Mark Ronson's 'Late Night Feelings' Album Puts Emotion First On Late Night Feelings, Mark Ronson tapped into the melancholy side of disco, pop and country for what he calls "sad bangers." The super-producer spoke with NPR's Audie Cornish about making the album.
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After Years Of Hit-Making For Others, Mark Ronson Puts His Feelings First

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After Years Of Hit-Making For Others, Mark Ronson Puts His Feelings First

After Years Of Hit-Making For Others, Mark Ronson Puts His Feelings First

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Peek behind the scenes of some of the biggest pop songs of the last 15 years, and you'll find a familiar face - Mark Ronson, a music producer with an uncanny ability to create a hit. There was Amy Winehouse's album "Back To Black"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REHAB")

AMY WINEHOUSE: (Singing) They tried to make me go to rehab. I said, no, no, no.

CORNISH: ..."Uptown Funk" with Bruno Mars...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTOWN FUNK")

BRUNO MARS: (Singing) Don't believe me, just watch.

CORNISH: Just recently, he did Lady Gaga's hit "Shallow," which he co-wrote. Now Ronson is out with his own album, "Late Night Feelings." Every track is a collaboration with a female artist - legends like Alicia Keys and newcomers like King Princess. It's also a heartbreak album. Ronson got divorced last year, and he channeled his feelings into his music. And that, he says, was uncharted territory.

MARK RONSON: With my own records, I've always been a bit like - I'm a DJ. Like, who wants to hear the DJ's feelings?

CORNISH: (Laughter).

RONSON: Like, come on. Like, you go to a club, and the guy's like, I had a bad day today. Like, no, you just want to party. So this is the first album where I just kind of had no choice but to put the emotion first.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LATE NIGHT FEELINGS")

LYKKE LI: (Singing) When I get to want you and I want to call you with late night feelings.

CORNISH: So the direction I've read is sad bangers (laughter).

RONSON: Yeah. I mean, I was, basically, sitting with this friend of mine. And I was explaining the whole concept of my record as I was figuring it out. And I was giving him this long-winded, like - and it's, like, sad, but, like - and I could just see his eyes glazing over. And he's like, oh, you mean like sad bangers? And I was like, yeah, that's much better.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

RONSON: Believe me. Like, I tried sometimes to go to the studio and just make something that was a bit fun and, like, whatever. But it just - it didn't resonate and didn't stick. And then this kind of slightly more melancholy stuff was just, like - had a hold on me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LATE NIGHT FEELINGS")

LI: (Singing) Pulling in the wrong direction, I'm about to cross that line. Looking for the wrong affection night after night.

CORNISH: While I can't tie together a big theme in all of your music in terms of sound, I can tie together the idea that you're able to facilitate people's sound. Can you talk about how you developed that ability?

RONSON: It's not even like a sixth sense. It's just what I imagine them sounding good over. Like, I saw Miley Cyrus sing on the "SNL" 40th anniversary, and she sung "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" in this very, like, Nashville arrangement. I'd never heard her voice that naked, like the grit and the rasp. And I just became kind of obsessed with trying to get to work with her. And we had this little seed of this idea - the little acoustic guitar part. And I just sent it to Miley on a kind of Hail Mary. And she wrote back and she dug it and then came in and finished writing it with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTHING BREAKS LIKE A HEART")

MILEY CYRUS: (Singing) This world can hurt you. It cuts you deep and leaves a scar. Things fall apart, but nothing breaks like a heart. And nothing breaks like a heart.

CORNISH: I ask because I - when I sat down to think about it, I wasn't able to say to myself, this is a Mark Ronson sound, right? I didn't know what that sound was the way that some producers are very aggressive with having a sonic signature. And do you consciously not do that? Am I missing something?

RONSON: I think now what I probably try and do is make something that feels honest and a little bit timeless. But in the beginning, yeah, my first success was with Amy Winehouse and the Dap-Kings and that sound. And I probably, like, let that wear out its welcome a little bit and maybe...

CORNISH: In what way?

RONSON: Just put horns on everything pretty much.

CORNISH: Oh (laughter).

RONSON: So, like, now I think maybe it's like just being 43 or whatever. It's like I just want people to, like, feel something and feel some honesty and genuineness and feel the singer when they hear the music. And I guess that's what the kind of probably underlying thing of this record is a little bit more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARK RONSON SONG, "NOTHING BREAKS LIKE A HEART")

CORNISH: Artists have spoken really highly of working with you as a collaborator. And I want to play something that Lady Gaga said about the producer-singer relationship. This is from the documentary "Five Foot Two." And it's - in the scene, she's talking about working on a song with you in the studio.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "FIVE FOOT TWO")

LADY GAGA: When producers unlike Mark start to act like they're the one - you know, you'd be nothing without me, for women especially, since those men have so much power - whenever they want, whatever they want - the cocaine, the money, the champagne, the girls - the hottest girls you've ever seen. And then I walk in the room, and it's, like, eight times out of 10, I'm put in that category. And they expect from me what those girls have to offer when that's just not at all what I have to offer in any way.

CORNISH: You've been in this business for a long time. Does that description ring true to you?

RONSON: First of all, the fact is that none of us producers would be anything without these artists. It's kind of like the other way around. If you're in the room with somebody as talented as Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, like, the best thing you can do is just sit and listen first and see what they want to do and just be, like, an open receptor to the talent. So I understand that ego comes in, and I've heard, like, stories of this. I've never been around those producers. I try and, like, keep, like, my circle kind of, like - the karma good.

CORNISH: Because it sounds like - and sometimes women feel somewhat trapped, right? I mean, the label says, look; you got to work with this awesome producer, and then you got to do it.

RONSON: Maybe. I also think that in this, like, slightly new social media era where, like, these massive artists like Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez and stuff are calling so many shots because they could just be like, I feel like making this piece of music right now. I'm going to put it out tomorrow. So I do feel like it's probably changed because the artists just have such a direct thing to their fans now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPINNING")

ILSEY JUBER: (Singing) Steady my breath in the wake of love, heavy on down and it weighs too much. I don't want to drown but the waves keep on rolling (ph).

CORNISH: So how does collaboration work when you have kind of the added issue of you bringing your own experience - right? - into to this album? On this one, you talked about the sadness of your breakup. You were divorced last year. So that's like a different kind of cloud hanging over things.

RONSON: I think you kind of just find the people that were slightly willing to go into that zone. I wasn't asking anyone to channel my personal experience but just to feel the thing that was a bit of, like, a shared thing.

CORNISH: Can we talk about a song that was a real collaboration?

RONSON: "Spinning," the last one on the record, I wrote it with this amazing songwriter Ilsey Juber. And I was in another relationship after my marriage broke up, and I was kind of just like in that state where you, like, don't know what's going on, what's up or down. And I just called Ilsey, and I thought the record was done. And I was like, you got time for one more, like, heartbreak piece or something? She was like, yeah, I'll be there at 6. She came over, and we kind of wrote this song together. And it just was about - the chorus lyric is when I'm spinning, you bring me back to Earth and you fix it. When nothing's making sense and I'm dizzy, you're the only one that I want. And it was just how I felt at the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPINNING")

JUBER: (Singing) You're the only one that I want.

RONSON: There's a little bit of a ray of light at the end of this song. Like, the songs are a bit heartbreaking on the record, and this goes out on a little bit of, like, a slightly optimistic...

CORNISH: A little bit of hope.

RONSON: A little bit of hope, which actually didn't pan out anyway.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPINNING")

JUBER: (Singing) Feeling on and on (ph).

CORNISH: (Laughter) Well, Mark Ronson, thank you so much for sharing a bit of your process and talking about the music. It was really lovely.

RONSON: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Mark Ronson - his new album, "Late Night Feelings," is out Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SPINNING")

JUBER: (Singing) On and on, on and on and on, feeling on and on, on and on (ph).

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