Interview with Mix Master Mike

Mix Master Mike (born Michael Schwartz) is kind of a big deal; DMC judge and former champion, the Beastie Boys’ DJ, solo artist and record collector extraordinaire. Katie Olsen talked with him – ahead of his Australian tour – about persistence, gratitude, integrity and Thai massages.

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Katie Olsen: You’re getting ready to come down here? Packing anything important?
Mix Master Mike: I’m just packing heat right now.

Can you get that on the plane?
MMM: You know, heat in my computer and my records, so…

KO: Not the other kind. You turned 40 this year, right?
MMM: I did, yeah.

KO: Pretty significant number. I was wondering how you celebrated? Did you do anything spectacular?
MMM: Um, you know what? I did do something pretty crazy, I mean. I went through something crazy. Uh, my birthday fell on Easter and we took my daughter Easter egg hunting and me and my wife had a great, great day and went through an earthquake in San Diego. Which was crazy! …We were staying at the Hard Rock Hotel and we were on the 31st floor and the building started shaking.

KO: Do you find that you deal with stuff like that differently now – being older, wiser and as a father?
MMM: Yeah, definitely. I mean, the more you develop as a person, you start understanding things better… Things happen that don’t happen when you’re in your 20s you learn to adapt and adjust. You know, I think I’m just like a ball of wisdom right now. I’ve learned so much in my career, I feel like I’m ready for anything.

KO: You’re often described as a DJs’ DJ – there’s obviously a big difference between a DJs’ DJ and kids with iPods who seem to be playing clubs here sometimes – what makes for a DJs’ DJ? Is it just the pure skill and talent or something more?
MMM: I think it’s the integrity. And it’s the music, you know? It’s the music, the creativity, the originality, it’s all of that. You know? And it’s the message behind the music. And an understanding.

KO: And would you say that your message has remained the same since you began playing?
MMM: Well, for me, it’s pretty much the same. It’s just like, don’t get into [just] one type of music – keep venturing, keep moving, pushing forward. There’s so much out there, you know?

KO: There is, I was going to ask if there’s anything in particular that you’re into at the moment?
MMM: For me, I’ve been making music. I have a new EP coming out called Plasma Rifle – another Mix Master Mike record. Crazy beats, psychedelic scratches and whatnot. I’ve got my hands in so many things – I’ve got my own iPhone app coming out… Got my own headphones coming out… I got more than one hustle. I’ve been pretty blessed to be able to channel my energy into different directions.

KO: Speaking of all your different projects, you’re probably best known for playing with the Beastie Boys and for winning a swag of awards [DMCs] and then judging the DMCs… I was wondering if there’s something that you’d like to be recognised for that doesn’t get mentioned as much as those other achievements?
MMM: Uh, yeah. I guess… I don’t know! Just somebody who has integrity in their music and beliefs. I mean, I do what I love to do. And I do it for the kids – I want to inspire and to help others. My wife started a DJ agency called Copeland Entertainment and so we’re looking for new blood out there… For me, I’ve enjoyed so many blessings throughout my career, it’s time – I’d like to give somebody an opportunity to feel what I’ve felt all these years. We’re on the ‘give back’ mode.

KO: How are you finding these people? Are you scouting or are they coming to you?
MMM: I’ve got kids sending me mixtapes and sending me videos… I haven’t found the one yet. But I’m looking! – ACTUALLY! You know what’s cool? Speaking of projects, I got an album out and it’s called The Elements and it’s me, DJ Muggs and Rahzel and it’s on and it’s a website – it’s a fully interactive website where bands can log in and get all of our stem tracks and they can remix it and they can add parts to the record. So, we’re gonna put out this record with all these other people in it. All our fans – it’s like making and album with out fans. So I’m really excited about that.

KO: Yeah, that’s pretty special.
MMM: You know what’s awesome, is I get hundreds of submissions every day and I go through them and make these little videos to keep people entertained… You know, it’s fully interactive. It’s futuristic and it’s amazing. I can’t imagine if a group that I was listening to back in the day had something like this and I would be able to make music with them. You know?

KO: You mentioned working with Muggs and Rahzel, I was going to say you’ve worked with them and Q-Bert and obviously the Beastie Boys, Fela Kuti… a bunch of really significant artists, is there anybody that you would fall over to work with? Is there anybody left?
MMM: You know, for me, I’ve collaborated with who I’ve needed to for me. I have so much music that I need to put out for myself… I’m a student of my own music. I’m constantly learning, I still haven’t reached that stage where I’m satisfied and I don’t think I ever will. But I have so much to put out. Collaborating is great and everything, but I like making original Mix Master Mike music. It’s therapeutic. [laughs]

KO: Cheaper than a psychiatrist?
MMM: No, it is! No doubt. No doubt.

KO: Or maybe all the cash you would have spent on therapy and medication went into your record collection – which must be pretty phenomenal.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. [laughs]

KO: You said before that people send you mixtapes all the time, you’re obviously an inspiration for a lot of aspiring DJs. But you were there once, in a way. Is it true that when you wanted to be the Beastie Boys’ DJ that you left a bunch of messages on Adam Yauch’s answering machine? Is that really one of them on ‘Three MCs and One DJ’?
MMM: Yes, definitely. One hundred percent.

KO: So you really just played music into the answering machine.
MMM: Yeah, I left like four or five messages and Adam picked that one and used it – what’s funny about that is that I didn’t know he was going to put that on there. When the album actually came out and I listened to ‘Three MCs’ and I hit the track button and there was the answering machine message and I was like “Oh shit!” He actually used it.

KO: Lucky you didn’t say anything too embarrassing!
MMM: Yeah! For me, back then I was persistent. In this profession you have to be persistent. I think that’s what I was, I was relentless, persistent and I knew what they needed. I knew I had what they needed. So. The rest was history.

KO: Would you have kept leaving messages if Adam hadn’t responded to your fourth one?

KO: How far would you have gone?
MMM: Probably, [laughs] I probably would have just gone to his house with my turntables.

KO: You talk about your persistence a lot, I read in an interview how grateful you are for your success and the chance to play music the world over – you said “I’m grateful every time I touch those tables”. I loved that. Do you think that anybody can really be truly successful without that appreciation?
MMM: I don’t know. I mean, you’d have to be really, um, soulless. My soul runs deep and I give thanks for the house I live in, and how everything came together for me. How can you not be grateful for being able to get a Thai massage every single day of your life?

KO: Woah. Woah! Really? [laughs] You’re gonna make everybody jealous!
MMM: [laughs] You know what I mean though? That’s just, that’s just, you know… I mean, three square meals a day. I’m grateful for the health of my wife, I’m grateful for the health of my daughter, I’m grateful for my health. Especially in the times that we’re living in today, how could you not be grateful to be in the position I am? Sometimes I’m just like “Wow!” This is so surreal for me… The gratitude is way up there. It’s hard to explain it. It’s an amazing thing. God is good.

KO: Now, I have to be really unprofessional for one second. I had a crush on AdRock when I was ten. First crush ever. Thought I was going to marry him, really. Can you tell me, does he have a hidden talent or anything?
MMM: AdRock? Oh, AdRock can DJ too. He cuts it up on the turntables and he’s a great guy. He’s like a brother to me – brother, mentor, somebody really down to earth who you can call – like, I can call him any time of the day for advice and he’s always there.

KO: But you have that with all of them, right? It must be great to have your personal friendship sit so well with your professional one.
MMM: Yeah, it’s really loose. The thing is trust. We all have trust in each other.

KO: Now, if you weren’t playing music professionally, travelling all over the world, getting Thai massages every day
MMM: Ha ha ha. No no, you’re gonna–

KO: Don’t worry, I’m not going to twist your words and make you sound like an entitled arsehole.
MMM: Don’t talk about Thai massages, like–

KO: I won’t, I won’t. But tell me, have you ever considered another profession? Was there a back-up plan?
MMM: Um, back-up plan? Wow, you know what? I never considered a back-up plan. This was the only thing I ever wanted to do in life. Everything came with that – my wife, my daughter, everything came somehow with my desire for music. Which is amazing.

KO: That’s beautiful! I love that there was no other option.
MMM: There’s wasn’t. There was no Plan B.

Mix Master Mike Australia tour dates

Parklife, Saturday 25th September: Parklands on the Gold Coast.
Parklife, Sunday 26th September: Wellington Square, Perth.
Sideshow with Missy Elliott, Thursday 30th September: the Palace Theatre, Melbourne.
Parklife, Saturday 2nd October: Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne.
Parklife, Sunday 3rd October: Moore Park, Sydney.
Parklife, Monday 4 October: Botanic Gardens, Adelaide.

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