Musician and producer Mark Ronson has made a name for himself by twiddling the knobs for the likes of Lily Allen and fellow kosher hitmaker Amy Winehouse. Caroline Westbrook chats to the man himself about being Jewish, making music and telling jokes.
New York-based Musician and producer Mark Ronson has made a name for himself by working with the likes of Lily Allen and fellow kosher hitmaker Amy Winehouse, both of whom have entrusted the ex-pat Londoner to twiddle the knobs on their recordings. He’s also scored a few hits of his own recently as well as critical acclaim for his covers album Version. Caroline Westbrook grabs some time with the ever-busy Ronson, fresh from his Glastonbury appearance.
How did you enjoy playing Glastonbury?
It was good, unbelievable, you come off stage and it’s gone by so fast that you wish it had never ended. It was only our eighth gig and it was just electric.
Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
When I was growing up started off listening to kid’s stuff when you’re that age your tastes aren’t fully formed, you just like what you like. So I was listening to things like Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, and bad Eurovision Song Contest stuff. I guess my dad was really into music even though he didn’t really play any instruments, he would play music around the house, my mum had tapes she always listened to in the car, so it was a very musical environment for sure.
When did you first start DJ-ing?
Well first I played in bands, played guitar and piano in bands when I was about 14, 15, 16. Then when I was about 18 I got into hip-hop and it went from there.
How did the collaboration with Amy Winehouse come about?
That was basically a guy called Guy Moot at EMI Publishing, I’d heard Amy’s music and I really liked it when I first came over to England a few years ago to promote my first record. Anyway, he told me I should meet Amy, so we got together in New York and we talked about music and stuff, and we didn’t work on anything, but I asked her what kind of sound she envisioned for her album and she envisaged 60s kind of music, and that inspired me and we started from there.
Which artists inspire you and who would you like to work with?
I really wouldn’t like to work with my heroes or anything like that because I’d feel so intimidated by them. I’ve really been lucky enough to keep stumbling across new talent, so I’m not really that concerned about working with famous people. But I think the people that inspire me are people like David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, and some of the great producers like Rick Rubin, Nigel Goldrich, Quincy Jones and George Martin. I think you can find inspiration in anything, anything you hear that you like.
What made you decide to do an album of cover songs and was there anything you wanted to include that didn’t make it?
There’s always stuff that’s going to get left off because you can’t put 75 songs on an album, but I think the best stuff made it through. I didn’t really make a conscious decision and say hey, I’m going to do a covers album, I just started to work on these songs and discovered I had about five or six lying around, I didn’t have a deal or anything, just made them myself and getting people to come round and play on them and friends to come round and sing. Anyway, the stuff sounded good and the way it was coming out I was really pleased with it, and I ended up singing with Columbia Records in the UK.
Any chance of collaborating with your sister Samantha (who is a musician)?
Yes, we worked together on some stuff before. I don’t get to work with her as often as I like but yeah, she’s a really talented songwriter.
How important is the Internet to you in getting your music heard and communicating with your fans?
I think it’s really important – like anyone else I started my Myspace page myself, ran it low rent, nice when it’s on a label and you’ve got someone to make a better page it for you. I have an Internet radio show and I use the Internet a lot to find music for the shows, I love scouring the Internet for interesting new music. And it’s fun when you see 7000 of your fans watching you at Glastonbury and you can write about it on your blog.
What’s your family background?
My family was into their religion and Judaism. iIt’s funny because Conservative Judaism here is much stricter here than it is in America, so we were not quite Orthodox, but we observe the Sabbath, High Holydays, that kind of thing. Then moved to New York when I was eight, so obviously things were a little bit more relaxed, I don’t know why. Now I’m not religious in a complete strict observant type of way but as far as believing in the main tenets of the religion, things like that I am – obviously fast on Yom Kippur, that kind of thing. It’s important to me.
Do you know where your ancestors came from and what were the origins of the family name?
I know about most of my family- my dad’s side is Russian-Lithuanian, and then my mum’s side is Austrian, and then her mum was born in Edinburgh. But it’s all Eastern European Jews pretty much. I don’t know the origins of Ronson actually, my mother’s maiden name was Dexter and then on her mother’s side it’s Rifkin, those are the sort of names which are quite easy to trace.
Do you know any good Jewish jokes?
I heard this funny joke the Rabbi told at my cousin’s wedding – the one where the wife sees on TV there was someone driving the wrong way down the M1, and she freaks out because her husband drives down the M1 every day. So she calls him in the car on the way to work, and goes, “Honey, I just want to warn you there’s someone driving the wrong way down the M1!” and he says “Somebody! They’re all driving the wrong way….” That was quite funny. But who needs Jewish jokes when you’ve got Woody Allen and Larry David anyway?
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