Pola on a Platter
Don’t call it a comeback. Sure, it’s been a while but I’ve just been busy with some ordinary life stuff, you know, things I won’t bore you with too much. Let’s go straight to the point here. My dear loyal readers, I am véry proud to share with you, that the man with the platinum blond ‘coiffure’ on the Polaroid is none other than multi Grammy award winner, Brit award winner and globally praised producer and musician MARK RONSON. (If this wàs a comeback, then it would’ve been one with a BANG!, Tarantino style. Right?)
Let’s cut to the chase here, everybody knows Mark Ronson. There should not be a soul on earth who doesn’t know Mark Ronson. The first time I heard his name was at the same time Mark Ronson released this track from his first album HERE COMES THE FUZZ.
I totally lòved this track. Then again, who didn’t at the time? This was the track the Dj’s played in the clubs to get the evening popping! I have great club memories from this one. Besides, I’m a big Nate Dogg fan. Ronson who by that time already made a name for himself as a DJ in the New York club scene suddenly got labeled as ‘The One To Watch’ since he wrote and produced that album himself and had guests featuring like Mos Def, Q-Tip.
VERSION was the second album from Mark Ronson and consisted entirely of covers and featured artists like Lily Allen, Kasabian, Paul Smith, and many others. My favorites from that album are the following tracks.
The Smiths cover with Daniel Merryweather.
The Britney Spears cover with a remarkable ODB guest-feature.
and last but definitely not least: The Zutons ‘Valerie’ cover with the incredible AMY WINEHOUSE
Mark was clearly on a creative roll around that period, starting his own record label, signing his own artists, ànd working together on Miss Winehouse’s second album BACK TO BLACK, an album we all know because of its consistency of perfectly painful songs one right after the other. It got Mark Ronson three Grammy awards (Producer of the Year – Best Pop Vocal Album – Record of the Year) and one Brit award (Best Male Solo Artist) but maybe more importantly a household name for everyone listening to the radio around the world.
So here we are, 2010 and Mark Ronson just released his third album RECORD COLLECTION accompanied by his new band called THE BUSINESS INT’L and features artists like Ghostface Killah, D’Angelo, MDNR, Rose Elinor Dougall, Theophilus London, Alex Greenwald, Boy George and many more.
The first single of that album; BANG BANG BANG featuring Q-TIP and MDNR was an instant chart smasher.
The second single
but it’s the third single that stole my heart, broke my heart and – almost – made me cry and is for obvious reasons my favorite of the whole album.
although this one makes me weak in the knees aswell…
There, I think the above sum it all up in a notch.
Now. With no further ado. This is the official Polaroid Story…
I’ve experienced some blog setbacks since the end of summer. Things weren’t really going as usual. There weren’t many concerts, at least no concerts fit for this blog, since I have to be picky considering I am very low on Polaroid film. I’ve had my eye on one possible, potentially awesome Polaroid Story. I even travelled to Amsterdam for it. In vain, because when I arrived in Amsterdam, the concert got cancelled minutes after I checked into my hotel room. Trust me, times like that, you think very hard about what the F@#k you’re doing in a hotel room in Amsterdam for a simple Polaroid. The concert got rescheduled a month later and got cancelled… Again, to finally be officially – totally – completely cancelled. I guess three times isn’t a charm in this case. I think I mìght create a compulsive obsession in finishing that particular Polaroid story, because certain things happened that night in Amsterdam that turned into a big ugly scar, I even named the scar to the artist from whom the concert got cancelled … #nuts. Anyway, I’ll go more into details the day I’ll snap the specific artist on Polaroid. And with that scar and all, you better believe I will. So needless to say I was very happy to see that MARK RONSON was booked to play a gig in Belgium to promote the release of his latest album RECORD COLLECTION. He was playing in the Ancienne Belgique, a venue that I always referred to as my blog-livingroom, keeping all the stories in mind that took place over there, and the fact that it is just one of my favorite venues to check out concerts. I already discussed with Jules, that there was absolute nò way to go home without a Polaroid, mostly because I was starting to get nervous that I didn’t get to write a proper story for a while now, and how funny that may seem, you do get nervous because a certain flow of yours is interrupted in a way…
So big was my surprise when I suddenly received an email from one of my readers, telling me that he might have a contact at the SONY music label for me who possibly could schedule me in between Mark Ronson’s interview schedule. Now, you àll know I don’t work that way… I prefer to let things flow in an organic way, try to create my own luck and open doors by trying to be assertive. But for the first time, with all the bad luck that surrounded this blog, and me réally craving for a post I’ve decided to begin this story backwards; meaning polaroid first, concert after.
So I sent a mail back and answered the same things I’m telling you now. It was not until the day of the concert I got a confirmation that a meeting was scheduled and, oh yes, if I could prepare an interview? What is it with people asking me last minute interviews? First of all, I’m not a journalist, so I get nervous the minute those things are being asked in the first place, and second, I just moved into a new appartement and I was hacking somebody elses very low wifi. Trust me, researching on a tight time schedule of only two hours on a low wifi is nerve wrecking. At least for me it is, because you don’t want to ask lame questions because you didn’t prepare the way you should have right? All of a sudden I find myself in a scheduled meeting arranged by a label ànd I had to do an interview. What’s wrong with this picture? Was I really doing the right thing here…?
So at 6 PM sharp I find myself in front of the Ancienne Belgique building, waiting for a Sony representative to take me upstairs for my meeting. I was nervous as fuck (pardon my french) and felt réally uncomfortable. Jules couldnt be there on time, since she came straight from work, so there woulnd’t be any exhibits of me taking the Polaroids as usual and I felt more and more uncertain about this deal. A few minutes later I got chaperoned upstairs by a very nice lady from Sony. She told me Mark was on a tight schedule and I only could have 10 minutes. Wait a minute? 10 minutes? What can you say in 10 minutes besides lame things like: “Hello, Do you like belgium, What color is your underwear and is Amy Winehouse fun to work with?” She advised me to go for the things I really needed.
I’ve decided to throw away the interview and go for the picture, because, imagine I ran out of time because of that interview and there is no time for a Polaroid picture anymore?! That would have been a complete disaster. While I was waiting, two other girls were waiting with me and one girl asked me if I was ‘that Polaroid girl’. I said yes. She also asked me quite up front if I make a lot of money with this blog. Although I was a bit shocked about that question and it being asked so up front, I smiled and answered that money was not the reason why I started this blog. She nodded, but I’m not really sure if my answer was satisfying enough for her. While I was waiting a man who introduced himself as Paddy and was Mark Ronson’s (road?)manager kept me company and we chitchatted a bit about Belgium. I must say that Paddy misunderstanding me coming from Austin, Texas, instead of Ostend, Belgium, and helped me to calm my nerves down a little and have a laugh. All of a sudden a tall man peeps his platinum head out of the door with a “NEXT !” look on his face and Paddy introduced me as the next on the list. The man walked up to me, asked my name and introduced himself as Mark Ronson. I was sitting on a huge pile of red plastic chairs like a baby on a chair that is too big and I realised how completely ridiculous I might have looked while I was shaking his hand, but then again, I’m used to come across like a left-handed nerd in some situations so I got over it very quickly. Right before Mark closed the door in the room where we would have our little scheduled meeting I overheard him asking his manager when dinner was scheduled. His manager told him that everybody was already at the table having dinner. Great. Now I really felt like a dinner-disturbing-amateur-journalist bugging on an artist’s very tight schedule. There was no time to lose so I immediately told him: “I understand you are on a tight schedule and I initially was asked to prepare an interview, but since I only have ten minutes, let’s just throw that part out of the window and focus on the main goal, which is taking a Polaroid picture.” I quickly explained my blog, while browsing through my iPhone Polaroid album, showing him all the other artists I captured so far. It was really hard to tell what he was thinking. He looked at the pictures and said: “Funny, I’ve seen all these people you just showed me in the past week, I’ve seen Jay Electronica while Dj’ing a set in the Ace Hotel with Q-tip and I saw Pharrell a few days ago.”
He quickly agreed on taking a Polaroid picture and I placed him against a red velvet curtain that was hanging in the room, I aimed my camera and…
Flashing. Lights. 3.2.1. Bingo.
After the first picture, he suddenly said: “Hold on, I’ve noticed that everybody is doing something different in the pictures right?” I told him that’s because I ask all artists to give me two different expressions and he said: “Yes, I really should step it up a bit here.” and he covered himself with the red velvet curtains with only his head peeping out, directing his eyes to the right. So after I took the pictures I told him that we should wait for the result to come out, so he could decide if he was happy with them, or would love to do one over, because I want my artists to be happy with the pictures. So while I was waiting on a sofa, Mark took place behind a piano standing in the room, rìght next to the sofa I was sitting on, and started to play the piano. There I was, alone, in a room with Mr Ronson, while he was playing the piano like he was smoking a cigarette. Effortlessly. Honestly? It made me feel like that scene from SATC with Carrie Bradshaw and The Russian in the sofa while he was reading her poetry and she didn’t really know how to respond except I wasn’t wearing a mille feuille dress and Ronson isn’t exactly Russian, but still. What do you then? I nervously started to search in my bag for something I did not need.
While he was playing he asked me if I saw M.I.A.’s latest concert in Belgium and how it was. By the time I answered that question both my Polaroids came out. Mark looked at them and decided he wanted to do one over. He said: “What about the piano?”, laid his head on the keynotes and stared into nothingness. I aimed my camera, hoped that my film wasn’t too old for the poor light circumstances in the room and pushed the button. While we were waiting for that one, he continued to play the piano and I continued to try and keep my cool while he was doing so. After another minute we both agreed on the result of the final picture, I gave him my card and we shook hands. Right before I left the room he said: “You know what Elisabeth, If you want to, we could do the interview maybe àfter the show…?” Now, I didn’t see thàt one coming… I felt it was very hard to level with him in the few minutes I was in that room, then again how could anyone…? I always encounter most artists àfter their concerts and clearly it’s a big state of mind difference. So I was very surprised with his proposal and I said: “Sure, …uhm, you have my card, so if you are not too tired and really up for an interview, then, sure we can do it after the show.” He asked to give my details to his manager and said his goodbyes, ready for the next ten minutes, with probably a réal journalist. I gave my details to Paddy, and although things were looking good, I didn’t get my hopes up too much for an interview. Most artists like to be comfortable and relaxed after the show and they might simply forget about it. So by the time I left the Ancienne Belgique building, Jules was already waiting for me outside and we decided to grab some last minute sushi right before the concert started. It felt kinda weird to already have the Polaroid before the show… We arrived back at the venue just in time to catch the final 3 songs from a familiar face called THEOPHILUS LONDON who was opening for Mark Ronson.
supported by Belgium’s own DJ LEFTO behind the decks.
After that, it was time for a ThIGHT performance by MARK RONSON & THE BUSINESS INT’L. I really loved the concert. The slick stage set-up, the tailored grey costumes, an amazing group of talent called THE BUSINESS INT’L and a quick variation of genres and a simply great live performance overall. Climax moments were the performance with BOY GEORGE, and an interesting girl TAWIAH singing ‘Valerie’ , and I was really impressed by ROSE ELINOR DOUGALL‘s overall stage performance, voic ànd stage presence! But the whole concert was executed so well, it’s very hard for me to choose which performance I loved more than the other really…
STAGE SET UP
BANG BANG BANG DRUMMER
ROSE ELINOR DOUGALL
THEOPHILUS LONDON + ROSE ELINOR DOUGALL
TAWIAH & MARK RONSON
After an amazing encore, the concert finished and the whole Business Int’l & Mark Ronson bowed for the audience and left the stage.
And that was it. Jules and I looked at each other. Now this felt weird. We were like… and what now? Normally we would have been feverishly running around, asking around, pitching stories, looking for back doors and ticking people on the left shoulders. But now we were like: “uhm…Stella?” While sipping on some beer, I knew that I would never chase an interview the same way I would chase a Polaroid, it’s simply not the main goal and I was more concerned about how short my story would be because of the fact I had like a Polaroid meeting on a silver platter which felt also a bit more boring because I didn’t have that ‘mission accomplished’ feeling, you know, the reward you get for reaching your goal? Then again I knew that I would have pleased at least some of you who prefer to read short stories #isityou?
So big was my surprise when I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder and I see Alec Mills (Theophilus London’s road manager) standing there together with Lefto with a big smile. They told me that I had to go with them backstage. I wasn’t really following here… I didn’t really grasp what was going on or why they asked me to come with them, until Lefto said: “well, you’ve arranged something with Ronson no?” I was totally surprised and asked him: “What do you mean, he want’s to do an interview?! Cause I already have my Polaroid…” He replied. “Yup”. Ok then. That was out of the ordinary. Then again. I LOVE anything out of the ordinary. I realised that having an actual interview with an artist like Mark Ronson is pretty great and I already was praying that he wouldn’t find out I’m not a real journalist and I may have crappy questions. So when I arrived upstairs with Jules, Lefto gave us a Stella and not much later Mark Ronson walked into the tiny little backstage room, ready for an interview.
It was very crowed in that room, with lots of people coming in and out, and when seconds later Theophilus London came walking into the room, the room was really officially filled with people like tuna in a can. That’s when Ronson suddenly said: “Ouni, can I call you Ouni, ’cause that’s what everybody is calling you apparently, maybe we should do the interview in the bus? What do you think?” I looked concerned at Jules and said: “Uhm…is that bus…driving…somewhere?…” Mark answered: “Yes, to the hotel, we are packing and wrapping everything up as we speak, is that a problem?” Jules and I looked at each other, already calculated a possible cab-fair for returning to our bed in Brussels and said: “Not at all!” Are you crazy? This was an official #apolaroidstory lifesaver! I quickly said my goodbyes to Lefto & Theophilus, grabbed my stuff and together with Jules we followed Ronson and his manager to the bus.
When we entered the cosy bus, the whole Business Int’l was already sitting in the sofas, ready for departure. The atmosphere was very relaxed, you felt that the artists were tired (Spank Rock was slowly dozing off next to me) and pretty soon I see Jules joking with Ronson and singing R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’. Mark looked up and asked me: “So do you want to do the interview now?” I noticed approximately ten faces staring at me and said: “Well uhm, sure, but uhm…I’m thinking…pressure…?!” while pointing to everyone else in the tiny little bus couch living room. Everybody started laughing and Mark said: “No, I’m sorry, you are right, let’s do it the proper way in the lobby, that will be better for everyone. I was relieved with that proposal. I’m already a nervous wreck when I do interviews, let alone with ten extra faces staring at me! When we arrived at the hotel, some of the Business Int’l went straight for their bed upstairs, others went for a game of pool in the hotel lobby. Mark ordered some drinks for me and Jules and then, somewhere around midnight, it was finally time for the interview. Or was it a conversation about music? Or was it me just being able to ask everything I wanted to ask? Maybe a little bit of both. You’ve come already this far reading the story, so it is my duty to warn you, there is a serious chunk of text coming your way in the interview here below… If you are really interested in what Mark had to say, I suggest you continue reading. If not, I will not hold it against you. So I’m very proud to be able to write the following:
A POLAROID STORY X MARK RONSON
‘Record Collection’ is your third album, an album with an overall eclectic vibe to say the least, and critics consider it as your best. What is your personal opinion on that statement?
I like to think of it as my best album, because you like to think that as you grow older, you make more records and you have more experience, you get better you know… You learn from what you do. Look, the thing with Version is that it really was an unexpected success. I didn’t think I was making an album. I was DJ’ing clubs in New York at the time. I started out as a Hip Hop DJ in New York and I was lucky enough to start in an era what people called ‘The Golden Era Of Hip Hop’. It was a very special time, where the most commercial music at that time was also the best music. The most popular music at that time was Tribe, Gangstarr, Dre, Snoop, Wu-Tang. You could rock a club for four hours playing those records.
But then around 2003-2004 music started to feel very uninspiring to me, maybe because I DJ’d for so long in clubs, and so I started to make my own songs. I was quite known in New York for playing rock in hip hop clubs. They weren’t really used to it. I’m talking about things like 7 Nation Army, things the hip hop crowd would go for. But I can’t play a song like ‘Just’ from Radiohead there, it would clear the floor and people would throw shit at me. Then again, I had people throwing shit at me for playing something they didn’t like anyway. So I thought if I redid those songs like Radiohead in a way that my crowd would like it. So ‘JUST‘ is the first cover I made, I did it for fun and I liked it. I remember playing it out and seeing how hiphop heads and people that like funk and soul, and indie kids reacted so strong to it. So I started to make more of it.
But then Gilles Peterson and Zane Low from BBC 1 Radio started playing it, and I somehow got a whole record out of the back of it, since I had like eight more of these covers. And then at the same time I met Lily Allen, and I worked a bit on her album. And just after Version -it wasn’t out yet at the time- I also met Amy Winehouse and then wé worked together. I used a Dap King horn section on my album, so when I met Amy I felt like I was ready to use the whole band. That was quite scary, ’cause I never produced like, a WHOLE band. Anyway. To get to the point… (smiles) I wasn’t expecting to make an album when I made ‘Versions’ and so it became this big thing where everybody was like “Oh right, that’s the guy that just does covers and trumpets”. So when I started to write this album I just thought: I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but it can’t be covers and I know it has to be original so… I went in the studio in Brooklyn around august 2009 with some of my favorite musicians, the guys from ANTIBALAS, the Brooklyn afrobeat band, some of THE DAP KINGS, basically a mixture of guys that played on the Amy Winehouse record. And I just said: “Listen guys, we’re not gonna do what we usually do.” I wanted to keep the funk and the backbeat of the rhythm section, but none of the horns and no guitars. So I got all these old synthesizers, these analogue 70’s synths and I was like: “let’s just fuck around with these”, and we just started to mess around and played and played and wrote and wrote for three weeks, just until things started to sync and it seemed that we were starting to know what we were doing.
‘Bang Bang Bang’ for example was one of the early tracks we wrote and I came up one day with that keyboard riff (starts making keyboardrif sounds). So I’m playing that and it kinda sounds like an 80’s Van Halen jump by itself, but then Homer, the drummer from the Dap Kings, who is my favorite drummer in the world, comes in and starts playing this beat that sounded like The Meters, like straight New Orleans (makes sounds: like shkedke pss pss) and that is what made it special, the combination of those things. I guess that’s what this record is, it is just a combination of trying out different talents and merge the sounds of 80’s synths but with that sonic of 60’s funk. It will probably sell half of what Version sold, but it’s not a Pop record. I have friends in New York, that play in these cool bands like The Klaxons. And they always joke with me, and say: “Mark, we love you but your album Version sucks.” They like the Amy Winehouse album though. It’s not like I need everyone to like me but it is a nice feeling to know that the people you respect and your peers dig what you do and respect it. With Versions we didn’t really knew what we were doing, I mean, I didn’t really care how it all looked. We just wanted to get on stage. Even for the videos, we let the label pick out the directors. But with this album we really made an effort to have everything lined up with the right visuals. I’m quite happy with everything because I had the time to actually sit back and think what I wanted to do. Of course, the music is much more important, I would never pick the style over the substance. So, with all that in mind, I think people like it more because it’s just more original.
This album is stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with collaborations and features. Is this something that you knew right from the start or just something that naturally happened.
We started out with a core group of people consisting of me, Tommy and Homer from The Dap Kings, Victor and Nick, the keyboard and bassplayer of Antibalas and Alex Greenwald. While we were writing in the studio I thought that I’d rather do something like Portishead or Gorillaz but a few vocalists. I chose people I knew I wanted to work with on this album like Rose Elinor Dougall and Andrew Wyatt from Miike Snow. But then me and Andrew wrote ‘Somebody To Love Me’ and I get this idea to put Boy George on the record. Or I write ‘Loose It In The End’, the song that I am singing on the record, I didn’t like the chorus, so better than me singing the chorus, I’d rather have Ghostface Killah rap on it. I’m lucky I guess that, at this point in my career, I’m in the position that if I send a track to Ghostface Killah he’ll listen and see if he likes it. It’s just the DJ in me, I’m so used to mixing records of different people all together, I guess it just happens when I make music as well.
On ‘Glass Mountain Trust’ you work with D’Angelo. (The long-lost artist which a lot of my readers are dying to hear some new material from) and you kinda put him in a different atmosphere than we are normally used to. How was it working with him, and was it easy to get him on board?
The crazy thing is, I know D’Angelo ten years ago before VOODOO came out. The first record I ever produced was for this girl called NIKKA COSTA. She was on Cheeba Sound, which is the same label as D’Angelo’s. We kinda came across. I was such a heavy fan of D’Angelo. I remember having a cassette-single of Brown Sugar. In freshmen year in college I would listen to it àll the time when we were driving from my school to the city. We had the same manager at one point. So before VOODOO came out, they used to make these promo mixtape samplers for albums right before they come out and I made the one for Voodoo. I remember meeting D a couple of times and he was like: “Oh, I like what you do” and you know obviously he is very withdrawn from the spotlight. So I remember hearing from a friend that they were talking about what producers D’Angelo wants to work with on his new record and he told me that the only people he was really checking for was me (?) and Ceelo. Because apparently the only few albums he liked the past 5 years was Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and Amy’s Back To Black. I couldn’t believe it. Here I am as a kid that grew up worshipping D’Angelo and with D’Angelo it’s a different story, ’cause he can play everything. He is like…Sly and the Family Stone – Shuggie Otis. He is one of the people who can do it all by himself. So I was like why does he need to work with me…? It’s quite intimidating when somebody is thàt talented. So I was like…well bring him to the studio.
He came to the studio, he played some of his new music and I said: I would love to get you on my album. We were all sò nervous before he showed up to the studio, we were like “Is the lighting right?!” You have to know that the guys from The Dap Kings are not really people who are phased by pop stars. So we are recording in a tiny little studio in Brooklyn with no air conditioning and lots of people stopped by, like Mary J Blige and John Legend and many others. But with D’Angelo is the only time that I remember Tommy (from The Dap Kings) preparing a plate with vegetables and like…dip. To make sure, things were like..nice. So he came into the studio and I already had the instrumental for ‘Glass Mountain Trust’ and I said to him: “Listen I know this sounds so different from something you would usually do…But this is my favorite instrumental on the record and no one has done anything to it. If you hear it and you think you might be able to write to it, will you…?” So he took if for like 6 days and he wrote that song. I was in England, so I wasn’t with him when he recorded the vocals. But he put all those vocal effect on himself so… Hé was the one that sort of took it to space. I gave him a track that was a little bit excentric and ‘out there’. But he was the one that put that crazy space shit. It sounds to me like Parliament-Funkadelic 2020. And I know that there are real D’Angelo fans out there that want to hear ‘Untitled’ and that falsetto and stuff, but I don’t even know what D’Angelo’s new record sounds like, I just know that we are supposed to work on it in January. So ‘Glass Mountain Trust’ could be the only thing that sounds like that… But I feel like I have won the lottery to have the first D’Angelo song in ten years on my record. I feel like I’m not worthy of it, but I’m very thankful.
I’ve read somewhere that there were eight different writers (?!) that worked on the song that Boy George sings on your album?
Well yeah that’s true. A lot of the stuff that we wrote, was in the room with the band playing. So with that song I came up with the bass line (makes bass sounds: tum tum tumtumtuum ) and Nick who is a bass player,who is super into afro-beat, he was actually the bass player in The Fela Musical (the first version) so he could play the drums pretty good on that track. I was playing bass and Nick was playing drums and we came up with that beat. So my friend Anthony, he played in a band called The Dirty Pretty Things, and Anthony wrote some great cords. So we used those cords. Then Cathy Dennis, (she is the songwriter who wrote Britney Spears’ Toxic btw) came in with Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters and wrote a song. It was cool but it was not quite right. So thén K’Naan came in. It was good too but something in my mind said that it could be better. So then me , Alex and Andrew from Miike Snow sat together and rewrote the whole song. But what we did was, we kept a tiny bit of the melody that came from Jake Shears, the higher part starting with ‘But tonight, I crossed the line’ (starts to sing the words) So we saved that melody because it was so good. And then we kept a tiny bit that K’Naan wrote and that was it. So we used all these little bits and gave everybody credit for it, that’s why it says 8 writers, but mainly it was me, Anthony Alex and Andrew from Miike Snow.
Who’s idea was it to let Boy George sing the song, because in a certain way, the song reflects the melancholic career from Boy George…
While we were writing the song, suddenly I kept thinking of the classic Culture Club song ‘Do you really want to hurt me’ and I thought that the songs felt quite similar when we were writing. Theirs had a reggae beat and ours had like an afro beat and they are both kinda sad songs, about love. Also, Andrew (from Miike Snow) his vocal is similar to Boy George’s sort of like a ‘blue eyed soul’. So the next morning I woke up and said: “Andrew I don’t know why… but we have to get Boy George sing that song.” I didn’t even know what Boy George’s voice sounded like, I haven’t heard him sing in like… 17 years. I tracked him down, caus I interviewed him once for a magazine in America. So I asked him if I could play him this song that I really wanted him to sing on. So he came to the studio, he sat there and he was like: “Ow. Ok. I like it. It’s interesting.” I thought that he didn’t like it and that I wasn’t gonna hear from him again. He asked me if he could live with the song for a week. So during the week he kept mailing with like: “Oww, I réally like this line, I felt like I could have written this.” and it almost seems like his spirit somehow was in the room while we were writing the song and that’s why he dug it. So he sung the record and although it was a great song before, it had this heaviness and we all know George his story. It’s like Edith Piaf singing ‘Non, Je ne regrette rien’.
Another thing that is really cool about it is that today, we just found out that the song got put on the A-list of Radio 1 in the UK. And George, well he didn’t tell me, but he kept telling everyone else: “I want to scream!!”. George hasn’t been on the A-list for almost 26 years. He just can’t believe it, he thought he was just doing me a favor. We all knew it was the best song on the record, don’t get me wrong, I lòve ‘Bang Bang Bang’, I love that shit. But as far as the song goes, you know, the one that really makes you féél something, I think it’s the best one. And just to see him came out on the show like tonight, is just… He knows people love him, but it’s another thing to come out and perform for a bunch of young kids. He did ùs a favour for by being on the song, because if he wasn’t on it, it wouldn’t be such a big song. And I don’t want to say something gross like ‘we’ brought him back. He is doesn’t need us, he is BOY GEORGE, he is a legend. I mean I have been doing this shit for fucking 5 years. It’s just great to see him like that you know.
After 3 records you’ve worked with a lot of artists, you’ve worked with Duran Duran, you’re partially responsable for the success of Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. You won a Brit award, and multiple Grammys. What are your future milestones you want to achieve?
Ok first off all. I’m not responsible for the success of Lily Allen. I’m not saying you said anything wrong, but I always feel really bad when I hear that. Lily is so smart and independent and she had already written ‘Smile’ before she I even met me. And with Amy I think she is just as responsible for my success. It’s a vice versa thing. But I understand what you say it. Me and Amy just got lucky. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 15. I have been dj-ing since I was 18, and after that I started to produce. So I had all these records that we’re -nearly- hits, like ‘Oo Wee’, that song boomed in America. I was around Kanye in the beginning, I knew the Neptunes, and the last person that I knew to blow was DangerMouse. So I was thinking by myself… maybe I’m just not good at this. I was 31 years old, let’s be real here, I’ve been trying to produce records for 12 years, I never had a hit. Fuck it. I’m over it. So I just started making music instead of worrying what people would like, because I didn’t really think I had any potential in having a music career. I just started making what I liked. And that’s when I started to make the covers and that’s when I met Amy, there were simply no expectations. To have all that happen, and turn into this shit…it’s really weird. I’m really really grateful for it.
But…I haven’t really achieved what I really wanted to. If I sit back now, I’m gonna be 35. What am I gonna do when I am 40? What am I going to do when I’m 40 and my only hits came from 5-6 years ago…? I’m not really in this to make just hits either but I guess I just want to continue and keep making really good music. The people Ì really look up to, and I’m not saying that I’m ever gonna achieve what these people did, but like a Quincy Jones…That’s like a legacy over the course of 20-30 years of making great records. And you’re not always gonna have a hit run, nobody does, you just have to make music and care and BE about it. I don’t have a Kanye West ‘entrepreneurial’ drive to make movies. I lòve making music, I lòve being in the studio. Playing shows like tonight makes me feel very lucky that I can do this little side project, but my réal job, is being in the studio, making music. I really hope I can continue to do that and make a living out of that. I want to make music and I don’t want to be remembered just to make the Amy Winehouse record. There’s a chance that there will never be anything that I do that will be bigger, and that’s ok too caus that’s an important record for a lot of people. But I’m very happy that even tonight, the biggest moment of the show was when we played ‘BANG BANG BANG, that’s the song that I can play on the keyboard and think by myself: Only I wrote that. It’s kinda cool. I don’t need it for my ego, It’s more like: Ow I dò have something to offer to the world. Or whatever it is.
I have noticed a little ‘french touch’ in both your album as in your videos. In ‘Bang Bang Bang’ there’s a french/canadian children song called ‘Allouette’ implicated in the text. What is the story behind that?
With ‘Bang Bang Bang’ it’s just a random thing, because MNDR wrote that. But while we were making the record, Alex, who wrote half of the album with me was listening to a lot of Daft Punk,. There is this song called ‘Popcorn’ from Hot Butter, that old keyboard record, and all those old french synth records, Jean Jacques-Perrey, were kinda influential. So I guess yes, there is kind off a French influence.. I also just started dating my girlfriend at the time and she is French and I was spending more and more time in France. I don’t think it was a conscious thing though, it just filtered through.
Together with Sam Sparro and Theophilus London you released a single SOLES OF FIRE under a new band name called CHAUFFEUR to celebrate the release of your Gucci shoe collaboration. Is this a ‘Gucci-one-time-thing’ only or can we expect more out of this.
We did it initially for the shoes, because Gucci asked me to design a shoe and I wanted to have it come with a record. So 1 night I went into the studio with Sam and Theo and we did this song in 2 hours. We also made 1 cover from ‘Glamorous Life‘, we’re gonna do a whole EP with more original songs by the end of the year but we need to be in the studio for 1 weekend.
I’ve noticed ROSE ELINOR DOUGALL on stage, I really love her voice and her stage presence. She is featured 3 times on your album. Any specific reason for that…?
I just really liked her voice, she comes from a band called THE PIPETTES and I met her while I was touring heavily in the UK around 2007 and I remembered reading a copy of NME magazine and I read that she left The Pipettes. So when I started to work on my record, I was like: I want this girls’ voice on the record. So I send her a message on MySpace and asked her if she would come to the studio in NY for a week or 2, and that’s what happened and she really became a part of the record.
Again with this record, even with all the synths, you never really lose touch with your hip hop side. You’ve worked with Ghostface Killah, Spank Rock, Old Dirty Bastard, etc. Which new emerging hip hop artist do you have your eye on to work or collab with next. Who is on your radar?
Jay Electronica definitely. We talked about working together. I tried to get him on the album but he is just hard to track down. Like I said I dj’d friday night and he was there because they came out for the big Roc Nation signing. J.Cole and me also talked about working together. We actually did some stuff 2 years ago before he signed to Roc Nation. It’s so weird, because what I do is so outside of the mainstream of Hip Hop, but for some reason…whether it is Saigon, Rhymefest, or J.Cole, they always come through me first..I think it’s because I love new talent so much and also because I’ve DJ’d in so many tiny little dark holes in NY.
Another amazing rapper is PILL from Atlanta. Yella Wolf, Homeboy Sandman. I’ve been listening to the ODD FUTURE stuff with Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler The Creator. I think I’m to old for that stuff, although they are pretty big in underground hip hop right now.
Wale. I love Wale. He is one of the smartest fucking mc’s I’ve worked with. He might come across as a bit grumpy and he talks shit, because he knows he is better than everyone else, so that’s why he talks shit. Sometimes you just want to fucking grab him and wring his neck. But I love him to death. We don’t work together anymore because he is no longer on our label. I don’t do the label anymore, because it is the quickest way to lose all your friends, just to sign them to your label. But now that he is no longer signed I would work with him in a heartbeat.
So the whole label thing, that’s no longer for you anymore?
I just made the mistake of starting a label, because when shit turns wrong, everybody is looking at you and is like: ‘What’s the problem?’. I did it in the beginning because I knew some artists that were like diamonds in the rough. I saw potential in them but they weren’t ready, and I mean ready in the way that a label wouldn’t sign them. So I sit with them for 6 months, get their demo together and make new songs with them and get to the point where I could walk into J.Records or Def Jam or Universal and say: “Listen to this.” and they get signed. But then I ended up with them on my label, but I should have just been like: “Here, good luck and let me produce 2 songs on your record. I quit the label, because I didnt signed up to make money, I signed up to make music.
The fashion world is very fond of you. The Gucci collaboration, GQ features/awards, editorials in Jealous Magazine, what’s your point of view on all this and what is the first real fashion purchase you ever made?
Ok check this out. Around the time when I was 27, I had my first big meeting at J Records, which is Clive Davis his label. So I went in and I had a good meeting because I have this singer that they want to sign and they we’re interested. The deal never happened but I was like in a high and I was thinking: “Ow yeah, I’m going to get a check!’ So around the corner of J Records on 57nd street is the Dior Men shop. This was 6 years ago, Hedi Slimane was designing all the Dior and it was like..the shit. So I go in and I was trying out this leather jacket and everyone was like: “Ow it really looks good on you sir” and giving me the whole business so I was like..Ow. Well. I’m gonna buy it. So I went to the counter, put the jacket down, and they were like: “That’s 2700 $ sir.” I felt the whòle world froze in slow motion and I’m sure all the blood rushed out of my face. It was too embarrassing, I took it out and it felt like…bloodmoney. The most money I had ever spend on a piece of clothing was on a réally exclusive pair of Jordans that cost about 250$. I didn’t even know that clothes could even cost thàt much money. It feels like your first tattoo I guess. I now understand why people can spend so much money on that shit because it’s kinda nice to have something different from everyone else.
And about the shoots and all that. I don’t really like ‘enjoy’ the shoots, but if you work with a good photographer like Terry Richardson or Richard Kern, you know you’ll have a little momentum to show to your grandkids some day. It’s a little bit a gift and a curse, because it also makes some people take you less seriously as a musician. I know why some of these websites call me a sellout and say that I changed so much since my first record, it’s simply because you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If Tom Yorke was running around and doing fucking Gucci ads I don’t know if Radiohead would have this spotless credibility they have today. Maybe I’m naive for doing all that stuff and not expecting the repercussions but…whatever.
My last traditional question, a cliché question that I ask everyone I end up interviewing on this blog is the following: If I say Belgium, what 3 words pop out of your mind instantly?
2 many Dj’s
After the interview Mark gave me the best compliment he could give me, telling me he really enjoyed the interview, because it felt like talking about music with a friend in a way. I can only say, that although I already met a lot of artists, I never expected Mark Ronson to be how he was. Just a really nice bloke. This is it. This is the story.
I’m really happy how it turned out, because I realise that it’s not given to everyone to have long interviews at midnight with Mark Ronson. In a way it gave this story the ending that it needed. You know…slightly different with that extra something something.
PS: Special thanks to Ulrike & Ioan for providing Jules and myself with a good bed. And a big thank you to A.V., my reader, who set me up with this slightly different deal. I really appreciate the effort you put in this.