Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Apr 20th 2012 3:35PM by Theo Bark
Ronson is probably best known, however, for his achievements across the pond, where he made pivotal contributions to the careers of British singers Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Estelle and Adele.
Having recently helmed albums for Duran Duran, the Black Lips and Rufus Wainwright, Ronson embarked on one of his most ambitious collaborations, recording "A La Modeliste" with Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Trombone Shorty, The Meters' Zigaboo Modeliste and members of the Dap Kings, as part of the Re:Generation project, which is being screened as part of Coachella this weekend.
We spoke with Mark about collaborating with Badu, his particular talent for identifying for up-and-coming artists, and his forthcoming projects, which include producing songs for the London Olympics and the Royal Ballet.
What was the collaboration with Erykah like?
It was great. Her first two records were really influential for me. Not just influential, they're records I've loved and listened to death. Getting to record with Zigaboo of The Meters, who's probably influenced my rhythmic sensibility as much as anyone -- all those old Meters records and songs like "Sissy Strut" and "Handclapping Song" are the backbone of the era of hip hop that I grew up with, and still work around now. That was a dream, getting to work with all those people, and also sharing that with the guys from Dap Kings, who are my friends, and Mos Def, who I worked with on my first record [Here Comes the Fuzz] ten years ago. It felt a little too good to be true. We were like "OK, where's the conflict, where's the turmoil here?"
You've worked with the Dap Kings quite a bit in the past. How was this collaboration different?
We record everything in two studios in Brooklyn, so you go there and you know what the sound is going to be like. Going down to this different city, New Orleans ... We spent twelve hours just to get a drum sound. It's not like we're just doing this for the [Re:Generation] documentary, and it doesn't matter if the sound is shitty or not. This has to be great. Any time you introduce different players and artists into the fold, it's a very personal and sensitive thing. We're used to playing with each other, we know each other's musical language, we know how the dynamic works. And then you bring in someone like Erykah who's got this regal, whirlwind force of personality and talent, and we're like "OK, is she gonna be cool? Is this gonna be a nightmare? Yes, Miss Badu. No, Miss Badu. And nod quietly?" But as soon as she came in she was just cool, and I had a feeling this was going to be good.
Right, and what was the session like? How did it all go?
I came in. I had written a piece of music, we recorded it with the band. Erykah came in the next day, and Trombone Shorty was leaving the studio and she said "Where are you going?" He said, "I'm going to go get some good gumbo." And she suddenly was like, "Good gumbo..." and you could tell the wheels were turning. She wrote the first verse -- it was more like a freestyle, she made it up on the spot. I've seen her live plenty of times, the way she improvises on the spot ... She sort of has the improvisational skills of a jazz singer, and then she's also got the rasp of a blues singer and the melodic talents of a soul singer. I don't know, she just is everything, I was so impressed. I already loved her going into it, but I didn't know she could belt like that, the way she was going off at the end of the song. She's never really done it on any of her records before. I sound like the Erykah Badu fan club now, but that's how I felt after those couple of days.
Having produced for such a diverse collection of acts, how do you feel your production and your tastes have changed over the decades?
My taste hasn't changed so much, I still love the same records that I loved, the production styles of Primo and Q-Tip and Dre from that era are still things I go to for inspiration. You kind of go on, and you've exhausted and listened to all your 45's as much as you can, so maybe you get into '60s psychedelia, or jazz. In the last few years, I really got into second line jazz, the New Orleans thing, and it was obviously a pretty big influence on this project. I feel like I go through waves. Sometimes when I'm in the car ... Right now, I'm in L.A., so I've had to rent a car, and I've got Sirius FM, and you just want to listen to BackSpin, cause it's an old school hip-hop radio throwback station and you start to feel like "Oh wait, now I'm one of those old people with my head in the sand, I better listen to Shade 45 or XMU," or whatever it is. I still love music, and it's still exciting to know stuff that's going on and be turned on to stuff.
It seems like there's a parallel between rap and dance music now -- a lot of the new techno and house guys were hip hop purists back in the day.
I think anybody really who I know and look up to, whatever music they do, they all came from hip-hop in some way. Like Paul Oakenfold and Pete Tong, those guys came from hip-hop. Pete Tong put out the first Eric B. & Rakim album in England. Paul Oakenfold did all those records, like the Happy Mondays that were completely hip-hop influenced. David Guetta and everybody, they all come from hip-hop in some way. Any time you're doing something with a beat that has some kind of hard snare in it, whether you're Skrillex or whoever, hip-hop has laid the blue print for you. Part of it's that, part of it's probably just a cultural thing, because hip hop is something we all went into when we wanted to be badass at sixteen. Even Ezra from Vampire Weekend was in a rap group when he was seventeen, right? It's part culture, it's part that it's the most important music of the last twenty, thirty years. So it's influenced most of us in some way.
What are you working on now?
I just finished producing a new album for Rufus Wainwright which is out in a few months. That's with the Dap Kings and Nels Cline from Wilco and [Yeah Yeah Yeahs'] Nick Zinner, some great people played on it. I did the theme song for the Olympics with Katy B. I love her. She's great. They asked me if I would do the song, and she was my first choice -- I don't think there's a singer that represents London right now better than she does. And then me and Andrew Wyatt from Miike Snow, who I work with a lot, we were asked by the Royal Ballet in England to write this thing, so we wrote the music and collaborated with Alison [Mosshart] from The Kills and Jonny [Pierce] from the Drums and Wale, who wrote the lyrics and melodies, and it's going to be performed in the Royal Opera House in London, with a ballet, so that's kind of exciting.
You've always championed young artists who blew up. How do you describe your ear, what you like and how you're able to identify them?
I don't think I'm necessarily great at identifying things that are commercially huge. If you brought me some massive Katy Perry song, whatever, I don't know if I'd know ... I just know what I like and sometimes you're lucky enough that what you like lines up with the taste of others. The most important thing is that, if it's always what you like, and you feel genuine about it, then at least you can always stand behind it. Some of this stuff is going to hit, some of it's not. I mean look at Wale, when he was on our label [Allido], he sold roughly 100,000 records. Now he's with Rick Ross and he sold 200,000 his first week out. I'm incredibly proud and excited for him as well, and it gives me some kind of vindication cause you're like, "Yeah, I know I might have been a little bit ahead of the curve, but I wasn't off with that one." Sometimes there's just things that you champion because you have to, because you think that it's good and it's worth it.
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