Interview: Mark Ronson, DJ, producer, musician

Mark Ronson'DJ, producer, musician
Mark Ronson'DJ, producer, musician
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Mark Ronson must feel like everything he touches turns to gold, or at least platinum. DJ, producer and musician, this fella has dominated the charts over the last few years.

He has worked with some of the biggest names in pop including the late Amy Winehouse, Lilly Allen and Adele. He has charted the world over with a string of own hit singles including Bang Bang Bang. To top it all off, he’s one of the most in-demand DJs on the planet, regularly playing at celebrity parties and headlining huge events like Ibiza Rocks.

This begs the question: what does this jack-of-all trades list as his day job? “Producer,” says Ronson. “I think I was really fortunate that with [breakthrough album] Version – a record I made in my bedroom – it allowed me to go out on tour and play an instrument.

“I think some of that carried on with [side-project] Business Intl and me playing live in a band context. But I don’t really mind how people see me. As a DJ, producer or performer, it doesn’t really matter.”

For his headline stint at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party, Ronson will be appearing in the guise of DJ, even though he suffers from nerves when he appears on stage.

“I am never comfortable DJing,” says the 36-year-old. “It’s not that I don’t want to connect with the crowd. I am always too nervous to look out at them in case one person looks like they are not enjoying themselves. I’m no extrovert like Fatboy Slim.”

The stepson of Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, Ronson was surrounded by music from an early age.

Having played guitar and drums while growing up in England, it wasn’t until moving to New York City with his mother when he was eight that he began absorbing the sound and culture of hip hop and discovered DJ culture. By the time he was 16, he was trying his hand at mixing and soon this led to him being hired to DJ at all manner of celebrity parties in the Big Apple, including Sean “P Diddy” Combs’ 29th birthday bash.

His name was known all over town for his diverse, genre-spanning sets, including funk, hip hop and UK rock. But the scene’s “it boy” didn’t like the celebrity DJ tag.

“I hated being the person that term was coined for, but during one year I played so many parties where all these famous people were in New York, I went from small underground hip hop clubs to trendy superfly things,” he says. “It sucked, and I had to stop doing them.

“You can’t just say ‘yes’ whenever someone waves a wad of cash in your face if you want to be taken seriously,” he adds.

No matter, these high-profile bookings earned him enough cool vouchers to help him promote his more serious-minded music career.

After releasing debut album, Here Comes The Fuzz, in 2003, Ronson kept himself busy in the studio working with various well-known artists, most notably Amy Winehouse, for whom he co-produced Back To Black, an album which saw him win the first of his five Grammy Awards.

He became great friends with the Rehab hitmaker, and says that the pair clicked after only the second day of working together.

“She called me ‘the sister she never wanted,’ which I thought was funny,” he laughs. “I was working these crazy 18-hour days and I fell asleep on this bench. I remember waking up, my head in her lap and she was stroking my head like a dog or a little kid, like she was my mother and she was humming a song to herself.

“That’s how I’ll remember her. She was special, caring, a huge talent.”

Ronson worked with Winehouse on tracks for her never-released third album, and he also contributed to her recently-released posthumous LP, Amy Winehouse Lioness: Hidden Treasures.

“I guess Lioness is an appropriate name for this album because she could just roar at any moment and you would wonder where her force came from,” he says.

Ronson admits that before he met Winehouse he thought that he’d never have a hit record.

“I’d been producing records for 12 years before I met Amy, and I’d been trying so hard to have hits, but without any luck,” he says. “The moment I thought to myself: ‘I’m never going to make it, I may as well just make music that I like’ is the moment I met Amy. We just created what we and she wanted rather than being concerned about what was on the radio at the time.

“If you try and chase that sort of success, you just end up making cookie-cutter records.”

Ronson goes on to say that he was privileged to have worked with the late star, adding, “Ultimately, Amy was one of those rare artists who made a very important record and they loved her. I was just lucky enough to be there to go along for that ride.”

Mark Ronson, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party, East End DJ Stage, stage live from 9pm to 1am, £15, 0844 894 2011