same time. I’m starting there, so I don’t know what it will end up being.

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