Interview: Mark Ronson

Why star producer intends to have a ball


Mark Ronson: "I feel strongly about Jewish causes and charities"

Mark Ronson: "I feel strongly about Jewish causes and charities"

Amy Winehouse's producer Mark Ronson hasn't exactly been quiet since last interviewed by the JC in 2007. He released a solo album called Record Collection in 2010 and has produced, among others, Adele, Bruno Mars, Duran Duran, Beyonce's sister Solange, Kaiser Chiefs, rap legends Nas and Ghostface Killah, and Paul McCartney.

He also found time to get married to French actress and singer Jos├ęphine de La Baume, who appeared in the video for Ronson's The Bike Song.

They tied the knot in Aix-en-Provence, southern France, in September 2011. I ask if being hitched to a non-Jew caused broiges in his family (his parents are both Jewish, although his stepdad is Mick Jones, of multi-platinum-selling American rock band Foreigner). He doesn't seem too keen to discuss matters extracurricular.

"Maybe we'll talk about my marriage another time," he says, politely but firmly. Shame. And I wanted to ask whether the sometime DJ manned the wheels of steel at his own nuptials, or whether he got a discount rate from David Guetta. Next time.

Ronson does reveal that he has been working on a new solo album.

"I live in London full-time, but for this new album I've been working with various writers based in Los Angeles, so I've been hopping between there and Memphis," he says, the St John's Wood-born boy's accent decidedly American from years in New York. "I can't say who's on it, though," he teases. "I've got some special collaborators but I'm going to leave it till the time's right before I announce it."

Presumably, however special the collaborator, it's going to be hard to top working with McCartney? "Yeah, that's always hard, and I'm never going to work with anyone as big as Sir Paul, but certainly I haven't done enough to retire. It's a question of finding people to challenge you."

Did he employ different methods in the studio with McCartney as opposed to, say, a rapper such as Ghostface Killah?

"It's funny," he reflects. "Both of them had such a massive influence on me growing up. Ghostface is probably my favourite rapper and Paul McCartney is my favourite bassist and songwriter. One is from the slums of New York and the other is from the world's most influential band. But most creative people find a common language.

"Being a producer is a pretty big job that requires lots of skill-sets," he continues, mentioning other big-name studio guns-for-hire - Quincy Jones, Rick Rubin - and their various techniques for getting the best out of an artist. Then he alludes to his upbringing, with his numerous step-brothers and sisters.

"Diplomacy is a handy tool to have. I always found that, growing up in a family of 10 kids - although we didn't all live under the same roof at the same time - certainly helps in that department. Listen, it's never nice working with a band who are at each others' throats and have political issues. It's your job as a producer to calm things down."

It is possibly Ronson's skills at diplomacy that landed him the job of global ambassador for the Arms Around The Child charity.

Next month, he is hosting the inaugural London Other Ball - an annual event, previously held in New York, designed to raise funds to protect children at risk from adversity and exploitation in the developing world. It is due to feature stellar names such as Florence And The Machine, Lily Allen and Rudimental.

Ronson says it's "a privilege to be able to help children living in extreme adversity find the love and caring that most of us take for granted every day". But with celebrities now invited to support all manner of good causes, does he not suffer charity fatigue? "I think you just have to pick the ones that you're super passionate about," he replies. "This is one that I'm exceptionally passionate about and know the inner workings of. That gives you a personal interest and you feel inspired to do more."

When a Jewish charity comes knocking, does he feel a greater pressure? "Well, I do. Every time I go to Israel I'm involved with the Prayer Centre [in Jerusalem]. I just did a Jewish Care event and auction and I made a donation to the Jewish Music Institute in London. I feel very strongly about Jewish causes and charities. I certainly don't think you can generalise but most Jewish people I know - especially those fortunate enough to have money - are incredibly generous. Look at Sir Philip Green and the way he's helped out."

And protecting children is "etched into the DNA of Jewish people. It's how our religion works.

"I'd say that Jewish people have been at the forefront of many charity movements of the past 100 years. [And] look at anti-apartheid."

The last time the JC interviewed Ronson, he discussed his barmitzvah (in New York in 1989) and his frumish ways. "I go to synagogue on all the high holidays and I do Seder night. I keep, quote-unquote, fairly kosher. I don't eat all the things you're not supposed to eat." Judaism was "important to me because a lot of things I love about it, both traditionally and spiritually, are really good things. I'd want my children to experience that."

Seven years on, does he still intend, if he and his new wife have children, to inculcate in them Jewish values and bring them up with a formal Jewish education? Ah, but I'm being personal again.

"I would like to," he replies, and even though this conversation is taking place over the phone, I can detect a reddening of the cheeks and shuffling of feet.

"I definitely like the traditions. Family values that come with Judaism are really important to me."

So I change the subject to ask whether he has heard any good albums lately. He cites Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, Arcade Fire's Reflektor and Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, MAAD City as fine examples of the disappearing art of the long-playing record. But what is his own greatest contribution to the LP canon?

"Probably what I think is my best is different to what would widely be judged as the best," he considers. "I guess most people would judge [Winehouse's] Back To Black as my strongest and most impactful work.

"I just think it's important to start each record with the same motivation and expectation to make the best record you can.

"All the other stuff really does fall outside your control, such as worrying about whether it's going to be hot or big or what's going on."

Does he play his own records much at home?

"No," he laughs. "That would be way too painful, like listening to your voice on an answerphone all evening. It looks better on the Wikipedia page than it sounds in practice."

And with that, it's time for him to hang up. "Sorry, I've got to go to the gym," he says, adding: "Let's not leave it seven years this time."

That's not if he's muttering under his breath: "But if you don't stop being so nosey, it'll be more like 70."

Arms Around The Child stages The Other Ball in London on June 4.

www.theotherball.org

ce on an answerphone all evening. It looks better on the Wikipedia page than it sounds in practice."

And with that, it's time for him to hang up. "Sorry, I've got to go to the gym," he says, adding: "Let's not leave it seven years this time."

That's not if he is muttering under his breath: "But if you don't stop being so nosey, it'll be more like 70."

Arms Around The Child stages The Other Ball in London on June 4. www.theotherball.org

Last updated: 1:53pm, August 28 2014