Spin offs

DJ and pro­ducer Mark Ron­son has cre­ated an album of cover songs that could be­come the sound­track to the sum­mer. He tells Jim Car­roll how he got Amy Wine­house, Lily Allen and Rob­bie Wil­liams to tackle the Zu­tons, Kaiser Chiefs and The Char­la­tans

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

FOR Mark Ron­son, it all be­gan with a Ra­dio­head song. The DJ and pro­ducer had been asked to get in­volved in an album of Ra­dio­head cover ver­sions. With the help of Phan­tom Planet singer Alex Green­walk, Ron­son turned Just from the Ox­ford laugh­ing boys into a jazzy pow­er­house.

Aside from the fact that Just was by far the best thing on the Exit Mu­sic album, the ex­pe­ri­ence set Ron­son think­ing. “I had such a good time do­ing it be­cause it was so much fun to strip an amaz­ing song down to its ba­sics and do some­thing dif­fer­ent to it. So I started work­ing on other cov­ers be­cause it was just fun.”

All that fun has led to an album that, for many, will be the sound­track of the sum­mer. Ver­sion takes a slew of indie tunes and turns them on their head. Coldplay’s God Put a Smile Upon Your Face is rein­vented with a great big wal­lop of brash brass, The Smiths are re­cast as Mo­town stom­pers, and Kenna takes Amy from Ryan Adams to an­other planet. Add in Amy Wine­house, Lily Allen and Rob­bie Wil­liams tack­ling the Zu­tons, Kaiser Chiefs and The Char­la­tans, and the re­sult is an album that re­ally shouldn’t work, but does.

Such suc­cess­ful cross-pol­li­na­tion is down to the af­fa­ble Lon­don-born, New York-based Ron­son. As the step­son of For­eigner’s Mick Jones, young Mark was used to hang­ing out with rock acts. But a re­lo­ca­tion to New York in the 1990s and a DJ ap­pren­tice­ship in var­i­ous hole-in-the-wall down­town hip-hop clubs proved far more use­ful.

Th­ese led to high-profile DJ gigs (cor­po­rate fash­ion shows, a cameo in Zoolan­der, the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes wed­ding), his own pro­duc­tions (de­but album Here Comes the Fuzz was re­leased in 2003) and a la­bel deal (Al­lido has re­leased work by Rhymefest and will be work­ing with Daniel Mer­ri­weather and Domino).

Ron­son’s list of pro­duc­tion cred­its has also grown as he has pro­gressed from co-pro­duc­ing Nikki Costa to work­ing with Allen, Wine­house, Wil­liams, Christina Aguil­era and Candie Payne. He’s also man­aged to hold down a weekly show on New York in­ter­net sta­tion East Vil­lage Ra­dio.

The over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­ac­tion to how Ron­son has fused mod­ern an­thems and a hip-hop at­ti­tude with time­less soul­ful tones on Ver­sion con­firms his be­lief about record­ings from the 1960s and 1970s.

“You can’t beat the sounds of Six­ties and Sev­en­ties records. I’m not a staunch retro-ist, and there has been plenty of great mu­sic since then, and I’m still en­thu­si­as­tic about hip-hop. But the fact is that there is so much from that era which I love. You had real mu­si­cians play­ing in a room to­gether. You can’t fake that. There is no Pro-Tools plug-in that repli­cates that warmth you get when you recorded to tape.”

His fas­ci­na­tion with the pe­riod also ex­tends to the vo­cal­ists he has worked with to date. “I sup­pose there is a pat­tern. I do like great soul­ful fe­male voices, and there’s some­thing in all those singers which I re­ally love.

“Lily has a voice which could have came out of any era. She’s very hip-hop in that she writes to a beat, she’s not a song­writer who sits down with a gui­tar, at least not on her first record. Amy’s voice re­ally in­spires me to come up with bril­liant ar­range­ments and struc­tures which bring out that voice.”

To get the sound he wanted for Ver­sion, Ron­son hooked up with New York funka­teers The Dap Kings. “The first time I worked with them was for Amy’s record. . . I love them. They are very se­ri­ous about what they do and have very lit­tle time for con­tem­po­rary mu­sic. What they make is their ver­sion of that great clas­sic sound. The sound is a lit­tle bit dirty and it’s a lit­tle bit off, but I re­ally love the records they make.”

Once he had the band and vo­cal­ists in place, Ron­son be­gan think­ing about the songs. The cri­te­ria for se­lec­tion? “If the melodies were strong and had stuck in my head, I wanted to do a ver­sion. I sup­pose God Put a Smile Upon Your Face is the one song which is to­tally dif­fer­ent to how it was orig­i­nally in­tended. I’ve made it very brash and in your face, whereas the orig­i­nal is more low-key. But it’s a great melody and I just wanted to play it up in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Much of his approach to flip­ping the songs was in­formed by his DJ-ing at­ti­tude. “When you are DJ-ing you’re bend­ing tunes for your au­di­ence, so there’s less rev­er­ence for a track or a band. At the same time, though, be­cause I love the songs so much, I don’t want to do any­thing which messes with the orig­i­nal emo­tional in­tegrity of the song. ” Ron­son did avoid some tunes, but not out of any rev­er­ence for their creators. “See, what I’m do­ing is quite sim­ple. I’m tak­ing th­ese great clas­sic indie songs and giv­ing them a heavy back­beat and a hip-hop ar­range­ment. It would have been point­less for me to do that with Fool’s Gold, for in­stance, be­cause it al­ready has a great back­beat. I cov­ered some of the most sacro­sanct bands ever and I’m still stand­ing. If you’re go­ing to cover some songs, why not do the best ones ever?”

See/Hear You can hear tracks from Ver­sion and down­load nu­mer­ous Ron­son East Vil­lage Ra­dio shows at www.mys­pace.com/markron­son

is out now on Columbia Records

Mark Ron­son – giv­ing Amy Wine­house (cen­tre) and Lily Allen (far right) a new spin

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