Interview with Mark Ronson on Lady Gaga's Perfect Illusion: "It's been one of my favourite records to work on"
Ahead of Mark Ronson's gig at Summer Sonic festival in Japan this weekend, Tracy Phillips caught up with the multi-Grammy Award winning musician, producer and DJ to find out more about his collaboration with Lady Gaga
I first met Mark Ronson in 2013 when he was last in Singapore to play at W Sentosa Cove. Within the first hour of our meeting, he was already amusing us with personal stories delivered in his hybrid British-American drawl. Not only was he affable, the London-born and New York-raised lad gave us a sneak peek of the unreleased music he was working on at the time with Bruno Mars.
Fast-forward three years and that piece of music, Uptown Funk, has won him another two Grammys, including this year's Record Of The Year (and best Pop Duo/Group Performance) — bringing his gold gramophone trophy count to five. These days, Ronson's been schmoozing with the likes of Lady Gaga and Tame Impala's Kevin Parker (whom he worked with on his nu-disco hit, Daffodils). After teasing fans with Instagram photos of the trio working in the studio together, Ronson's involvement with Lady Gaga's upcoming single, Perfect Illusion, has been confirmed. The popstar recently updated her website with news that the track's produced by Ronson and Parker, are due for release in September.
In town for four nights for a headlining gig at Zouk's We The Citizens Fest, I took Ronson on a hotspot spree of Kilo, Employees Only, 28 Hongkong Street and The Headquarters by The Council, before finally settling down at the St. Regis for a proper catch up.
You've picked up two more Grammys since we last hung out. How has life changed since the mammoth success of Uptown Funk? Other than my gold Rolls Royce? Joking. I guess in music, like any industry, you're only as good as your last success or hit. I didn't start making music to be famous, I did it because I wanted to be able to have a long career like my heroes Quincy Jones and other people making really good music.
Even though I'm incredibly proud of Record Collection and there are some songs on there that I love like Bang Bang Bang, or Someone To Love Me, it didn't have anywhere near the success of Version. You go through this period where you're not the hot dude in town anymore and don't get those calls as much for the cool records, or from superstars. As f*cked up as that sounds, it's how the game works. So the great thing about making a hit record is it gives you another five or six years of relevance. To be at the forefront of people's minds, to work on cool shit and great new artists — that's really the best thing.
How about being out and about in the public eye? I'm pretty lucky in a way with being a producer as opposed to Bruno, who can barely go out in public without being mobbed on the street. I can go out in public, take the subway in New York and ride the tube in London. It's nice; it would suck to lose those privileges. A photographer who came to shoot me the other night told his wife he was going to shoot "the white guy from the Bruno Mars video". I'm really proud of the music and in music circles, my name is more registered. Everyone else just seems to love the song and that's enough.
Tell me more about the new Lady Gaga album you're producing. I've known Gaga since just before Just Dance really blew up and although she's 10 years younger than me, she's a fellow city kid. She went to the same high school as my first girlfriend when I was 11 or 12 years old, so we grew up doing the same things: Drinking beer on the museum steps, and in the same neighbourhood too. So there was something instantly familiar when we met and we hit it off. And then she became this global massive superstar and I don't think we talked for five or six years. Then I ran into her a year ago and she called me up after and said, "Do you want to work on some music?"
I went in on the first day with very open expectations. I didn't know if we would work together for two weeks or six months. I knew she was very talented, I'd seen her perform and knew how seriously she takes music. She's really a muso at heart, and is happiest when she's sitting behind the piano yelling out chord changes to the drummer or whatever. But we started working and it kind of exceeded any expectations of what I thought the music was going to be like.
It's been one of my favourite records to work on and some of the people who have come in to play on it are my favourite musicians, writers and some of her favourites. I think it's just really good music and probably a record for people who might not have realised that her music had something for them — at least based on the small amount of people who've heard it so far. It's definitely pretty deep musically for sure.
Who's next on your hit list to work with? Most of the people that I have ended up working with, I might have run into them at a gig, backstage at a music festival or something a bit more natural. I feel that any time I've dwelt too much on somebody I really want to work with, it never happens. There are also many people whose music I love and respect but it doesn't mean me working with them will necessarily be a good thing.
Is there someone you think is the next big thing in music? There's this young girl from England named Jorja Smith, I've heard some of her stuff and I think her music is really great. There's also Francis and the Lights who've been around for a while but are finally getting the attention they deserve after that video with Kanye West.
You did that song Standing in the Rain with Bronson & Dan from the Black Keys for the Suicide Squad soundtrack. What did you think of the movie? I haven't seen it yet.
Who is your favourite comic book hero of all time? When I was a kid I went through a bit of a comic book phase. I liked Watchmen and some of those graphic novels and early Dark Knight stuff, but if I had to pick a favourite cartoon character it would definitely be a character from The Simpsons. Probably Homer. I was Simpsons obsessive for a long time.
You spend so much time in the studio, yet you're currently doing this whole big Asian tour. What keeps you wanting to get behind the decks? Just to go and play for people you don't really get to play for. That's been the one really great thing about the international success of Uptown Funk. Getting to go and tour India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. It's wonderful and it almost feels like the further away you travel, the more appreciative the crowd seems to be because you've come all the way there. In Australia and Asia, people get psyched. If somebody comes to my gig in London, they know they can probably see me sometime next month because I'm always playing in clubs in London or New York.
What's your impression of our Garden State the second time around? I love it. The first time I came here, I was only here for a really short while. This time, I've been able to see the Gardens by the Bay and do some of the more touristy things. What is it called? The open-air market?
It's called a hawker centre. But there are lots of them. It was Maxwell Market in Chinatown. It was amazing. Singapore seems like a pretty great place to live in.
I know you're an SNL fan. What's your top skit of all time? There's quite a few, one of my old favourites is an episode of Christopher Walken from the '80s, called Trivial Psychic. He's a psychic but only has the power to predict incredibly insignificant events in the future. More recently there's the one with Sophia Vergara and Kate McKinnon, the actress from Ghostbusters, who plays Penelope Cruz. They're filming a Pantene ad and speaking in heavy Spanish and South American accents and struggling to pronounce the long scientific words. That was pretty good.
You mentioned you're moving to Los Angeles, what's been the biggest push factor? I love London and New York, you know those are the cities that I was raised and grew up in. I lived in London till I was 8 and then moved to New York and now I live back in London. But for music right now, LA is an incredibly vibrant city. 90% of the creative people I work with regularly are based in LA now and even those die-hard New Yorkers and Londoners — the people you thought would never leave those cities — have moved there. There's always been that back and forth between LA and New York, even in the '60s when everyone went from the Brill Building to Laurel Canyon — people like Carole King. I'm not moving there because of the weather or anything like that. I don't really like it when it's sunny all the time. I like rain, grey buildings and sh*t. But so far for music, LA is pretty great right now.
Last question: What do you think of Pokémon Go and are you playing it? I haven't played it. I was in a studio a few weeks ago with Lily Allen and this amazing young producer, Blood Pop. They were all playing it and nearly causing traffic accidents, trying to swerve across three lanes because they saw something that they had to go find. I just feel like I'm too old for that, to learn a new thing. I can't even do Snapchat well. Just from a commercial standpoint, I should probably learn Snapchat first.
Mark Ronson performed at We The Citizens on 9 August at Zouk and will appear at Summer Sonic on 20 and 21 August in Tokyo and Osaka respectively.