More than a DJ and producer, Mark Farina is an innovator of musical genres. His blend of downtempo, hip-hop and jazz-inspired music is so original he needed a new name for it. Mushroom Jazz, as an alternative to Acid Jazz, is what he parades his new music as, and since its invention, Farina has risen to success with six mushroom jazz compilations, all the while, collaborating with a plethora of well-respected artists. He has recently dropped his latest compilation, Mushroom Jazz 7.
Mark Farina spoke with us on the phone from his place in San Francisco about his latest album, how some U.S. cities are more tolerant to downtempo music, and his big plans for the future. Here’s what he had to say...
Clubplanet: The style itself, "mushroom jazz," combines so many different genres altogether. Could you name a few of your influences?
Mark Farina: My biggest influences are downtempo and early '90s New York hip-hop, anything from De La Soul to A Tribe Called Quest. In terms of hip-hoppy stuff, that was my biggest influence for downtempo; but then at the same time, there was a lot of UK acid jazzy stuff coming out, labels like Talking Loud, a lot of the English trip-hoppy stuff.
Clubplanet: Are you influenced by jazz music?
Mark Farina: Yeah, I grew up playing the trumpet all through grammar school and high school – concert band and orchestra, marching band – so I do have that kind of background. I definitely like combining those kinds of jazzy elements with a hip-hop beat.
Clubplanet: When any artist does that, there must be a fear that there won’t be an audience. When you first started experimenting with this stuff, was that fear present? Or did you already kind of know that people would dig it from the get go?
Mark Farina: No, I wasn’t quite sure, especially since I started playing that kind of stuff when I was in Chicago, which is kind of a very un-downtempo kind of market. Chicago was more about house at that time, there wasn’t even much of a hip-hop scene. In the late '80s and early '90s all the urban stations played house. I just liked the music and thought it needed to be played. I used to go to New York clubs as well and the clubs would have like a house room, then the other room would be hip-hop or reggae – completely different. It was definitely an uphill battle because it wasn’t super accepted. In Chicago it was more like a chillout cassette for after the party or on the way. It wasn’t until a few years in that there was a dance floor audience.
Clubplanet: That’s interesting. I never would have thought that different cities would prefer different tempos.
Mark Farina: It’s very different. Even like the same songs might be a few beats per minute different, but in another city they like it faster or slower. It’s pretty interesting.
Clubplanet: Jazz has more of reputation of being a kind of sit-down and experience, head nod kind of music. Do you compose your music for somebody to sit down, experience it, analyze it, or just have fun with it?
Mark Farina: Kind of a little of both. People enjoy it whatever way they can see fit, whether it’s cleaning house or at work on the computer, taking care of a baby or going for a drive. I try to put stuff in a way so that people can kind of find their own journey from it.
Clubplanet: I really enjoy the samples from that old film in Mushroom Jazz 7. How did you find them?
Mark Farina: I’ve been searching. I’ve got a lot of different albums and found audio files from searching for movies about mushrooms. I try to keep kind of a “mushroom-y” scene with the samples. Some of the samples are from like a faux documentary with bad acting but I kind of like that, I kind of like that feel. I collect a lot of spoken word samples, I like to hear it combined over instrumental stuff – just gives it a little different flavor.
Clubplanet: The format of Mushroom Jazz 7 feels like a story. You begin with an exposition, then you go through the body of the piece, and it ends with a climax and a conclusion. Was this intentional?
Mark Farina: A lot of my early teachers said "you should tell a story." I think coming from a mixtape background got me into that state of mind. You know, I would start with the intro, then the buildup, then come back around and kind of try to wind it all down in a way. I’m glad you caught that – glad it worked!
Clubplanet: How do you approach performing this stuff live? I know you’re going on tour, do you stray from the recorded album much?
Mark Farina: It is very different. Live is different, and it’s also that mushroom jazz is a more chill vibe, so the tempo is important as well. I like to play longer sets, and I don’t really like to do the same thing every time. I’m not a pre-programmed party DJ.
Clubplanet: When you collaborate with artists, I was just curious about how that works. Do they come to you, do you come to them? When you work on the track do you trade off, or do they just come lay something down and you work with that?
Mark Farina: That depends. Some vocalists don’t live in the Bay Area and they’ll just send me stuff acapella and I’ll just work with it that way. If they met me or came to my studio, it’s more of a kind of hands on thing and we kind of freestyle the vocal. Maybe I’ll sample some of their music if they have anything that went with their songs. Then when I’m working with the producer, it’s like working with a DJ friend on a track, we’ll both bring in some samples and freestyle from there.
Clubplanet: And finally, I just have to ask, will there be Mushroom Jazz 8? And do you ever plan on doing something entirely different than what you’ve done before?
Mark Farina: I hope to do Mushroom Jazz 8. I have thought about doing some mushroom jazz remixes with guest DJs. I’m starting Mushroom Recordings next year which is going to be a downtempo label. I’m just going to stick to downtempo, maybe some hip-hop; I’m excited to pursue that, we’re still working out the details.
Clubplanet: That’s interesting; do you have artists for the label?
Mark Farina: Yeah, a lot of the artists on Mushroom Jazz 7 have shown interest. There’s a lot of people that do downtempo but there’s not really a label that puts it all out yet. I kind of want to strictly go downtempo.