50 Questions with Mark Ronson
- TextAlex Denney
From his nickname growing up to his worst habit, the producer answers 50 of our most burning questions
Since breaking into the industry at the beginning of the millennium, producer and DJ Mark Ronson has garnered acclaim and gathered awards for his music, collaborating with the likes of Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars, Lily Allen and Lady Gaga along the way. To coincide with the release of his fifth album, Late Night Feelings – a slow-burning set of “sad bangers” – Ronson takes over the Another Man website, with a series of articles spanning interviews and guides that offer a glimpse into his world and the new record.
From Rehab to Shallow, he’s the Grammy and Oscar-winning producer behind some of the best-loved hits of the past two decades. But ask Mark Ronson what he’d like his entrance music to be, and you’ll soon discover he’s not the kind of guy to toot his own trumpet. “It’d have to be something subtle, I don’t really like too much attention,” Ronson frets, finally alighting on The Carpenters’ 70s soft-rock classic We’ve Only Just Begun as his low-key fanfare for entering the room. For a guy who’s allergic to attention, Ronson lays it all on the line with Late Night Feelings, his fifth studio album and self-described collection of “sad bangers”. It’s the “most exposed I’ve made myself on record”, says the producer – and in that spirit of confession, he comes clean about bad acid trips, bricking it in the studio with Sir Paul McCartney, and the thing about being an imposter syndrome sufferer.
1. Where are you right now?
Air studios in London.
2. What’s the best thing about getting older?
Slowing down and learning not to stress out so much about stuff. Trying to find some peace.
3. Did you have a nickname growing up?
Wrong-way Ronson, ’cause I ran the wrong way in the relay in fourth grade, when I was nine. The coach thought it had a nice alliteration and it stuck.
4. What would you like your entrance music to be?
Something subtle, I don’t really like too much attention. It wouldn’t be like the theme from Rocky, it would be something like [The Carpenters’] We’ve Only Just Begun, some 70s soft music!
5. What’s the worst thing you did at school?
Worse than running the wrong way in the relay? I went to uni with a guy called Alex [who was] my best friend in high school, and in my first year we took some acid and ran around the school campus. This was in, like, 1994, it was the beginning of the internet, computers in the library were a bit of a new thing. There was an old Apple desktop, and I’d renamed the icon for the hard drive ‘Alex’s Life’. I said, ‘Alex, come here, check this out!’ and waited till he was sitting in front of it and slowly dragged it into the trash, and he had a really bad trip after that because he’d just watched me put his life in the trash.
6. Who would you like to apologise to?
7. Who makes you laugh?
I watch a lot of comedy because that’s the way my brain decompresses. In the studio there can be a lot of emotional stuff going on so laughing is super-important. I watch the old Key & Peele sketches all the time.
8. What do you miss about the 90s?
The music. That golden era of Wu Tang, Biggie, Tribe, Pete Rock...
9. What do you miss about the 00s?
Not a lot! I guess that era in nightclubs before smartphones because people were just a little more engaged.
10. What was the last thing you took a photograph of?
I got this old Ricoh GR1 that I like and took it around Coachella, it’s great to have a camera on your phone but it also makes things a bit disposable because you can take unlimited pictures. It’s the same reason when we record on analogue tape it makes people care a bit more because you know that if you fuck up it’s a little harder to fix.
11. What’s a trend you wish would stop?
I’ve started looking at my phone too much. I always used to pride myself on the fact that I wasn’t a slave to the phone but now I’ve gotta start activating that screentime app.
12. How would you like to be remembered?
As a guy who made music.
13. What would you change about yourself if you could?
I’m always working on shit. Part of getting older is [about] introspection – I’ve always been fairly emotionally closed off and not super-expressive, and I always thought that was a badge of honour. I’d go in the studio and let people show their emotions and I’d be this staid pillar of whatever, but now I’ve realised there’s a balance I need to find.
14. What’s your go-to karaoke classic?
I wouldn’t say I’m horrible at karaoke but when you spend time on the other side of the recording booth with some of the greatest singers who’ve ever lived you’re not exactly like, ‘I could do that!’ But maybe, like, Drops of Jupiter by Train?
15. What’s your favourite emoji?
The chin-stroke one. Like, ‘Hmm...’
16. What do you collect?
I still buy records – not in a crazy way, like I used to crate dig every weekend, but that’s about it.
17. What are you most thankful for?
That I still get to make music at this point in my life and anyone gives a shit.
18. When did you last feel old?
I guess this morning because my back was fucked up and I had to do some stretches. I was like, ‘Damn, I’ve got to do all this shit in the morning just to maintain’.
19. Why Did You Do That? – terrible pop song or work of genius?
I think it’s a really great, fun pop song. It’s certainly nowhere near terrible. I don’t know if it’s genius either – I don’t know if anything’s genius except maybe Stevie Wonder and Bad Romance.
20. What’s the most fun you’ve had working on a music video?
[I’ve been in] videos with these incredible performers that you can’t take your eyes off but that’s just not me; there was no reason to try and crowd Bruno Mars in the Uptown Funk video, I’m perfectly happy playing in the back. With Miley Cyrus it was the same thing – I was like, ‘I don’t need to be in the video a whole lot but if I am in it can I do something heroic like jump from a moving car?’ So these French directors We Are From LA were like, ‘We’ll check if we have the budget’ and they were like, ‘You can do it!’ So that was cool.
21. Did you do your own stunts?
I didn’t do the jumping across but I did the landing in the car, if that makes sense. I’d say I did a third of the stunts.
22. When did you feel like you’d made it?
‘Making it’ is a dangerous term, because you’re always looking to the next thing, but maybe the one night that felt the most crazy was in 2008 when Amy [Winehouse] and I won Grammys for the work we did together.
23. What’s the nicest thing anyone told you about your music?
I interviewed Malcolm McLaren once and he said something like Back to Black has the spirit of the amateur. At first I took it as a bit of a diss, but then I realised he was saying [it was like] when you’re trying to do something else but you get it just enough wrong that you make something new, and of course coming from the godfather of punk that was the ultimate compliment, I thought.
24. What’s your most treasured possession?
I have a Harmony guitar that I love, it’s not especially fancy but I’ve just played it on every record for a long time.
25. What’s a song you wish you’d written?
There are a lot of beats I wish I’d made. Kendrick’s [Lamar’s] Swimming Pools (Drank) is one.
26. Any tips for how to wear a suit well?
There is no secret, really. Some people like skinny fit, some like loose fit – it’s just whatever you feel good in.
27. When’s the last time you looked at a picture of yourself and thought, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’
There was this old shocking-pink suit, it might have been Topman or Versace, if you really want to give yourself a chuckle you can Google ‘Mark Ronson pink suit’ and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it. That was a very wack look for my complexion as a white, pale Jew.
28. What do you most look forward to?
Getting back to New York.
29. What scares you?
Dying alone [laughs]. Not really dying alone, it’s more wondering if I’m ever gonna get my shit together enough to have a family.
30. What’s the best DJ slot you’ve played?
The one that comes to mind is this club night called YoYo in London that I used to guest at a lot. It was a 10th anniversary and Nas showed up in this sweaty room with 300 people and performed Made You Look.
31. What’s the best-produced song of all time?
There’s some stuff on this Hall & Oates album Big Bam Boom they did in the 80s with Method of Modern Love and Out of Touch that’s insane, just the sheen of pure 80s cocaine-sounding instrumentation coming out the speakers.
32. What’s the name of the first song you wrote?
Probably this really shitty song I wrote in my high-school band. Even just saying this now out loud is making me hurt in my stomach, but the chorus went “Every time I think of you / you know what I wanna do”. And it wasn’t, like, a cool Iggy and the Stooges vibe.
33. What’s the realest lyric you wrote?
On this album there’s this song called Spinning that’s the outro. I wrote the lyrics with this songwriter Ilsey, but it’s the most exposed I’ve ever made myself on record. This whole record is like that.
34. What’s the realest lyric you’ve ever heard?
As far as an opening song on a debut album, “I don’t have to sell my soul, he’s already in me” [from The Stone Roses’ I Wanna Be Adored] is just fucking... I dunno if anything’s touching that.
35. What’s the most nervous you’ve been in the studio?
It’s funny, we were having this conversation just now, because I worked here [at Air studios] with Sir Paul McCartney on his album New. The first day I was actually working in his studio out in the countryside, which was pretty nerve-wracking. He’s actually pretty forgiving because he’s used to people being that nervous around him; he probably gives everyone like a day to just get their shit in line. But I’m always a little nervous around him, ’cause he’s fucking Paul McCartney!
36. What’s the best wedding DJ set you’ve played?
I like playing weddings because I do enjoy playing Crazy in Love and fun shit that maybe is a little bit too commercial to play in regular sets. But I’ve played so many fucking weddings at this point, I don’t know.
37. What’s your favourite wedding song?
It depends on the crowd, but my favourite love song would be All I Do by Stevie Wonder.
38. What do Americans get wrong about Brits?
That we all know each other.
39. What makes you miss the UK?
Family, weather, parks, Curly Wurlies.
40. What makes you miss the US?
New York. I’ve always felt very at home in a lot of different places, and I can adapt easily to anywhere. But as I’ve gotten older I have this feeling in my gut when I go back to New York like ‘this is my hometown’, whereas in the past I might have run from it a little.
41. What’s your most treasured record?
Tom Scott, The Honeysuckle Breeze. It’s got that song Today on it, which is the sample from Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s They Reminisce Over You.
42. Who would you most like to have worked with?
43. Do you know what Prince thought about Uptown Funk?
No, but I know that he liked Bruno. I know he didn’t express a lot of shit and he’d be backstage at awards shows looking at these young pop stars thinking, ‘Jesus Christ when I was your age I was like shredding the national anthem, writing epic albums and screwing seven girls a night.’ I think there was an awards show with a bunch of people and he saw Bruno and he gave him the nod like, ‘You’re OK, kid.’
44. Any regrets?
Sure, there are records I made that I’m like, ‘Damn, if I’d drank a little less during the making of that record the quality would be, like, 20 per cent better.’ But major regrets? No.
45. What’s the last song that made you cry?
With music it’s hard ’cause there’s still a technical part of my mind that’s thinking about how they recorded the drums or something. Sometimes if I hear Amy’s songs and I’m missing her, that can happen.
46. What’s the last film that made you cry?
That happens more, I definitely cried at something recently... [watching films on] the plane doesn’t count ’cause you’ll cry at fucking Marley & Me or Friends or something. Though I’ve never actually seen an episode of Friends.
47. Wait, what?
Yeah. It’s not like I’m a snob or anything, it’s just a big chunk of my consumer history that I’m missing.
48. What’s your worst habit?
I’ve managed to curtail quite a lot of them, but I guess just pent-up rage.
49. When was the last time you did a vanity Google search?
Probably this morning but it was a news-related search! I only do news-specific searches, if that’s any defence.
50. Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?
Yeah. I didn’t actually know what that is until recently – someone commented on this Guardian interview I did a couple of months ago like, ‘Ah, classic imposter syndrome case!’ At first I thought it was someone having a dig, someone saying I am an imposter, because of course someone with imposter syndrome would think that someone saying he had imposter syndrome was calling him an imposter. Then I looked it up and it was like, ‘Yeah, that does kind of sound like me.’
Late Night Feelings by Mark Ronson is out June 21, 2019.