Money Mark, Beastie Boys Keyboardist, Has A Timeless Reminder

Apr 28, 2021
Originally published on April 28, 2021 8:13 am

Mark Ramos Nishita, better known as Money Mark, is 61 and lives in LA surrounded by his massive collection of instruments – guitars and recording gear including more than 70 Casio keyboards. Nishita is sometimes called the "fourth Beastie Boy" for his songwriting and touring work with the group, including keyboard contributions you may recognize from Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Now, Nishita is the latest to contribute to the Morning Edition Song Project, during which we've been asking artists to record an original song from their experiences in the COVID era.

Nishita's dad is an electrical engineer and his mother came from a musical family – he's something of a perfect blend of the two, a musical scientist who loves to tinker. "The natural world has all the sounds," Nishita says. "The wind blowing through the bamboo, the waves hitting the sides of the rocks... I can make a drum almost out of anything."

That's the side of Mark that was made plain during the early days of the pandemic. Nearly each day for 80 days straight, Mark posted a minute-long Instagram video featuring some combination of musical sounds, which he called "Isolation Jams."

"That ritual, that routine, was really helpful in the lockdown." But later, Mark found himself all-consumed by the Black Lives Matter protests and his role in the fight for social justice.

"Being a person of color," he says, "I've always had this idea that I needed a strategy to get through life. It just became more refined."

Rachel Martin: What is the strategy?

"The strategy is to have the ultimate empathy for all things that are in the world, and to understand what love is and that what you emit into the world is so important."

That's the perfect segue into how the song came to be, right?

"Yes... so for this song, I used a Casio – one of the ones I used in the Isolation Jams last year, [which were created] of the moment. Right now, we're speaking right after [the Chauvin trial and the verdict], and I had to, really, create a piece that was for right now.

When we approached you about doing this, it was in the spirit of: "Maybe it's time for something lighter!" [Laughs] But you just can't change the world around you – just like you said, the Chauvin trial and the verdict... it was a much more serious song that you ended up putting together, because the moment demanded it.

"Yeah. The moment demanded it – we were all paying attention. We should all be paying attention. I included in the song some of the features of the Casio that are joyful – I mean, that machine, it's like a toy but it's a serious toy! It really is. So with the emotion and this keyboard that's like a toy, that's how the song happened."

You also told us that you were thinking about Martin Luther King Jr.

"The reason I was thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is this idea of love, and how language is very limited. That's why we sing, because the melody can transform those words into other kinds of things. THe idea of love being powerful is corny for some people, but it's true ... and worth giving a chance to, and to really investigate it and research everything that revolves around it.

Our language is so limited – the words start to lose their meaning. What I like about the lyrics of this song is that you just lean on them, and so it's up to us to imbue them again with meaning. And so while they look simple on the page or when you hear them – love is power, love is everything – you are making us listen to them anew, in a way.

"That's how I'm feeling about the subject, too. There's people in all of our lives, they never will say 'I love you' to you. But you just know they're with you, that it does exist. And maybe it's because of this idea, that it's all action. It's a verb, it's a noun – it's everything, to me."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEASTIE BOYS SONG, "GROOVE HOLMES")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's get back to the MORNING EDITION Song Project. It's our series where we ask musicians to write an original song about life in the pandemic. Our guest today...

MARK RAMOS NISHITA: I'm Mark Ramos Nishita, and my moniker is Money Mark. So I'm Money Mark.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEASTIE BOYS SONG, "GROOVE HOLMES")

MARTIN: He's sometimes called the fourth Beastie Boy. From the early '90s, he brought that funky keyboard sound to their music. Today, Mark is 61 years old. He lives in Los Angeles surrounded by what he calls his instrument friends.

RAMOS NISHITA: Guitars, keyboards, recording gear...

MARTIN: ...And more than 70 Casio keyboards that he likes to lend out to folks.

You have, like, a Casio library.

RAMOS NISHITA: Yeah...

MARTIN: You're, like...

RAMOS NISHITA: ...I have the Casio library.

MARTIN: ...A Casio librarian.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: To understand Mark, it helps to know a little about his background. His dad was an electrical engineer. His mom came from a family of musicians. And Mark's kind of the perfect blend of the two. He's like a musical scientist who loves to tinker.

RAMOS NISHITA: I use electronics, too, when I'm making musical instruments. And all the materials in the world - you know, the natural world has all the sounds - the wind blowing through the bamboo and the waves hitting the sides of the rocks. I can make a drum almost out of anything.

MARTIN: That's the side of Mark some of us got to know during the early months of the pandemic because for about 80 straight days, Mark posted a minute-long Instagram video featuring some whimsical combination of musical objects, like this one that features a vintage synthesizer and a musical teddy bear. He called his videos Isolation Jams.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAMOS NISHITA: I would think of an idea the night before. And then I'd get up in the morning, and I was really anxious to accomplish it. And sometimes, I'd fail. But most of the time, I made it through. That ritual and the routine was really helpful in the lockdown and the quarantine.

MARTIN: But last May, after George Floyd was killed, Mark's posts started to take on a more serious tone. He was consumed by the Black Lives Matter protests and thinking about his own role in the fight against racism.

RAMOS NISHITA: Trying to, you know, create a plan in my own head, though - being a person of color, you know, I've always had this idea that I needed a (laughter) strategy to get through life. And it just became more refined.

MARTIN: What is the strategy?

RAMOS NISHITA: The strategy is to have the ultimate empathy for all things that are in the world. And to really understand what love is and what you emit into the world is, like, so important.

MARTIN: That is sort of the perfect segue to how this song came to be, right?

RAMOS NISHITA: Yes. For this song, I used a Casio. It was one of the ones I used in the Isolation Jams last year. And the Isolation Jams were, you know, of the moment, so whatever was happening. And right now, you know, we're speaking...

(SOUNDBITE OF MONEY MARK SONG, "FIGHT WITH LOVE")

RAMOS NISHITA: ...Right after this court case.

MARTIN: The Chauvin trial and the verdict, yeah.

RAMOS NISHITA: And I had to really create a piece that was just for right now.

MARTIN: His song for our project is called "Fight With Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT WITH LOVE")

MONEY MARK: (Singing) Living in these heavy days, sorry, but it's always been this way. Maybe we've turned a corner finally, but I've learned not to accept the guarantee. Got to fight with love - you got to fight with love.

MARTIN: Just full transparency, when we approached you about doing this, it was in the spirit of, maybe it's time for something lighter (laughter), that the vaccine was going well and people were beginning to see some light in the future. But you just can't change the world around you because then, like you said, the Chauvin trial and the verdict - and it was a much more serious song that you ended up putting together because the moment sort of demanded it.

RAMOS NISHITA: Yeah, the moment demanded it. We were all paying attention. We should all be paying attention. And so I included in the song some of the features of the Casio that are joyful. I mean, that machine, when you just...

MARTIN: Yeah.

RAMOS NISHITA: It's like a toy, but it's kind of like a - it's a serious toy. It really is.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

RAMOS NISHITA: So with the emotion and with this keyboard, which is kind of a toy, that's how the song happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT WITH LOVE")

MONEY MARK: (Singing) Imagine if the hate were gone. Why does it take so long?

MARTIN: You also told us that you were thinking about Martin Luther King.

RAMOS NISHITA: Yes. And the reason I was thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is because of this idea of love and how, you know, language is very limited. And that's why we sing because the melody and the emotion can transform those words into other kinds of things. This idea of love being very powerful is kind of corny for some people, but it really is true. And it's something that is worth giving a chance to and to really investigate it and research how much everything revolves around it and how powerful that it really is.

MARTIN: It's so interesting what you say there because our language is so limited, right? And the words start to lose their meaning. And what I like about the lyrics of this song is that you just lean on them, and it's up to us to imbue them again with meaning. And so while they look simple on the page or when you hear them - love is power, tension, dimension; love is everything, the heart, the intellect - you are making us listen to them anew in a way.

RAMOS NISHITA: That's great because that's how I'm feeling about this subject, too. There's people in all of our lives, they never will say I love you to you. But you just know they're with you, you know, they're - that it does exist. And maybe it's because of this idea that it's just all actions, you know. It's just - it's a verb. It's a noun. It's everything - so - to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT WITH LOVE")

MONEY MARK: (Singing) Love is power, tension, dimension. Love is everything - the heart, the intellect...

MARTIN: Money Mark, it has been such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

RAMOS NISHITA: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Money Mark's song is called "Fight With Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT WITH LOVE")

MONEY MARK: (Singing) Do you feel love?

MARTIN: You can hear the full song at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.