MONEY MARK with MIHO HATORI, SMOKEY HORMEL, and DJ SUGAR at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (September 14), $13. 416-532-1588.
money mark's got his groove back. After an unlikely four-year dalliance as a pop song stylist, Mark Ramos Nishita, aka the fourth Beastie, has returned to rockin' the keyboards. Based on the groovalicious sound of his new Change Is Coming (Emperor Norton) album, it's right where he belongs. Gone are the sensitive ballads and bouncy lo-fi twittering of his early albums, replaced by the head-nodding instrumental wickedness that made Beck's Where It's At a hip-shaking thriller and revitalized the Beastie Boys' cacking career.
A little funky business right now could go a long way in lifting Money Mark's own solo flight. With dusty 60s floor shakers drawing three-figure bids on eBay and raunchy organ combos like the Sugarman Three and Poets of Rhythm sprouting up around the globe, the timing couldn't be better for a greasy get-down like Change Is Coming.
That's all news to Money Mark, who confesses he isn't hip to the current funk fad.
"I'm like the boy in the bubble," he chuckles from his Los Angeles hangout, pausing briefly to bump knuckles with collaborator Sean Lennon, who just dropped in. "I don't follow what's happening, I just do what I do. I know where I'm headed and I know what I need to do to get there.
"My first record, Mark's Keyboard Repair, had no real boundaries. All I had was a sketch that I mashed together. The Push The Button album was me trying to compromise with the corporate idea of how I should sound. They twisted my arm to write songs that could be played on the radio.
"But Change Is Coming was created completely on my own terms. The output resembles the input. Since I've been listening to a certain type of music, that's what came out of me. You are what you eat."
More to the point, you are what you play, and in Money Mark's case that's vintage analog keyboards. Even though he recorded Change Is Coming digitally, using Pro-Tools editing technology for the first time, the feel of the album is still governed by the warm hum of a Fender Rhodes electric piano. The sound has a profound resonance for Money Mark.
"When I turned 15, my dad bought me a Fender Rhodes. That was the first keyboard I ever owned. Since I was taught that the best way to learn how things worked was to take them apart, the day I got the Rhodes, I took it apart. Boy, did I get in trouble. But I managed to put it back together again.
"Then, when I began working with the Beasties, the Rhodes was one of our featured instruments because we all liked the sound of it, particularly on early 70s recordings by Herbie Hancock. Listening back to those records got me thinking, "God, this stuff is soooo amazing!' Really, the whole album was a return to the vibe of that era."
Of course, it would be expecting too much of a keyboard connoisseur like Money Mark to restrict himself to a single instrument. So along with the Rhodes there are the sounds of a Hammond B-3, some searing Arp squelch and a bit of Clavinet bump weaving around his raunchy electric tres licks and the blaring accents of Ozomatli's barrio brass.
Having a well-stocked gallery of antique electronic artifacts comes in handy -- although Money Mark insists that his accumulation of these sought-after devices doesn't make him a collector.
"Collectors own things because they have a certain value attached to them -- they don't necessarily use them. Everything I have I work with. They're my friends, really, and I would say I'm collecting friends. I surround myself with them because we have something in common."
Really? We are talking about objects, after all.
"Hey, I've been objectified, so I know how they feel. They have a voice but that doesn't mean they can speak -- just like me. They can be put on a shelf, and I know about that, too."
Who Really Wrote the Beastie Boys' Songs?
There's been speculation that Money Mark has left the band for good, yet he seems reluctant to clarify his status. Asked point-blank if he's still with the Beastie Boys, his response is cautiously vague."I'm always with them," he demurs. Well, not always, evidently. At the moment, the Beastie Boys are working on songs for a new album, while Money Mark is clearly busy dodging questions from the press when he's not rehearsing with percussionist Alfredo Ortiz, drummer Pedro Yanowitz, keyboardist Walter Miranda and a horn section for his upcoming road trip. "I have my own musical life. I just can't go on tour and play the same five songs I've been playing with them for the past 10 years over and over and over again. But I've worked on every Beastie Boys record since I met them, and if they asked me again I'd probably say yes. It's always fun -- that isn't the problem. "Since the Check Your Head album, I've only done the instrumental songs with the Beastie Boys. I used to help with the songs, too, and even though I didn't get songwriting credit, I'd get paid. I also wasn't credited as a producer, but I was paid for it. "If you look at the album credits, you'll see that it's only on Hello Nasty that I own the publishing on my songs -- that's because I asked. The whole In Sound From Way Out! album is a compilation of my songs, and I don't own any of them. Kinda funny, isn't it?" Aside from the ethical questions, if Money Mark's claims are accurate, that suggests the Beastie Boys' music was shaped by their collaborators more significantly than many suspect. From the riff-jacking sessions with Rick Rubin and the sound collage of the Dust Brothers right through to the groove-oriented jams of the Money Mark years, the Beasties' evolutionary progress has been dictated by the innovations of their co-conspirators. Neither the Beastie Boys nor their management responded to requests for comment. Of course, since announcing the collapse of their Grand Royal label (www.grandroyal.com) on August 31, they may have more pressing concerns. As for Money Mark, he doesn't sound too troubled by the past, just relieved that his new album's out on Emperor Norton. "All that happened a long time ago. I don't have any regrets about anything I've done with the Beastie Boys. There are lots of instances where I've done things without getting credit. When I give something away, it's like a gift -- it's a spiritual thing."