The man who made Amy Wine­house a star re­veals the debt he owes to luck — and to fol­low­ing his mu­si­cal in­stincts

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

MARK RON­SON is rem­i­nisc­ing. “My grand­mother was so funny. She’s not around any more but when we were kids we’d go over to her house and she’d only have two pe­ri­od­i­cals on the ta­ble: French Vogue and the Jewish Chron­i­cle”. He smiles. “Those were like her Bi­bles.” The mem­ory is partly prompted by the fact Ron­son is talk­ing to the JC, partly by the fact he is back in London. Hav­ing sold his home in New York, the 36-year-old record pro­ducer, most fa­mous for his work with Amy Wine­house, has re­turned to Not­ting Hill, where he was born and spent his early child­hood be­fore mov­ing to the United States.

Re­call­ing his grand­mother’s choice of read­ing leads him to clar­ify his own Jewish cre­den­tials. “Be­ing Jewish is def­i­nitely in­te­gral to my life. I go to syn­a­gogue and keep fairly kosher,” he says in a laid-back Amer­i­can drawl. “I had a rabbi at my wed­ding.”

Ron­son mar­ried the French ac­tress, model and singer Josephine de la Baume last Septem­ber. The guest list showed why he is known as the best-con­nected man in pop. Ev­ery­one from XL Record­ings boss Rich- ard Rus­sell, who signed Adele, to Kate Moss and Lily Allen, was there. It was a happy end to a dis­tress­ing sum­mer in which Wine­house, a close friend as well as col­league, had died, at just 27 years of age.

Ron­son fa­mously pro­duced Wine­house’s hugely suc­cess­ful, Grammy-nom­i­nated 2006 al­bum Back to Black. Fol­low­ing her death, he paid an emo­tional trib­ute to the singer. “She was my mu­si­cal soul­mate and like a sis­ter to me,” he said.

He re­calls now the im­pe­tus Wine­house brought to his ca­reer: “Some­times you need some­body to give you a lit­tle bit of a chal­lenge. When I first met Amy, I asked her what she wanted her al­bum to sound like and it was like ‘let’s go out on this quest and try and make this ’60s-sound­ing soul record’.”

His lat­est chal­lenge has been to write the mu­sic for a new bal­let. Car­bon Life, which­he­cre­ated along­side chore­og­ra­pher Wayne Mc­gre­gor, had its pre­mière at the Royal Opera House last night. “It’s a lot of fun to get into the stu­dio and make some­one’s record the con­ven­tional way, and that’s what I do most of the time, but it’s in­ter­est­ing to have a dif­fer­ent kind of test.”

“Dif­fer­ent” also ap­plies to the song he has pro­duced with Mer­cury Prize-nom­i­nated dance star Katy B for London BORN: Septem­ber 4, 1975 EARLY LIFE: brought up by prop­erty de­vel­oper Lau­rence Ron­son (brother of en­tre­pre­neur Ger­ald Ron­son) and writer Ann Dex­ter Jones. Af­ter his par­ents di­vorced, his mother mar­ried For­eigner gui­tarist Mick Jones. CA­REER: started as a DJ on the New York club scene, at­tract­ing a large fol­low­ing. Re­leased his al­bum

in 2007. Re­ceived a Grammy for best pro­ducer the same year. PER­SONAL LIFE: Mar­ried to French ac­tress Josephine de la Baume. 2012, for which he trav­elled the world record­ing Olympic hope­fuls in train­ing, to fuse the sounds of ath­letes with pop. Ron­son was per­haps not the most ob­vi­ous choice for the job. At school, he ran the wrong way in a re­lay race, land­ing him­self the nick­name, “Wrong Way Ron­son”. He re­mem­bers: “I was such a space cadet around that time”.

In some peo­ple’s eyes, he may not have been the most ob­vi­ous choice for Car­bon Life ei­ther, and he recog­nises his good for­tune in be­ing se­lected by Mc­gre­gor for the job. “I feel lucky that I was the per­son he called,” he says, “but it’s like win­ning a Grammy — there are plenty of peo­ple who are in­fin­itely more ac­com­plished and more tal­ented than I am, but have never won a Grammy. My step­dad [Mick Jones, gui­tarist with the band, For­eigner] sold 50 mil­lion al­bums and wrote some of the big­gest hits of his era and he doesn’t have any Grammy to show for it. It’s the luck of the draw.”

Per­haps it has also some­thing to do with Ron­son’s easy-go­ing like­abil­ity, his abil­ity to stamp that un­mis­tak­able retro-soul groove on his pro­duc­tions, and his im­pec­ca­ble taste in choos­ing projects.

“I think the main thing that I’ve done in my ca­reer up to now is do things be­cause I like the ma­te­rial and that I be­lieve in,” he says. “Af­ter the ini­tial suc­cess of Ver­sion [his 2007 hit solo al­bum] and Amy’s record, there were op­por­tu­ni­ties to work with these big su­per­stars. But for what­ever rea­son — I’m just not into the ma­te­rial, or I’m too scared, who knows — I didn’t,” he says. “But you’d have to be naive to think that, as a pro­ducer, you’re not judged against your last suc­cess and how big that was. So what I’ve learned now is that for ev­ery in­die record that’s go­ing to sell 10,000 copies if you’re lucky, it’s OK to do some­thing that’s aims a lit­tle big­ger.

“Be­sides, I think, a lot of the times, I’d be ly­ing if I said that my not want­ing to work with artists of a cer­tain cal­i­bre wasn’t be­cause it’s too in­tim­i­dat­ing and weird and scary.”

It is un­ex­pected to hear one of pop’s most suc­cess­ful pro­duc­ers talk of be­ing in­tim­i­dated by work­ing with the Ri­han­nas of the mu­sic world, but it is the pres­sure of liv­ing up to their pre­vi­ous suc­cess that he fears. Up to now, he has pre­ferred to be the one to give singers their big break.

“I like the idea of work­ing with un­known artists who are on their way up be­cause there’s not that pres­sure — there’s a free­dom in the stu­dio to make what­ever you want. Things like Ver­sion or work­ing with Lily Allen for the first time, we were mak­ing stuff we liked with­out a thought of what was go­ing to be suc­cess­ful or not. I’ve never done any­thing to chase com­mer­cial suc­cess, and any suc­cess I ’ v e ever had i s by ac­ci­dent. Y o u j u s t d o t h i n g s be­cause you l i ke them.”


Ron­son, and ( left) per­form­ing with Amy Wine­house

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