On the eve of Mark Ronson releasing 'Version', he wanted to do something different for BLAG. So he got together with his friend, comedian Jordan Rubin and masterminded to create a truly exclusive interview for us. It was here Jordan evolved into DJ Buzzkill to put Mark on his toes. Or at least try to.
This feature first appeared in the print edition of BLAG Vol.2 Nø 8 published in 2007
Interview by DJ Buzzkill aka Jordan Rubin
Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Mark Ronson gets interviewed by DJ Buzzkill
(as recorded by Jordan Rubin)
The past year has been alright for Mark Ronson. After injecting his signature 1960’s pop-soul meets hip hop sound into massive records for Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and Christina Aguilera (to name a few), he’s in the unique position of being a hit artist in his own right. His new album ‘Version’ burst into the charts at #2 and its lead single ‘Stop Me’ did the same. Somehow, Ronson manages to still find time to DJ at nightspots from Camden to Vegas, run his ‘Authentic Shit’ internet radio show every Friday on East Village Radio, while also rehearsing a full live band for an upcoming run of European Festivals. We sat down with the man to talk about his recent endeavors...
DJ Buzzkill: In the past year, you’ve produced three number one albums: Robbie Williams, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse. Would you say that you have the Midas touch?
Mark Ronson: That feels strange to say, but I guess.
DJ Buzzkill: Aha! So your records only go gold then?
Mark Ronson: They actually all went platinum.
DJ Buzzkill: Right, but Midas turned things to gold. anyway...so your album went to number two in the charts.
Mark Ronson: Yeah, it’s really exciting.
DJ Buzzkill: Exciting? You Lost.
Mark Ronson: It’s not a competition.
DJ Buzzkill: Oh, really? So you’re saying that if you came number two in a marathon you’d be happy about it?
Mark Ronson: You’re comparing the charts to a marathon?
DJ Buzzkill: In a matter of speaking.
Mark Ronson: Next question.
DJ Buzzkill: Sorry, mate. Moving along... Where do you see hip hop in five or 10 years? Will it continue to evolve, or is it dead like that guy in the film ‘Weekend at Bernie’s?’
Mark Ronson: You mean Bernie?
DJ Buzzkill: I don’t remember the bloke’s name. He was the lead homeboy in ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’.
Mark Ronson: Yeah, um back to your question...hip hop is always evolving. On this album I’m doing covers of mostly indie guitar records, but there are obvious major influences from the RZA and the Bomb Squad in the backbone and the arrangements. As DJ’s, we’re always interweaving genres, for decades now... And in my own music, I feel it adds something to the sound when you use the live instruments and strings and horns. I think it’s always important to play around with convention. Like, I remember when I first heard The Roots. That was the first time I’d ever heard people rapping over a hip hop beat, created by live instruments that really had an effect on me.
DJ Buzzkill: And you’re not just saying that to kiss ?uestlove’s ass?
Mark Ronson: Not at all. He’s a close friend of mine.
DJ Buzzkill: Ha. Prove it.
Mark Ronson: I don’t need to prove it.
DJ Buzzkill: Touché. Your second solo album, ‘Version’, features covers of recent hit songs?
Mark Ronson: Well, they’re not all hits, just songs I happen to love.
DJ Buzzkill: (annoyed) They’re all hits, son.
Mark Ronson: Well, we all have different definitions for “hits.”
DJB: Sure, but mine is the correct one.
Mark Ronson: I feel like you’re being confrontational.
DJ Buzzkill: Just go on then...
Mark Ronson: Well, after setting out to cover ‘Just’ for the Radiohead cover album on BBE, I enjoyed it so much, I just started fucking around with all these other songs I loved.
DJ Buzzkill: Let’s call them “hits.”
Mark Ronson: OK. Wow. Anyway, I would either reconstruct the songs on the guitar or clavinet [a keyboard best recognized on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’], figuring out which ones lent themselves best to a funk-heavy arrangement. I would get the horn section from the Dapkings to come in and we’d think up arrangements. Before I knew it, I had 7 songs down. Then ‘Just’ blew up in the UK and I found myself in a position of being courted by a bunch of labels.
DJ Buzzkill: Courted? Damn. You mean the labels wanted to shag you?
Mark Ronson: No, courted as in ‘they showed an interest in signing me.’
DJ Buzzkill: Go on.
Mark Ronson: That’s all I really have to say on that topic.
DJ Buzzkill: That’s not what I heard.
Mark Ronson: Seriously?
DJ Buzzkill: No, but for argument’s sake, let’s just assume that I did hear that, why did you like?
Mark Ronson: I’m not here to answer hypothetical questions.
DJ Buzzkill: Amazing. So you spent the past summer touring with a live band, playing many of the covers that will end up on the album.
Mark Ronson: Yeah.
DJ Buzzkill: How is it different playing with a band in front of a crowd as opposed to spinning records for them?
Mark Ronson: It’s much more fun. Especially because it’s quite new for me – I played in bands for most of my teenage years but I’ve been behind the turntables for 10 years – so to come out and band-lead a show is very exciting and also a bit scary...
DJ Buzzkill: Band Lead? What is that, an industry term?
Mark Ronson: It just means to lead a band.
DJ Buzzkill: Oh yeah. I’ve done that myself. I’m pretty good actually.
DJ Buzzkill: Um...So.. You were saying that it’s a bit more scary playing in a band in front of a crowd as opposed to spinning records for them? I mean, I wouldn’t be scared. But you were saying that, right?
Mark Ronson: Yeah. [sigh] If I’m spinning a record that doesn’t gel with the crowd, I’ll just put something else on. But when you’re playing with a live band, you can’t just bail out in the middle of a song if you’re losing them, ya know?
DJ Buzzkill: Well, I don’t know because I’ve never lost a crowd. And I don’t wanna sound like a pompous dick here. It’s just plain fact, never lost a crowd. Not once.
Mark Ronson: Good for you then.
DJ Buzzkill: So, for the sake of argument, I’ll pretend that what you’re saying makes sense... Did you find that you lost the crowd a lot?
Mark Ronson: Thank God, no.
DJ Buzzkill: Not just a little?
Mark Ronson: Not really. It was a pretty great tour.
DJ Buzzkill: Just a wee bit? I mean, c’mon. You must have had one show that was a REAL stinker, no?
DJ Buzzkill: Having covered a lot of different artists’ songs, were you worried at all that they wouldn’t like your remixes?
Mark Ronson: They’re not remixes. They’re actual cover songs. Just wanted to clear that up.
DJ Buzzkill: Do you use the same words as the originals?
Mark Ronson: Yeah.
DJ Buzzkill: Then they’re remixes.
Mark Ronson: No, I play ALL of the instruments on the tracks and have different artists come in and sing. I did it from scratch.
DJ Buzzkill: How many instruments do you play?
Mark Ronson: Maybe four or five.
DJ Buzzkill: I play 16.
Mark Ronson: It’s not a competition.
DJ Buzzkill: I won a lot of competitions, too. Back to the original topic: were you worried what the original artists would think?
Mark Ronson: Well, when Ed O’Brien of Radiohead went on Radio 1 and said he loved my cover, it was definitely an amazing feeling. Having covered songs by Paul Weller and Morrissey, among others, and to get such positive feedback was surreal, ‘cause I’ve always been such a big fan of their music growing up.
DJ Buzzkill: Have you ever been knighted?
Mark Ronson: No.
DJ Buzzkill: Oh. I have.
Mark Ronson: Congratulations.
DJ Buzzkill: Thanks. If you’re jealous, that’s completely alright...
Mark Ronson: I’m not at all.
DJ Buzzkill: Well, you say that... But I detect some jealousy in your voice. Not a lot, probably wouldn’t register on a ‘jealousy radar’... but it’s there. And I don’t blame you.
Mark Ronson: Let’s move on, shall we?
DJ Buzzkill: What’s the most valuable record in your collection?
Mark Ronson: Probably a rare 60’s soul record— or perhaps this early Motown pressing of a record called ‘Twisting’ from the late 50’s.
DJ Buzzkill: You think that’s valuable? I have a copy of a Robert Johnson record where he doesn’t have the blues. He’s completely happy.
Mark Ronson: Doesn’t exist.
DJ Buzzkill: OK. Free association: Favourite rap song of all time?
Mark Ronson: ‘They Reminisce Over You’ by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth.
DJ Buzzkill: [makes obnoxious buzzer sounds] Wrong answer. It’s ‘Set Adrift on Memory Bliss’ by PM Dawn.
Mark Ronson: How could you say wrong answer?! It’s my own opinion.
DJ Buzzkill: Well, my opinion of your opinion is that it’s bollocks. Now, I understand that you grew up surrounded by music. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your father was in the Mama’s and the Papa’s and your mom was Yoko Ono?
Mark Ronson: Close. Growing up, my step-dad was in the band Foreigner.
DJ Buzzkill: Right. That’s what I meant.
Mark Ronson: Are you feeling OK?
DJB: You spun records at Tom Cruise’s wedding in Rome. Can you tell us one of the songs that Jerry Maguire requested at his wedding?
Mark Ronson: He pretty much gave me free reign to play whatever I wanted. I did play ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’ at one point, to see if maybe he’d re-enact that scene from ‘Top Gun’ with Katie Holmes.
DJ Buzzkill: Which scene? The one where The Ice Man is razzing Maverick?
Mark Ronson: No, the other scene.
DJ Buzzkill: Oh, the one where Goose dies.
Mark Ronson: Uh, forget it.
DJ Buzzkill: Cool. You’re probably thinking of a different movie. See, if I had been the one DJ’ing at Tom and Katie’s wedding and believe me, we were in talks – I just had to a prior engagement with the Royal family that week. If I had been the DJ, you know what I would have played?
Mark Ronson: Don’t know.
DJ Buzzkill: ‘Old Time Rock and Roll.’ Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band. And I woulda gone up to Tom before my set and said “Hey. Listen here. What say you give me the cue, I drop the record and you come sliding out onto the dance floor in your underwear like that scene from ‘Risky Business.’ Yup.
Mark Ronson: I don’t think that would have been very appropriate.
DJ Buzzkill: That’s cause you’ve never seen the movie.
Mark Ronson: Of course I’ve seen the movie. It’s a classic.”
DJ Buzzkill: See the movie, and then we’ll talk, mate. So. Hmm. Just looking over my notes here. Um, how does the UK hip hop scene differ from hip hop in the states?
Mark Ronson: Well, hip hop originated in the states and it’s always interesting for me to see how different countries take it on and make the sound their own. In the UK, hip hop has spawned a lot of new genres such as grime and jungle. There’s a whole slew of artists coming up right now like Lily Allen and Jamie T who are obviously children of hip hop but have created a new sound of their own, a lot of which is more exciting than most new hip hop out now.
DJ Buzzkill: Are there any UK artists that you’d like to have the opportunity to work with, but haven’t yet?
Mark Ronson: So many. I’m a big fan of the rapper Sway, we’re trying to figure out how to link.
DJ Buzzkill: I worked with him.
Mark Ronson: Also, there’s this up and coming singer, Jack Peñate – I love his voice. We might do a few tracks together.
DJ Buzzkill: Peñate’s my boy. I gave him his first break! I mean, don’t ask him about if you ever meet him. He was so pissed he’d probably forget. But I made him what he is.
Mark Ronson: I find that a bit hard to believe
DJ Buzzkill: I don’t lie. I’m like Superman.
Mark Ronson: Really? OK, so what type of music does he play?
DJ Buzzkill: Who? Pinata?
Mark Ronson: Peñate.
DJ Buzzkilla: That’s what I said. Peñate. Um. Well. Back then he was doing a lot of R&B?
Mark Ronson: Um.
DJ Buzzkill: I mean house. House. He was doing a lot of house?
Mark Ronson: Sure. Are we done here?
DJ Buzzkill: Sure. Cool. Hey, can I borrow 10 quid?