At age 35, Ronson has had a hand in launching the careers of artists like Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen, and although he has released records under his own name -- the multi-platinum-selling 'Version,' for one -- he tends to take a backseat role and let the featured singers and emcees enjoy the spotlight. But that's not the case today, as he gears up for a whirlwind of promotional events leading up to the release of his third album, 'Record Collection,' a celebration of Ronson's eclectic musical taste.
As his 'Talk Stoop' interview comes to a close, Ronson -- tired from a late night spinning at a DJ AM tribute party but still in good spirits -- pulls out a kitschy vintage keyboard. It's time for the performance part of this segment, and it's here where we get a taste of what's to come on 'Record Collection.' "I can't help sounding like a fan when I make music," he'll explain to Spinner later, and it's obvious now as he puts on a live rendition of 'Circuit Breaker.' The song effortlessly blends breakbeat drums and vintage synths to create a futuristic tribal sound that would be impossible to pigeonhole into one single genre. What's clear is that this will be a departure from the vintage '60s Motown sound that made Ronson a household name. Fans hoping for another 'Valerie' will be out of luck this time around.
By 1:30, we've staked out a spot in a nearby park in Cobble Hill where Ronson will be interviewed for a feature called 'Can't Live Without' that plays in taxis throughout New York City. Surrounded by baby strollers, curious dogs and countless other potential sources of interruption, it becomes clear that Ronson is remarkably easygoing. An ice cream truck pulls up, tinny speakers blaring, with no intention of pulling away and Mark amuses himself by sing-speaking his response to an on-camera interview question to the tune of the ice cream jingle. The only time frustration gets the best of him is when a dog interrupts a good take. "Do you mind, f---ing basset hound?" he yells, but even then he's only half serious.
The interview wraps up and we head into Manhattan, where Ronson cut his teeth as a young DJ back in the '90s. He may have grown up in London (and even managed to keep his accent intact), but since the age of 8, Ronson has been a true New Yorker. "Sometimes I go to other places and I have a great time," he tells Spinner. "In London, I think 'I could really live here,' but as soon as I get back to New York, there's just something that's like, 'No, I'm probably supposed to be here."
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Mark Ronson -- A Day in the Life
And it makes sense, given that the New York club scene played such a crucial part in his musical upbringing. Far from an overnight success, Ronson DJed at hip-hop clubs for years, learning his craft and meeting important players in the industry while hoping for a big break. "You doubt yourself," he admits. "You see other people you kind of knew when they were starting up, I knew Danger Mouse, even Kanye to a degree, and you see them blowing up and think, 'Maybe I'm just not good at this." Of course, there were high points too. "I remember one night being out and Russell Simmons, an absolute hero of mine, came up to my mom and goes, 'You know, one day pretty soon you're gonna be shopping off him.' That was like, the greatest compliment of my life up to that point, just that he was aware of who I was and believed I was on the fast track to something."
He's quick to self-deprecate, adding "I ended up being on the slow track," but there's no doubt Ronson has come a long way since his early days in the clubs. Among his many accomplishments: having been chosen to produce the new Duran Duran record. "Because I've been such a huge Duran Duran fan for some time, it's almost like having this genetic code," he says of the experience. "I know that when Simon [Le Bon] plays this chord, it's almost like I know what the next one is gonna be. You just know where the sweet spot is harmonically, chord structure-wise, as a fan."
Despite such high-profile projects, Ronson hasn't quite emerged as a pop culture icon in the States the same way he has in the UK. For some Americans, he's best known as "Samantha Ronson's brother" due to the tabloid hysteria chronicling his sister's relationship with troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan. It was an odd time for Mark, who avoids the scrutiny of gossip blogs himself and cares deeply for his family.
"My sisters, Charlotte, Samantha and I are extremely close. We speak every day on the phone ... and we all sort of get on and have each other's back," Ronson says. When asked about his mother, Mark gushes about her support for his music career. "My mom never had any problem with it. When I was DJing she would come to the clubs all the time. I'm talking about clubs like New Music Café, where Jay-Z, Biggie, athletes, pretty girls, hipsters, drug dealers, whatever, 700 people jammed into this spot."
As if having one cool parent weren't enough, Ronson also grew up with Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, who married his mother after his parents split. As one would imagine, this had a serious impact on the young budding musician. "He had an amazing influence. He was so supportive and let me use the studio which was great," Ronson shares. "You can imagine, obviously he was a musician, he had a studio, he would let me use it, but it doesn't [always] happen like that. You think of those movies where the dad doesn't let his son use his model train set or prized possession or whatever. But he was around to sort of show me the ropes."
Ronson shares these stories about his extraordinary upbringing while our car speeds through midtown, eventually taking us to 33rd street for a scheduled video interview with Associated Press TV. On camera, he handles himself with ease, answering questions effortlessly and often hilariously. It's no surprise that once again the topic of fashion comes up during the interview. Given the slick outfit and platinum blonde coif, it's a tough topic to avoid. Later in the day, he addresses fashion's role in his career while downplaying his own personal interest. "Fashion never comes before music for me," he explains, noting that the new look was an after thought once 'Record Collection' was made. "We finished it and then it became a question of, 'OK, what does a band that makes music like this look like?'" Crediting the '80s visual style to the album's jubilant, synth-heavy vibe, Ronson seems a bit uncomfortable being considered a fashion icon. "I'm not like a fashion genius. I don't really know what I'm doing, I just figure it out through trial and error," he says.
It certainly helps that he has a background in modeling, a fact that becomes obvious at our next stop, the Rogue Music Shop, where Mark is being photographed for Under the Radar magazine. After admiring an old keytar inside the store, the photographers call him over where they've set up some exotic blue and purple lighting. With barely a word of direction, Ronson puts on his Wayfarer sunglasses and faces downward for a dramatic pose. He has clearly done this before.
As these photos make abundantly clear, Mark Ronson is cool in that soft-spoken, effortless way that's impossible to fake. He is sought after by some of the biggest names in pop, rock and hip-hop, and that's despite the sometimes harsh words of tastemakers like Pitchfork and NME. While other artists live or die by blog buzz, Ronson takes it all in stride, enjoying his indie vs. mainstream ambiguity. "You want to go under the radar but over the counter, that's the goal with albums," he notes. As for the impending reviews of his new album, Ronson isn't worried. "I think you have to have a thick skin about it," he says. "The thing with those magazines is they change their mind every two weeks."
Fortunately, thanks to 'Bang Bang Bang,' the winning first single off his album, the initial buzz has been resoundingly positive at this point. We head to the Press Here Publicity office for a block of phone interviews, and though though he's visibly worn out at this point, Ronson maintains his easygoing attitude and enjoys the opportunity to discuss the album. 'Record Collection' was a labor of love and a creative exercise for Ronson who spends so much of his time working on other artists' albums. "I didn't have any set out notion of what the album was gonna be like when we started," he says. "And that's exciting, to start out not knowing where it's going. I couldn't think of anything creatively that would be as unfulfilling as knowing exactly what you wanted your album to sound like on day one and get to day 180 and be like, 'OK, mission accomplished.'"
It's now almost 6PM, and Mark's day isn't over yet. After nonstop promotional events, he gets ready to run across town to his other gig as a DJ and host for East Village Radio. A lifestyle that consists of jetsetting around the world, producing records, constantly creating and performing seems terribly exhausting, but for someone as passionate about music as Ronson, you get the sense that he wouldn't have it any other way.