Rolling Stone’s “In Conversation” discussion series, a partnership with Ralph Lauren, began its first installment in conversation with Mark Ronson on September 25th. Live and decked out in Polo Ralph Lauren attire, Ronson chronicled his journey through the music industry and answered questions from staff writer Patrick Doyle.
The two covered everything at the event in Polo Ralph Lauren’s New York City Prince Street store, from his work with Amy Winehouse to his latest single with Miley Cyrus, as well as his recent solo album, Late Night Feelings. Here are five things we learned from his interview.
Ronson and Bruno Mars had a hard time finishing “Uptown Funk.”
When asked about one of his most successful records, he recalled following Bruno Mars to several cities on the Unorthodox Jukebox tour with a five-string bass in tow. Though they both loved the song and worked tirelessly on it, it wasn’t an instant success. “We all had this special feeling about it, but then to get something to the finish line … A lot of times, the song nearly got thrown out. We’d go to sessions for three or four days and he’d be like, ‘man it really breaks my heart, I guess we’re just never going to finish this song,’” Ronson said. While the self-proclaimed perfectionist would stay up until four in the morning to finish a song, Mars is awake for hours after that. “Nobody wants to fall asleep in the studio with Bruno. He has this boundless energy.”
He chased after Cyrus until the right song finally came along.
After hearing Cyrus perform “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” for Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary episode, Ronson knew he wanted to work with the singer’s country side – but couldn’t get a hold of her for four years. “I just became obsessed with her voice and got her number, and was lightly stalking her for a couple years,” he said, “she would just send a generic emoji back to the longest paragraph that I’d write quite earnestly.” A song he wrote with Ilsey Juber in 2018 turned out to be perfect timing; when Cyrus heard it, she immediately asked if Ronson was free the following Tuesday. “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart,” featuring Cyrus is the ninth track off Late Night Feelings. “I didn’t mean to make the breakup record or the personal record but it’s just what happened,” he says. His recent divorce from model Joséphine de La Baumem played a large part in the series of heartbreak-themed songs.
According to Ronson, “Shallow” wasn’t the only song from A Star Is Born that could’ve won an Oscar.
“I didn’t know [Bradley Cooper] was going to write it into the script,” Ronson says, “I actually wanted to ask Bradley Cooper right there, cause there are so many other good songs in the film, ‘Is this going to be the song you nominate?’ But that seemed greedy.” The scene where Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s characters, Ally and Jack, first sing “Shallow” is now one of the most recognizable moments of the film, aided by their live performance and Best Original Song win at the 91st Academy Awards. The song’s impact lives far beyond of the movie screen, unlike the other tracks from A Star Is Born. Still, Ronson maintains his humility, saying, “I know ‘Shallow’ is the biggest song from it but any one of those songs … could have a good shot at winning the award.”
When working with legends like Paul McCartney, he can get a little too starstruck.|
“I am a big fan, at the end of the day, so I do get excited,” Ronson says. He’s produced or written on albums for Duran Duran, Adele, Queens of the Stone Age, Lady Gaga, and Paul McCartney, and remembers fangirling in front of a few of them. “You have those couple of days, grace periods … to get over your nerves, and start to be there and deliver and do you what you were brought in to do.” He referred to everything in then studio as “kryptonite” in his hands, the disbelief causing him to stutter. “It’s amazing and it’s also just as fucking terrifying.” When working on New, he says McCartney understood that “you’re gonna drop some shit for the first day,” and was kind to his loyal fan.
He remembers Winehouse as talented and funny, not “wild.”
Ronson won Producer of the Year at the 2008 Grammy Awards the same year that Winehouse’s Back to Black won best Pop Vocal Album. He recalls her behaving stubbornly when it came to instrumental details, but they got along well when co-writing the title track and producing together. “One thing I really learned from Amy … she was very blunt,” he said. “I met her at a time when she was really, really together, so when people would say to me ‘Oh, that Amy Winehouse, she’s a bit wild, right?’ I’d be like, I have no idea what you’re talking about. This girl comes to the studio every day at 12 and we write some great shit and go shoot pool.”