Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Mark Ronson
Mark Ronson Mark Ronson Mark Ronson Mark Ronson

Every now and then an album comes along that pricks the ears and satisfies the souls of oodles of utterly different music lovers. The Beatles did it, Massive Attack, The Specials, Hard-Fi, Stevie Wonder all did it and now Mark Ronson’s doing it. The renowned DJ and producer behind artists as diverse as Ghostface Killah, Robbie Williams, Amy Winehouse, Rhymefest and Christina Aguilera, has ingeniously hit the nail right on the head with his new and unique album project 'Version'. Cross-pollinating hip hop with rock, horns with guitars, electric with acoustic and adding a big dollop of cooler-than-school pop, Ronson hasn’t just struck gold, the dude’s going multi-platinum.

Even today, weary-eyed from a jetlagged sleep, Ronson gives off the assured air that he knows he’s on to a winner. Between munching on a fruit salad breakfast and gulping down a steaming cappuccino, Ronson speaks with a slight hint of arrogance in his unusual voice. Maybe it’s just the side effect of his nasal accent- the product of being born in England and growing up amongst NY’s elite social circles. Or perhaps it’s simply that he’s damn sure any minute now the entire music industry and buying public will be scrambling for a piece of his skinny, white ass. Even if it is the latter, you can’t exactly blame him.

'Version' is the album every producer will wish he/she came up with. Who would have thought little known indie boy Tiggers singing Britney Spears’ 'Toxic' while Ol’ Dirty Bastard shouts from beyond the grave, “F**k the pussy ‘til it’s orange like Ernie and Bert” over a funky electric guitar, would sound so good? And then there’s Lily Allen’s version of Kaiser Chief’s 'Oh My God'. Stop giggling at the back. Love her or hate her, you can’t help but sing along at the top of your lungs as the almighty hook rumbles over a wicked brass section.

“A lot of people have a problem with Lily,” says Ronson, “it’s ‘cause she’s so outspoken. Anyone who speaks out against Madonna (Lily publicly slated Madge for being "irrelevant" to her generation) is going to get a whole heap of publicity, good and bad. What a lot of people don’t realise is Lily is an absolutely amazing songwriter. Her head is brimming with ideas and she comes up with some of the catchiest hooks I’ve ever heard.”

Even if the girl’s voice gets on your tits, you can’t argue with that. Mark Ronson was eager to work with Lily, he says, “because of her outright Britishness”- something he believes Americans love.

“I think it’s strange when you hear so many British artists, and MCs in particular, emulating American accents. You’re never going to sound better than the real deal, so why bother? Being British is something you should embrace, not disguise” he continues, elbows perched on a table, inside this stark white restaurant of London’s St. Martin’s Lane hotel. “It’s something different musically for Americans and they’re more likely to buy your record if you stand out.”

And Mark Ronson should know. Though born in the UK (he grew up in London three doors away from Paul, Linda and Stella McCartney), Mark moved to America aged just 8 and became a heavyweight DJ on the NY circuit in his late teens. He found his niche playing very black, hip hop tunes to a very white, posh crowd… think China Whites and Momo; that’s if you’ve ever had the displeasure of frequenting those £9-a-drink, guest-list-only London clubs for twats. Ronson kept his kudos though by spinning at NYC’s ‘real’ hip hop nights too, like Rebar and Den of Thieves. So when Gucci and Hilfiger weren’t paying him to play at fashion shows, Puff Daddy and Timbaland were hiring him for private parties.

“Some of the parties are just ridiculous. They’ll be so many faces you lose count. It’s kind of cool to see people as diverse as Lil’ Kim and Martha Stewart at the same party though, all enjoying themselves. My all-time favourite DJ gig had to be Timbaland’s party. He seriously knows how to throw a party. And then, for the sheer wow factor, it was pretty cool to be asked to spin at Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ wedding in Italy (they married in a 15th-century castle and Mark played the Righteous Brothers’ 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling' during the reception, on Tom’s request). I thought I’d have to play way more pop than I did, but the guests were really feeling the hip hop.”

Ronson is terribly blasé about all this and you get the impression he doesn’t particularly like to name-drop. But then Mark is very used to fame and fortune. His mother is the renowned British-born, NY socialite and writer Ann Dexter-Jones, infamous for throwing huge dinner parties that the likes of Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and David Bowie have all frequented. His father is the London property tycoon Laurence Ronson and his stepfather is Mick Jones of multi-platinum 70’s pop group Foreigner- famed for the hits 'Cold As Ice' and 'I Want To Know What Love Is'. Meanwhile, Mark’s siblings, Samantha, Charlotte, Alex and Annabelle are all either up-and-coming music makers or burgeoning fashion designers.

Perhaps his heritage is part of the reason why he and pop princess Lily (daughter of actor/ singer/ comedian/ writer Keith Allen) seem to get on so well. The pair met at west London’s infamous weekly hip hop night, YOYO. The night (brainchild of DJ Leo Greenslade and A&R/ DJ Seb Chew- responsible for signing the Scissor Sisters) is famed for attracting a mixed array of celebs. This scribe alone has witnessed Faith Evans and Gail Porter share dance floor space, and artists like Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West have all graced the place.

“YOYO is one of my favourite club nights in the world,” enthuses Mark. “The crowd are really in to their music and I love DJing there. It was crazy when I first met Seb and Leo. When we first sat down and started really talking about music, it was freaky to discover how we were all on exactly the same wavelength.”

YOYO’s unique mixed crowd of streetwise and rich kids all have one thing in common: they know a good tune when they hear one. Which means joints like the 'Toxic' mash-up off Ronson’s new album have, of course, been going down a treat at the Thursday-night haunt.

With 'Version', we suggest to Ronson, he could well be doing what Run DMC did with Aerosmith on 'Walk This Way' - introducing decent hip hop to indie kids. “And visa versa, I hope,” he responds. “I’d love to find out that some hardcore hip hop kid went out and picked up a Kaiser Chiefs album or something after listening to my record. That would be really cool.”

What’s not really cool, Ronson agrees, is the ridiculous amount of royalties he’ll be paying out to the acts whose beats he has hijacked: Coldplay, The Charlatans, Robbie Williams, Kasabian, The Supremes and The Smiths, to name but a few. “Yeah, I guess that will suck when I have to do that but I always knew I’d have to, so I’m kinda prepared for it. Let’s just say there have been a hell of a lot of contracts flying about.”


★ According to his socialite/writer mother, Ann Dexter-Jones, Mark Ronson started writing music at four and was signed to Polygram by 16. The rock band, Whole Earth Mamas, didn’t sign because the Ronsons “didn't like the contract.”

★ Mark started DJing in 1993 in downtown NY clubs and has since played for the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Timbaland and Puffy. He spun at Diddy’s notorious 29th birthday bash in 1998; Martha Stewart, Sarah Ferguson and Lil' Kim were all guests.

★ He’s not fond of Charlize Theron and got in a slanging match with her at a Gucci party in Milan, where he was DJing.

★ Mr Ronson’s been romantically linked to both Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. He denies any involvement other than that of a musical nature.

★ Apparently, the producer/DJ has a thing for supermodels and has been rumoured to date a fair few. “I’m not a player though,” he once said.

★ Ronson can play both the drums and guitar (Keith Moon of The Who apparently taught him to play drums on some boxes, aged just two) and has played for his sister, Samantha in her now defunct band, Lil’ Red.

★ He likes coffee. A lot.

★ Ronson co-owns the label Allido, which released Rhymefest’s debut album last year and has Daniel Merriweather on its roster. Merriweather sings the Smiths' “Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before” on “Version” which Ronson mixes with the Supremes' “You Keep Me Hangin' On”.

★ 'Here Comes The Fuzz', Ronson’s debut album, wasn’t well received in the US, but we Brits sent 'Ooh Wee', featuring Ghostface Killah and Nate Dogg, into the top 20.

★ Mark Ronson briefly had his own Saturday night radio show on London’s KISS FM in 2004.

Mark Ronson’s album ‘Version’ is released through Columbia on April 16th.
Words Elle J Small

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