Is this the year of Ronson? Producer Mark Ronson has gone from making music for Hyundai commercials to putting out his first full-length album in a matter of months. He's worked with Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, and remixed songs by both Britney Spears and Bob Dylan. He recently spoke to The Bryant Park Project about feeling like an idiot being interviewed, how exactly he comes up with his remixes, and what he's reading now. (Hint: It's Slash's autobiography.)
Even though he's traveling the world and selling lots of records, Ronson has kept his gig on Internet-only East Village Radio, which operates out of a storefront in New York City's East Village. Ronson says he likes to leave the door open, no matter how cold it gets, so that people can hear the music.
A native of London, Ronson started out playing guitar in bands when he was a kid. They played Lenny Kravitz and Guns 'N Roses songs — until one day a friend told him he seemed more like the behind-the-boards producer type. Chagrined that his rock-star dreams had been crushed, Ronson pulled it together and moved on to DJing.
He says he's most proud of his work on Amy Winehouse's hit record Back to Black. "I don't know anyone else who would have made this record," he says, though he seems reluctant to go around tooting his own horn. "I don't think people like [Radiohead's] Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke high-five each other after they write 'Creep.' It's just music."
Ronson also downplays the attention music producers have been getting recently. He says he admires artists like Timbaland and Pharrell, but thinks the main reason producers have become such celebrities is the dearth of talented musicians with major deals. "You know, Atlantic Records signed this big new singer. We know he's probably not that great, but we can get a bit of press. But if we get a Pharrell song, then it'll be out of the park!"
Ronson revealed his own methods for remixing a song. With "Toxic," a song originally recorded by Britney Spears, he first slowed it down. "The original song is really fast, the kind of song that only works in clubs. That's not really what I do — the funk and groove stuff." When he began listening closely, he says, he was "really surprised to find that 'Toxic' was really just chromatic blues chords. And so I thought, 'What would happen if we put some horns in?'" The resulting production sounded like a Wu-Tang Clan song, so Ronson threw on an Ol' Dirty Bastard verse he'd recorded before the rapper died in 2004.
For his remix of The Smiths' song "Stop Me," Ronson took a song he had loved since he was a little kid, then asked someone who'd never heard the song — Australian R&B singer Daniel Merriweather — to do the vocals. He worried that his reworking of the song would take away its original feel. "The whole thing is to make sure that it doesn't become too light. You're really trying to walk that line between making it too groovy or light so that you forget that a song like 'Just' by Radiohead is about doing yourself in."
Ronson says he always tries to keep his remixes related to the songs they come from. "I really did try to keep the message, not just the melody, intact."