By: Garrett Bethmann
In Off The Clock, I talk with artists about everything else but their jobs making music. No one wants to talk about work stuff all the time.
D.A. Stern’s got some panache in him. The New Jersey-raised, Los Angeles-based musician is a technically proficient, personality-laden producer who packs a whole lot of earnest ridiculousness into his music. His newest album Mmxtape is a sweet little slice of Echo Park sensibility, lively yet dead-pan, packed with faded neon booze-raps from Fat Tony (“2 Drink Minimum”) and disco-pop odes to tall girlfriends featuring Alex Winston (“Tall Girlfriends”). It’s the California dreams of a Jewish kid who reveres Weird Al and Beastie Boys with the same passion.
But we’re not here to talk about that right now. We’re here to talk about anything else, like the time Stern pissed off an injured Derek Jeter and playing in softballs games with Beastie Boys, some real New York City shit. Then there’s the musician’s stated love of vanity plates and how you can judge where you are in Los Angeles based on what people have on their license plates. Oh and the fact Stern’s waiting on a callback from Jeopardy.
We’re off the clock with D.A. Stern.
Read below for an interview with D.A. Stern. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Where’d you get your Yankee fandom?
Our family is die-hard. My mom’s brother idolized Mickey Mantle. I definitely caught the bug. Our family is big into all New York sports teams, but when I was growing up, the Mets were bad, Michael Jordan was dominating the NBA so there was no room for the Knicks to win, the Rangers were good but hockey was less popular. So Yankees and baseball were the thing.
I’m from Maryland and the one burning hatred memory I have of the Yankees is —
I know exactly what you are going to say, my mom’s friends with Jeffrey Maier’s parents, they are like family friends of ours (laughs). That was ‘96 because it was the first time the Yankees won the World Series in the ‘90s, they were playing the Orioles on the way to the Indians. Those were exciting times for us. They are my mom’s friends I haven’t really interacted with that much, they became close after I went to college. I think he went to go pitch at one of the Ivy Leagues and had a pitching record.
If you’re an Orioles fan he’ll always just be some dumb kid in the stands, but he had a real passion for baseball which I think is really cool. He was a kid and any kind of notoriety is insane at that age. It was the biggest team in the league in the biggest city. He had baseball cards made out of him and because of him there were rule changes. If you catch a home run like that it’s an out, it’s a fan interference rule that all stems from him.
Do you have a favorite Yankee memory?
I have a couple. One was during my formative years. Baseball can be such a father and son kind of thing. I can’t remember what season it was but my Dad and I were driving home from somewhere — might have been a taekwondo class — and stopped at this Welsh Farms. We were rushing home to catch the last bit of this Yankees game, so we had the game on in the car on the radio and in between batters we rushed in. They had the game on too and Bernie Williams hit this go-ahead, walk-off home run and everyone in the Welsh Farms started high-fiving and it was such a jubilant moment where we were all connected (laughs). Not to sound cheesy but that’s the power of sport.
I got to meet Derek Jeter once, who I think I pissed off. My mom was involved in this charity organization and they got us on the field during batting practice. Jeter was injured at the time but he was still suiting up for the games. We didn’t expect to see him but he did a very good thing and came out to see everyone and we were separated by this rope partition. I went to give him my pen and baseball and somewhere in the transaction the ball and pen dropped on his side of the rope. So a very injured Derek Jeter gave me a horrible look then had to be the one who bent down to pick everything up (laughs).
As a fan, I was such a big Paul O’Neill fan. The last game where everyone began chanting his game, I’ll sometimes watch that on Youtube, it’ll make me teary-eyed if I’ve been drinking. He was a .285 career-hitter but he was pure heart, that’s why everyone loved him. He was on Seinfeld because Seinfeld promised this kid Paul O’Neill would hit him five home runs.
Speaking of Seinfield, I understand you are an avowed license plate spotter and you spotted a Costanza.
I did. I wouldn’t call it a hobby but I get sent four or five pictures a day of what people see. I appreciate it but I only use my own stuff on Instagram. I only post the ones who tickle me because there are so many bad ones. I’m in Los Angeles and it seems every third car has a vanity plate. I’m not ragging on the city but there is a lot of personality here, people trying out their quirkiness. I think it makes sense knowing the personality layout of the city.
Do you notice ways in which the type of vanity plates get divided up over the city?
I live on the east side in Echo Park and there are a lot of musicians and artists in this area. I’ve seen lots of Bowie plates. I’ve seen a lot of license plates with “Mise en Place,” which is a cooking term. That’s the crazy thing, can you imagine being the second guy who got “Mise en Place”? He must have been thinking, “you gotta be fucking kidding me?” (laughs). You got a little farther west you see stuff like “Big Bizness” or “BGDADDY.’ Then you’ll see something not that clever and have the number “1” after it. I think it says so much about the person behind the wheel. It’s like a tattoo for your car, a bumper sticker with a character limit.
How far did you get in Jeopardy?
The audition was a nerve-racking experience. This was when COVID was just starting but we hadn’t started quarantining. We went to this hotel, they took your photo, you go into this conference room. It’s you and 14 other people and they have you in these multiple of threes. They walk you through the mechanics of the show, what it’s like on taping day and let you ask anything about the show and Alex Trebek you’ve wanted to know. Their talent coordinator is this guy named Glen who is super nice, kind of what you’d expect if a Jeopardy fan ran the show.
You take a written test and it’s the same format as the online test, which is what you need to take before you get to the audition. It’s 50 questions and in order to pass you have to get 35 correct. They don’t tell you how you’ve done at any point, but after the test you play a pretty short mock game. They do the mock interview, like, “tell me David, what would you do if you won the money?” I told them how I have nine baseball stadiums to go on my list of visiting all the stadiums and how I really want to go to Japan.
The worst part is they don’t tell you how you’ve done and that just because you’ve passed the test it doesn’t mean you are going to be on the show. They want to see that you are camera ready, that you got the goods. Some of us might get an email from them in a year and a half about the show, if we don’t, we should take the online test again. This was in March, so I got about another year until I’ll take the test again. Oh, and I crushed the mock round.
I saw you worked in a studio run by Beastie Boys.
I spent a lot of time with all of them and they were all very sweet dudes. The way I got into the recording studio was because I worked at Yauch’s film distribution company. I left that for another job that I hated, then left that job. I wasn’t totally an outsider at this point and the people up the ladder believed they could trust me, so they said I could work at the studio. By the time I came back, Yauch had passed away, but Mike D and Ad-Rock had enough reasons to come in and out of the studio for their own projects.
I’m such a fan of there’s, I talk about them all the time. On the cultural level I love their music, but as Jewish kid from the New York suburbs, they came at the right time and I loved their sense of humor and report with each other. It’s what you strive for when you want to be in a band. It was really cool to be in the same space as my heroes, but once I started playing Ad-Rock’s weekly softball game, it became surreal (laughs).