Mark Ronson at NPR's New York office.
Mark Ronson at NPR's New York office.
On this week's +1 Podcast, we talk with producer, DJ and musician Mark Ronson about the allure of vintage sounds and why he chose to build his career around making the old sound new again.
The roots of Mark Ronson's love for classic music run deep. This British-born musician spent time in New York City as a kid in the '80s and '90s, becoming an in-demand hip-hop club DJ by his mid-20s. He parlayed his musical education, and an encyclopedic knowledge of soul, R&B and jazz records, into production work for singers like Nikki Costa, reggae dancehall superstar Sean Paul, and, in 2005, Amy Winehouse for her breakthrough album Back To Black.
But Ronson's love of classic sounds isn't about hijacking nostalgia, a point he also made during a 2014 TED talk entitled "How Sampling Transformed Music." As he tells All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and NPR Music's Piotr Orlov, "We are all children of what came before us. You're taking the things you love and recreating them for now."
Hear the full discussion with the link above, and read highlights from the interview and hear the featured songs below.
Terence Trent d'Arby
- Song: Wishing Well
- from Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent d'Arby
"There was this old, archaic sequencer called the Synclavier which was one of the early, early things and I sort of taught myself how to use it so I could recreate Terence Trent D'Arby's 'Wishing Well.' At least the first verse and chorus. I was obsessed with that song and my dad still living in England — my real dad — I would go back to visit him once or twice a year and going to England informed a certain part of my music experience. And I thought it was so cool that I kind of got really close to the sounds and the keyboard and the part that goes, [sings percussive keyboard part]. It's like a chime or some crazy thing. And I'd bring people over, like my parents' friends, and I'd be like, 'Listen!' And they'd be like, 'Yeah, it's Terence Trent D'Arby's 'Wishing Well.' What's so great about this?' And I'd be like, 'No, but I remade it.' Like it wasn't so exciting. It was just exciting to me."
- Song: Valerie
- from Tired of Hanging Around
"It's not like Amy, really. All she listens to is '60 doo-wop, soul and Nas. But she happened to know this song 'Valerie' by the Zutons, which I didn't even know. And to be fair, she played it for me. She was like, 'Yeah, there's this song 'Valerie' by the Zutons. They play it down at my local,' which is like the pub. And I heard it and I was like, 'Really? You want to do this song?' I just didn't hear it, but I guess she had such a musical brain, under all that stuff she heard the soul progression, because that's what that chord progression is. Quite classic. And I know she must have sung along with the thing or sung it out loud. She knew that it was going to be special when she sung it."
- Song: Valerie (Live, BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge, London/2007)
- from Back to Black: B Sides
That's the original version that we cut that day in the studio. And it was a nice day in the studio because all the musicians from Daptone — you know, The Dap-Kings are such incredible musicians. Tommy, Homer, Victor, Nick and Binky had played on Back to Black, but Amy had actually never met them. And Back to Black had been out for a month and it was starting to be really heralded as this record, and the funny thing is Amy had never met the band because she had to go back to England. So it's the first day she met the band. We went out to Bushwick to Daptone [Studio] and cut this.
- Song: Valerie [Version Revisited]
- from Version
"As everybody was leaving, I just had this nagging thing in the back of my mind. I was like, it's so great and it's really soulful and lovely, but we should just make one really dumb version where the bass and the drum are just going [sings song intro]. Like literally, everyone's packing up their instruments, like, 'Ahh, really, Mark?' Unpack the instruments. The whole thing."
- Song: Uptown Funk
- from Uptown Special
"This is the music I love. When me, Bruno and Jeff sit down at our instruments and start jamming, we're most likely not going to break into a Mahavishnu Orchestra record. Bruno's going to play a simple four-on-the-floor funk beat at 115 beats per minute, and Jeff is going to start playing some keys on it and that's kind of what it is, you know?"