Mark Ronson, people tell me, is a man who wears many hats, a man who has many strings to his bow.
When I meet him, he isn’t wearing a hat or carrying a bow. This causes a good deal of confusion so I think it’s best to ask him to rank the many different things he is known for, those being DJ, producer, singer and musician.
“Well, straight away we can put singer dead last. Producer is the one I want to ride off into the sunset with, rather than be known as a man carting a laptop or crate of records. Producer should be my legacy, but DJing is what led me to producing, as I started to look for what went into making the records I was playing,” said Ronson in an interview with tabloid! ahead of his set at DXBeach, a new one-day music festival at Zero Gravity in Dubai on April 24.
“So let’s go producer first, DJ second, as spinning hip hop tunes led me there. Musician, I am getting better at and I surrounded myself with musicians like Jeff Bhasker during my last record. This meant I got better because I am so competitive. If Jeff stayed in studio until 10, I would stay till two. The Uptown Funk record [Ronson’s recent charttopper with Bruno Mars] meant I could finally play a part on a record that I was proud to play in front of other musicians. Before, I would say I was only serviceable — it did take 60 takes, however. Singer, I have done a few times, but I am not the best and normally only step in when needed.”
The Uptown Funk record went down in legend — you said 60 takes, I have heard 100 takes. How many did it take in the end?
Probably more than a hundred in the end. The story I tell that is picked up on is the number of guitar takes, which was over 60. We started recording at Bruno Mars’ studio, his drums stayed on it for ages. Then we went to Memphis and changed the drum arrangement, finally the meat and bones of the record was completed in my studio in London. The day we did the 60 guitar takes was the hottest day of the year in London and we had to finish it that day. I was struggling to play it, either too slow or too fast, and I was thinking, “let’s get someone good to come in and do it”. The computer blew up and that meant we had to switch to tape — which meant I couldn’t make any mistakes. We eventually broke for lunch, I fainted because it was that hot, but somehow we went back and nailed it, Bruno finishing his part a couple of days later.
It must have been a great moment, finally finishing the track.
It took us six or seven months to finish; it was just relief because I felt under such pressure. We tried the old trick of slowing the track down so I could find the pocket and play along, that didn’t work. Finally I had to play it front of Bruno’s entire band, which was when I finally nailed it.
Amy Winehouse had a huge part in your life and you said you wouldn’t be where you are today without her.
The songs were amazing and her voice was, too, but there was nothing to say that type of music was going to be cool. The records that I have made that make a real impact are the ones that sound like nothing else on the radio at that time. Either Amy or Locked Out of Heaven or Uptown Funk. The Amy thing just inspired me and told me where to go, I just had a clear vision as soon as I heard her songs.
You worked with Nile Rogers recently and he has produced the biggest records for Duran Duran, Madonna, David Bowie and his own band Chic. Is that were you want to be in terms of producing when you reach a similar age?
Absolutely, Nile’s recent success has brought him to the fore and he should be considered one of the greatest producers ever. Looking back at all the records I loved in the ’80s, from Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, Bowie and INXS, I realised it was him that produced them. I think Nile and Quincy Jones are the ones to aspire to, I don’t think I will reach their heights, but definitely those two.
QUICK-FIRE WITH MARK RONSON
Did you appear in a Tommy Hilfiger advert?
Yes I did, with Q-Tip and a very young Britney Spears who had just released Hit Me Baby One More Time.
Were you in Zoolander?
Briefly — I DJ’ed the funeral and the walk off.
Are you in the follow up?
The phone rang but I missed the call.
You DJ’ed at Paul McCartney’s wedding?
I did and I expected to do an hour from 12, and they ended up dancing until five in the morning.
If you could only play one record what would it be?
It would have to be a long one. I would pick Ashford and Simpson, Bourgie Bourgie. It’s a beautiful instrumental Larry Lavine-style arrangement. It was all the things you need, beautiful time signatures and changes in arrangement that make it a classic.
*Mark Pendergast presents Drive With Sparky, weekdays 4-7pm on Radio 2.