Catching Up with Mark Ronson
By Michael Martin
You gotta hand it to Mark Ronson: He's that rare music industry 'It' kid who's in touch with how annoying he's become. 'It had sort of become a punch line,' says the DJ-producer of his last album, 2007's Version, a trendy set of British and American pop remakes that saw acts like Amy Winehouse and Robbie Williams taking on the Zutons, the Smiths, and Radiohead. 'I think I did them a bit to death. I had only one mission statement for the new album: No more covers.'
Record Collection, Ronson's album with the Business Intl and his first of all original songs, preserves his fondness for pop, hip-hop, and Motown, but its tracks come coated with a shimmery layer of '80s synths. Ronson being Ronson -- producer of two of the biggest Brit-pop records of the past decade (Lily Allen's Alright, Still and Winehouse's Back to Black) -- it's no surprise that celebrity assistants abound. 'When it was time to go into the studio, I thought, I'll just get four or five of my favorite musicians in the world and keyboards that I love and just go from there,' he says.
Those musicians range from Q-Tip and D'Angelo to Boy George, Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, and even the London Gay Men's Chorus. George's plaintive 'Somebody to Love Me' is a highlight. 'While we were writing it, we kept coming back to Culture Club's 'Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?,' a soulful song about the loss of love,' says Ronson, who pursued George for months, experiencing some pangs of rejection himself. 'He came into the studio, and I was a bit overconfident,' he says. 'I thought he'd say, 'Great! Put up a mike and let's sing it now!' But he just sat there and was like, 'OK, it's not something I'd usually do, so let me sit with it for a week.' I thought I'd never hear from him again.' Luckily, he came around. 'When George went in the booth and started to sing, his voice was so different from what I remembered. It just brought so much emotional weight to the song.'
A referral from one of Ronson's friends, the London Gay Men's Chorus open Record Collection, out September 28. 'It's very Judgment Day,' Ronson says of their brooding contribution to 'Introducing the Business.' The record's title track, sung by Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon, mocks Ronson's hyperconnected, cooler-than-thou persona. 'I like that it's making light of things that could be interpreted as my life,' he says. 'I'm always surprised when I meet people and talk to them for a while, then they say, 'Oh, that's so strange: You're not a dick.' It's good to show you're the first person to laugh at yourself.'
This humility can't hurt Ronson's sensitive-pinup status with his fans. His popular boyfriend-able looks provoked one commenter on the celeb gossip site Jezebel to write, 'I want him to produce my orgasms.' His response? 'I'm aware of it, but there are probably 5,000 guys who are better looking than me in a one-mile radius of where I am in London. I'm not at Timberlake levels of gawkerdom.' (On that subject, he seems unfazed by the tabloid drama surrounding his DJ sister, Samantha, and Lindsay Lohan, which is finally abating: 'The good thing is that I don't spend much time in L.A.,' he says, 'so I don't really have to deal with that.')
But Ronson continues to reflect on lessons learned from online detractors: 'Apparently, I'm not a very good smiler,' he says. 'Whenever I try to smile in a picture, people always say I look smug, which is one of the worst words. Smug means you're very pleased with yourself, one of the last things I'd think of when describing myself. I'm proud of the work I've done, but I usually think it's going to end tomorrow.'