INTERVIEW

“Mark Ronson may be seven years my senior but during his 31 years on Planet Earth he’s led quite the diary keeper’s life. Living a majority of his life in the celebrity ding dang dong area of Central Park West, NYC, where his childhood home was rumoured to have been frequented by Paul McCartney, Michael […]

“Mark Ronson may be seven years my senior but during his 31 years on Planet Earth he’s led quite the diary keeper’s life. Living a majority of his life in the celebrity ding dang dong area of Central Park West, NYC, where his childhood home was rumoured to have been frequented by Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, he’s carved himself a DJ career that’s proved so lucrative it’s secured him private party bookings for P Diddy and Tom Cruise (the latter of which was on the short man’s ‘happiest day of his life’, as he wed Katie Holmes), and has moved his self-confessed “musical bookishness” to behind the mixing desk, where he’s produced only the ‘A’ list. He’s the man responsible for sending Amy Winehouse ‘Back To Black’ but not before cutting his teeth producing the likes of Christina Aguilera, Lily Allen and Robbie Williams. His second solo album, ‘Version’, proves his ability as something of a musical culinary chef as he takes songs we all know, splices out their offal and tosses in his own tasty bites, often drenched in a horn heavy dressing. It’s a record that is near on impossible not to be amazed by.

The day before we meet, at the arse end of a long press day for the London born producer, Jade Jagger is on ITV’s Orange Playlist labelling Ronson a “super genius”. His re-working of The Smiths’ ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ (a track that will be number 2 in the charts within 3 days) is Jagger’s ‘Future Track’.

“Do people watch that?” laughs a visibly embarrassed Ronson, who, despite the vast media hype surrounding him, remains notably modest.

“I laugh because in America, and especially in New York, I DJ’d a lot of downtown hip hop parties, which is where Puffy and Jay-Z discovered me, and then I went on to DJ a lot of very glitzy, blingy hip hop parties for a certain time. And because of that, all the super cool, serious media has never taken me seriously, because to them I’m like Puffy’s champagne boy. Whatever I do, and however credible, those people will try to write me off. If I’m considered cool now I think it’s because I’ve made music with people who are cool.”

The son of successful music publisher Laurence Ronson (not a real estate mogul as Wikipedia will have us believe) and wealthy writer Ann Dexter-Jones, Ronson should surely be something of a spoilt oik, demanding we paint our interview room a rare shade of lilac and lay on a platter of quail eggs or something equally as clich√©d. Instead he exudes a relaxed New York attitude, minds his Ps and Qs impeccably and comes across like a young Dylan‚”with manners. After a full day of radio plugging at BBC 1 XTRA Ronson’s patience shows no sign of waning. Music is clearly a lot more than his vice and as ‘Version’ demonstrates, hip hop may be the avenue that led him to a career in music but honing his skills in one genre isn’t an idea that he’s currently entertaining.

On this release Maximo Park’s ‘Apply Some Pressure’ becomes a double speed swing number for Paul Smith to descend a curved Las Vegas staircase to, decked out in white tails and shaking it out like Tom Jones on colossal amounts of Viagra. A re-visit to Kaiser Chief’s ‘Oh My God’ serves as the album’s instant stand out track, partly because the sweet vocals of Lily Allen instantly excite about her follow up to 2006’s ‘Alright Still’ (an album that Ronson contributed to, producing ‘Littlest Things’), partly because at two tracks in it’s the first time we hear Ronson’s beats; beats that are prominent in unifying all 12 tracks that follow. Heavy and deep, the continual thudding of a bass drum is ultimately what brings the hip hop to ‘Version’, that and more overtly Ol’ Dirty Bastard spitting over Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’.
If ever there was an unsung masterstroke here it’s the Kenna featured ‘Amy’, originally by Ryan Adams. Sandwiched between giants, ‘Just’ by Radiohead and the Robbie Williams enhanced ‘The Only One I Know’, it’s a track that sees Ronson manage the unfathomable – turning a typically aching Adams song of loss into a hippy summer love in that beams smiles onto even drug free faces.

But while it’s safe to assume that your average Ryan Adams fan isn’t going to mount their high horse to charge headlong into a snobbish battle entitled ‘You’ve Ruined A Great Song By A Greater Artist’, the same can’t be said for lovers of others that appear on Ronson’s second album release. I’m talking about your Radioheads, your Jams and your Smiths. The latter band in particular even had me trudging out to the stables to begin my attack. I’ve since been won over (the mixing in of Kim Wild’s ‘You Just Keep Me Hanging On’ at the end of any song will have that effect as far as I’m concerned) but Ronson must be worried that others won’t be as easily swayed?
“When I made this record it was out of love,” says the producer strongly. “I didn’t have a record deal or anything. As a DJ I’d always try to play different types of music. I was playing mostly to hip-hop crowds but I’d want to play a Clash record or an AC/DC record so I’d have to find a clever way to dress it up in the set. That’s what DJs do. And if you’re going to cover songs you might as well do the best ones ever written or what’s the point? I still prefer the original [of ‘Stop Me’] to mine, just knowing that that’s such an amazing song. But I’m not making ‘Stop Me’ for a Smiths fan, I’m making it for a hip hop kid so he can understand why that’s such a great song.”

Whereas this year has seen an unsatisfied Timberland attempt to step out from behind the mixing desk and into the limelight with little success, Mark Ronson seems set to show Justin Timberlake’s producer how it’s done. Perhaps the key is to not front the songs yourself (whereas Timberland is still convinced he can rap with the best of them, Ronson is yet to lay down any vocal parts on any of his creations), or maybe it’s more a case of effortlessness is appealing, Timberland appearing to try a little too hard to keep up with his peers. Either way, Ronson is keen to be considered a producer first and foremost, with DJ and recording artist following in no particular stated order. ‘Version’ has been fun, but doesn’t signal the start of a Ministry Of Sound styled franchise of releases – “I’m a producer so I don’t necessarily set out to make an album but if I get on a bit of a vibe and all of a sudden I’ve got 6 or 7 tracks in front of me it’s like a light bulb goes off that I kinda have a whole record here. That’s what happened [with ‘Version’].”

DJing no doubt still rides high on Ronson’s list of preferred vocations. It’s where it all began and even if it hadn’t been, it’s how he wangled an invite to the most sought after party of last year. So what topped his Cruise/Holmes list for wedding floor fillers? ‘Agadoo’ or ‘The Time Warp’?

“I thought I was going to dip into the cheesy wedding stuff,” says a grinning Ronson “like I had Earth Wind And Fire ready just in case but then two songs in I was playing upbeat commercial hip hop and they just went for it. Jim Carey got really down to the White Stripes, he wanted to hear rock’n’roll. There was like 150 people and they just went crazy on the dancefloor. I’ve never seen people lose it like that at a wedding.”
The thought of being at any party where Ace Ventura is losing it to Jack and Meg entertains, the notion of being responsible for such a happening, at the request of Maverick from Top Gun, is hard to comprehend as truth, although, having met Mark Ronson, it shouldn’t be. For now he’s the man with the Midas touch and the composer of a record that you need to hear to believe.

Mark Ronson’s is listening to‚”
“There’s a hip hop group out of Chicago called the Cool Kids that I really like. It’s like a mix between The Clips and EPMD. They’re like 80s throwback with big gold chains and faded haircuts. I really like The Jack Penate stuff and I’m supposed to meet with Adele while I’m over here to talk about doing some stuff. And there’s another girl called Candie Payne from Liverpool who I really like. That’s like a 60s throwback kind of thing.”

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