During his first career as a so-called celebrity DJ, Mark Ronson spun for everyone from P. Diddy to Martha Stewart. But in 2000, he had an epiphany that led to his becoming a producer. “I was playing ‘Groove Is in the Heart’ for the 17 millionth time,” says Ronson, 35, “and I just felt like a sellout. I remember going home and saying, ‘This has to end.’?” By 2006, he had successfully rebranded himself; the producer tag stuck when Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black went multiplatinum and won him five Grammys. Version, his album of covers with the likes of Lily Allen and Santigold, followed.
Now there’s Record Collection, his raucous set of originals with the Business Intl. (Q-tip, Boy George, and D’Angelo, among others). The New York-based Ronson recently spoke to SPIN from London, where he is putting finishing touches on Duran Duran’s latest.
Record Collection will go down in history as being the first album to feature both Ghostface Killah and the London Gay Men’s Choir. Are you proud of that?
Yeah. I feel like I beat Damon Albarn to that one, maybe. I wanted the song with the choir [“Introducing the Business”] to sound like Roland Emmerich2012-shit-blowing-up-in-the-background. And those guys came in, and they just rocked it.
In the title track, you sing, “I get preferential treatment at the Marriott.” Wouldn’t that be low-end accommodations for you?
Well, I don’t have a crazy rider clause saying I have to stay at fancy hotels. I don’t have a problem with staying at a Marriott. But I will admit that I’ve gotten just basic, regular service there.
So the lyric is a total lie — nice. Why didn’t Amy Winehouse sing on the album?
Because I think it’s important to be doing fresh and new stuff. I don’t think she would have loved much on this record, anyway — she has a very specific aesthetic. Actually, I recently played her some stuff, and we got about a minute and a half through “Bang Bang Bang” before she was like, “Aargh! Turn it off!” Her favorite track is one I sing on, which is so bizarre. But she was like, “I’m so fucking relieved you sound English when you sing.”
The big hit off Version was “Stop Me,” a Smiths cover. Did Morrissey weigh in?
He liked it. I went to every-body whose song I covered way before the album came out and got permission. I didn’t have to, but it’s, like, musical karma. You don’t want this band you’ve loved since you were a kid to say, “I hated that shit.” That would have killed me. But I met Johnny Marr at some bar in London, and it was kind of awkward. He was saying, “So, I really liked that cover of the Kaiser Chiefs you did.” It was pretty obvious what he meant.
It’s a common misconception that the late David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson is your father. Annoying?
It was, like, the first Internet rumor that went wrong. It got picked up by everyone and just got written as if it was fact. It got to the point where Mick Ronson’s widow called my mum and was like, “Did you have illegitimate children by my deceased husband?”
I have to say, it would have been quite cool. I love my dad, but Mick Ronson was definitely an OG.
It didn’t help that your stepdad growing up was Mick Jones — same first name and both played guitar.
Yeah, people are always like, “So your dad’s Mick Ronson…” And I’m like, “No, he’s Mick Jones.” And they’re like, “From the Clash?” I should just wear a Foreigner T-shirt all the time.
How often do you refer to turntables as “the wheels of steel”?
Just on Sunday. [Laughs] I like calling them that, but I tend not to use it when talking about myself. It sounds like you’re in battle mode and about to start scratching with your elbows.
Speaking of which, you versus DJ Jazzy Jeff — who wins?
Jazzy Jeff, hands down. I’ve played with him a few times — and I always have to go on after him. It’s the only time I ever think about saying, “The dog ate my laptop.”
You DJ’d Tom Cruise’s wedding reception. Did he request “The Chicken Dance”?
No, he just wanted to hear 50 Cent and Kanye the whole time. But I did play the Top Gun theme. I thought I should have one or two ironic things ready. I played it with the “Hollaback Girl” instrumental under it, and it really worked. But it required a lot of concentration at the turntable, so apparently I missed what my friend Rachel described to me as “Tom Cruise shooting the guns” at me. He was doing the finger rockets towards me while I was doing the mix. He was amped!
Over the years you’ve worked with a boatload of people. Is there anyone out there who you wouldn’t work with?
I mean, if they’re some neo-Nazi band or something, I wouldn’t. But I would never say no to taking a meeting ’cause you never know. Like, Britney Spears could write an amazing song one day — well, that’s a bit of a stretch. But it’s just mean to say no ’cause I know there’s lots of people that probably think that about me as well.
WATCH: Mark Ronson & The Business Intl., “Bang Bang Bang”