English DJ and prolific music producer Mark Ronson has been linked with some unforgettable acts over the years. Among them are Bruno Mars, Rufus Wainwright, and Duran Duran.
He also works with his own band called Mark Ronson and the Business mixing together A-list singers to help along the way.
His album Version included three top 10 hits; also, he a won a Brit Award for it. Amy Winehouse's "Valerie," which is on the record, contained a sound that was modern and retro at the same time, thanks to her vocals and his producing. They were a dream team that didn't even end with her death as he salvaged the last of her musical legacy with demos and the album Lioness: Hidden Treasures.
In a Chicago studio, Ronson talked about new music and musicians he has collaborated with in the past.
Windy City Times: Hi, Mark. You must work all the time. Tell me about this podcast you are about to make here in the studio.
Mark Ronson: I have this show on East Village Radio. It is an Internet station that I started doing about six years ago when I still lived in New York. When I moved to London about a year ago I stopped doing it. Part of the charm of doing East Village Radio is the storefront right in the middle of 2nd Avenue. I missed looking for two hours of great independent music every week.
I felt I was suffering a bit even with my DJ skills by not practicing. So I just started doing it again a couple of months ago. Most of the time I do it from London but sometimes I am busy and just look for anywhere to do it.
WCT: Sounds like a big commitment.
MR: It kind of is. It is only two hours a week and when you are living in London that is nothing but when you fly to Chicago for a gig then you have to find a recording studio. It is important to me and there are about 150,000 people listening every week. It is how I discover so many people that I end up collaborating with. I found MNDR who was on the last single from my album "Bang Bang Bang" because I was scouring the Internet for music and found her song and really liked it.
WCT: She told me about your wedding.
MR: That is funny. I was talking to her on the way over here. I haven't seen her in ages and she has moved to L.A.
There is a rapper called Chase N. Cashe who is up and coming, and the same thing happened with him a few weeks ago.
WCT: Do things happen organically for you like that?
MR: Always. It has always been that way. So much comes from DJing also. I met Lily Allen in a club one time after I was done with a DJ set.
In New York during a set is when Puffy and Jay-Z discovered who I was. It was not like someone put me on their records and I was producing albums all of a sudden. That is how I made my name. My reputation in New York is from DJing.
WCT: Have you been around celebrities your whole life?
MR: The stories people get from Googling me are these crazy exaggerations like my mother was breast-feeding me who passed me to David Bowie who then gave me to Elton John or I was sitting in Jimmy Page's car [and he] took me to school. It wasn't quite like that.
My mom liked to party and it was London in the mid-to-late '70s, so there were people around the house.
WCT: Did you admire artists like Duran Duran and Boy George?
MR: I moved to New York in 1983, so I was 6 years old when Duran Duran was at the peak in England. I was really drawn to their music. You always look back at music you listened to as a kid and think about the bubble gum stuff. But with Duran Duran, their stuff still holds up. As you get old you get a bit more analytical about it, like, "Why did I like them?" It's because they had a rhythm section where these white kids from Birmingham who idolized chic with Nile Rodgers. They had amazing synth stuff from Nick Rhodes. Simon LeBon had the most unique melodies. That is a great thing to aspire to in a band regardless of the genre.
When I met them four or five years ago and we talked about working together my first reaction was giddy excitement but I am a producer and my goal was to re-emphasize all the things that made them great in the beginning. Nothing against the Timbaland album they did, but the strong point of Duran Duran is not throwing up a beat and just having Simon sing on it. The strong point of Duran Duran is having John [Taylor]'s bass lines and Nick's synthesizers.
Boy George was a bit different because I wrote this song with Andrew Wyatt and my friend Alex Greenwald, who I work with a lot, and we wrote this song for my last record. I just had a feeling that Boy George needed to sing on the song. I knew George from his DJing in New York days. He was into the song and we did it. It was crazy I saw him two days ago. Have you seen him with the weight loss?
WCT: I have seen pictures.
MR: It's insane. He looks like a kid. He looks incredible, not that he didn't look great beforehe has always had a beautiful facebut it is wild. He's working on his solo record.
WCT: When I interviewed him he was cooking raw food in his kitchen.
MR: He's such a smart guy with a quick wit and sometimes a sharp tongue. In England he has become almost a national treasure. I hope his record turns out really well and it could be a comeback for him. "Somebody to Love Me" was massive in Australia but not a super chart hit in England the thing is people always stop me in a bar to talk about that song with George.
WCT: Rufus Wainwright's Out of the Game, which you produced, was amazing.
WCT: Did he come to you or did you go to him?
MR: We just started talking. I hate to keep using the term organic because it sounds like I am opening up a Whole Foods but it was when I was DJing and we started to talk. I was fan of his music but I didn't know it extensively. Between the operas and the Judy Garland album there is a pretty deep body of work. I fell in love with it though. I guess I am a bit of a dork, liner note devouring, fan of music history. I just saw a lineage of Laurel Canyon sounding records from the '70s. I heard Jackson Browne or Fleetwood Mac drums so that is how I wanted it to sound. We went in and cut the record and it was great spending an intense three weeks together. We became very close.
WCT: I saw him perform it live here in Chicago.
MR: I saw it in London.
WCT: Why haven't you worked with singer Paloma Faith yet?
MR: We have been friends for a while. After the success of working with Amy, my initial knee-jerk reaction was not to work on female singers in that vein or even slightly reminiscent of that sound because this is what people expect me to do. I didn't want to be pigeon-holed.
WCT: That makes sense.
MR: Amy Winehouse was pretty territorial. If I had gone and done the same thing, she would have been mad. That was her sound. I just helped her realize it. She had been listening to all these '60s girl groups and wanted to make a sound like that.
I do like Paloma a lot. We have been talking about collaborating on her next record. She's fucking cool, as a person. She's got game. That is what you want to work with someone that has a realized idea of who they are.
You can put a singer with the right writer and make hits but if I have to have a third person in the room it is hard for me to get excited about it.
WCT: I saw on Twitter the other day that you were looking for Brazilian music.
MR: I was playing in Brazil and looking for that. I knew the bossa nova classics but I was looking for a Brazilian DJs jam. I wanted the cool underground shit to play. I went to listen to all the things people sent back as suggestions in my hotel room. I ended up making a bossa nova version of "The Harlem Shake" that didn't go over too well!
WCT: Are you gearing a set toward Chicago?
MR: Thanks to people like Kanye and Big Sean there is plenty of Chicago in my set most of the time. I haven't played here since I was at Lollapalooza with my bandthat was four years ago. I am not sure what the crowd will be like. I don't know if they like Version or if they are there for a trendy club on a Thursday night. I am keeping it a bit open to what I will do.
WCT: Will you be coming back with your band soon?
MR: I am working on that now. I know what the sound of the record is, though. I have spent the last few years working with Rufus and Bruno for other people's records so it has only been the past couple of months that I could work on my own stuff.
WCT: Who have you been spinning recently that you love?
MR: Chase N. Cashe, who I told you about earlier. There is a kid from England called Fryars who is great. The new James Blake song is the best thing I have heard in quite some time. It is my favorite thing I have heard this year so far.
There is so much good musicyou have to dig for it!