I met Mark Ronson Memorial Day weekend 2005 in Las Vegas. I had recently graduated from college in Atlanta, where I was also DJing and promoting parties, and was well versed in Ronson and his interesting career trajectory. Being a fan, I was bugging him all night to play “Ooh wee,” the single off his 2003 Elektra release Here Comes The Fuzz. He obliged. We exchanged info and kept in touch over the past two years. February 2007, Mark plays a Wale record on his East Village Radio show. I hit him up. Mark and his label partner at Allido Records, Rich Kleiman, encourage Wale, one of many forward thinking artists Mark has worked with, to sign with Allido. Mark drops Version and prepares to release new projects with Wale, as well as Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, potentially. I guess what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
“I was just trying to get a version of a four hour DJ set condensed into 40 minutes”
Format: So you got the whole DJ thing on lock and then you put out an album, Here Comes The Fuzz on Elektra in 2003. How did you go about getting a record deal?
Ronson: Well, at the time, they were sort of handing out record deals to any New York hip-hop DJ and I had just come off the Nikka Costa record. This guy Josh Deutsch at Elektra loved the Nikka “Like A Feather” record because it stood out. He offered me a deal and I thought it was cool because I had all these tracks that I could get my favorite artists at the time on. Basically, I was just trying to get a version of a four hour DJ set condensed into 40 minutes. It was a bit ambitious and at times it worked and at times didn’t but I’m still proud of it.
Format: Why Here Comes The Fuzz?
Ronson: I just thought it sounded a bit brash and funny and I was using a lot of fuzz peddles and distortion guitar. I think I forgot that the main reason I picked it was probably because in the back of my head, I was thinking about the Kool and the Gang album. It’s one of those things you say to yourself that you think is cool but forget it was already cool.
Format: Mark Ronson is the epitome of a slashie – former DJ, slash; producer, slash; artist, slash; model slash label owner; is it hard to walk that line?
Ronson: Modeling is the very much least important out of all of those and I’ve done it twice in the past five years and I would never consider myself a model, but all those other things really go into play with each other in a way that is very important and inspires me. It’s great to play records and make your own music and play with the band and in today’s era, it’s very common to diversify your interests.
Format: It’s been three years since your last album which was diverse, but ultimately largely hip hop influenced.
Ronson: On my new album, I didn’t have a record deal at the time and I was just really bored with DJ’ing at the time so I was just making stuff for myself. A lot of DJ’s do mash-ups and remixes and I just wanted to take it a step further and do covers from scratch. I always tried to play diverse stuff like Queens of the Stone Age and White Stripes and incorporate them into my hip hop sets – sometime it would work sometimes it wouldn’t – but I thought it would be cool to take these songs and turn them into stuff for the dance floors I was DJing. Since there was no budget, it wasn’t really an option to get stars on the album like I did on the first album where rappers were getting paid out the wazoo. I just spent a little money to get the horn players to come and contribute. Then “Just” leaked out and started to do well on the radio in England. I found myself being chased by labels and eventually signed with Columbia. It just so happened at the same time, Lily and Amy were becoming the breakthrough artists of the year in 2006, so it just so happened it became a superstar album by accident and for very cheap.
Format: Has the hip-hop crowd been receptive to Version?
Ronson: Yeah, it just comes down to good beats. Look how much Amy has been embraced by the hip-hop community. People are looking for something new and refreshing. Hip-hop is so stale and boring right now that people are looking elsewhere for inspiration. If I had never heard a RZA production when I was 16, Amy’s record wouldn’t sound the way it does. They aren’t the same genre, but the fact is everything I do is still very influenced by hip-hop and that culture; digging for breaks and beats. My whole album, if you took the lead vocals off, you could easily imagine a rapper on the tracks. I think the crowds at the shows are super mixed. The fact that DJ Enuff plays “Stop Me” on Hot97 is a testament to the project.
Format: How has your sense of fashion changed between Here Comes the Fuzz and Version?
Ronson: I kind of grew up and my style became a bit more refined. I also felt like I looked better in jeans that fit me. My style is influenced by music too. If you listen to Bob Dylan for a year, you might go out and by a scarf. But I never really thought of myself as a fashion plate say, like, Lily Allen, who rocks the big pretty summer dress and Air Max 90s. I think just growing up changes it. And I discovered that nice clothes are really exciting. I never really knew that until like two or three years ago. The first time I went into the Christian Dior store, I had never paid more than $300 for clothes, and I found this leather jacket and I brought it to the counter and they said, ‘$3,300.’ My heart nearly came out of my throat but there was no turning back. There’s a reason people pay money for nice clothes.
Format: What are your favorite clothing brands?
Ronson: Christian Dior. And I love Acne jeans and Fred Perry. That pretty much rounds out.
Format: What do you have on deck?
Ronson: Daniel Merriweather. Wale. Maybe Amy and Lily. And I just did this Bob Dylan remix that is dope.
Format: How’s Daniel’s project coming along?
Ronson: Great, he’s been writing with this British writer named Egg and everything they’ve been coming up with has been amazing. We haven’t had much extended time in the studio because we’ve been touring, but the album is going to be great.
How do you envision Wale’s album and direction?
Ronson: We haven’t been in the studio that much yet, so I don’t want to second guess it, but I’m totally excited about Wale and what he brings to the table. I think the sky is the limit for him.