- Grammy-winning producer Mark Ronson spoke to Business Insider last month about his upcoming album, “Late Night Feelings,” and his partnership with Virgin founder Richard Branson’s cruise line, Virgin Voyages.
- Ronson also discussed his work with collaborators like Amy Winehouse, Diplo, and Lykke Li, and the effect that the success of his last album, 2015’s “Uptown Special,” had on his subsequent music.
Four and a half years after the release of “Uptown Special,” which was Mark Ronson’s fourth studio album and first platinum-certified LP, the seven-time Grammy-winning producer is set to drop his fifth album, “Late Night Feelings,” later this month.
Ronson spoke to Business Insider late last month about the process of making “Late Night Feelings,” and about his recently announced creative partnership with Virgin Voyages, a cruise line from Virgin founder Richard Branson that will debut in 2020.
We also touched on Ronson’s work with the late Amy Winehouse, whose 2006 album “Back to Black” he coproduced, and his recent collaboration with Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li, who features prominently on “Late Night Feelings.”
Joined in the interview by Nirmal Saverimuttu, the chief commercial and experience officer for Virgin Voyages, Ronson discussed his role as a curator for the cruise line’s music and onboard record shop, and his and Diplo’s scheduled residency of performances for the company.
Our conversation took place over an international call between New York and England, the somewhat tenuous connection of which led to a humorous back-and-forth regarding the pronunciation of Lykke Li’s name, among other less interesting moments of clarification.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
John Lynch: What drew you to this partnership with Virgin Voyages as a creative opportunity?
Mark Ronson: I’ve always been a fan of Sir Richard as a record collector and everything that he did in music, everything about what he’s created. And this, like all the other stuff he’s done, has a really music-centric component, which is exciting. It’s exciting to be part of something that’s never been done before, and it makes sense. It’s like a blue-chip brand, you know? I guess it’s all of the things that they’re doing aside from the DJ-ing – the launch of the night club and stuff like that.
And just the fact that they’re going to have a record shop onboard. I’m like a nerd who knows everything about music and these kind of things. And knowing that this whole thing started because Richard Branson opened a record shop in the 1970s. I love that there’s all that lineage and legacy in it.
Lynch: I saw that Diplo is joining you in this venture. I imagine that will probably result in a Silk City performance or two. How do you think you’d approach that?
Ronson: Yeah, that actually would be a lot of fun. I know that he’s just been confirmed. I don’t know if we’re doing the same dates, but that’s my guy. Part of the really fun thing of Silk City of the past year is that it’s sort of reinvigorated my love and joy for DJ-ing, playing club music and having fun.
And [Diplo’s] the guy. He’s turned what he does with club-going into making all these international forms of music, and it seems like that’s the only guy going to like Pakistan and Brazil, and all over the place. Now he’s doing his country thing, and he obviously makes a lot of sense to be involved with something like Virgin as well. I mean hopefully they book us on the same gig. I don’t know if they can afford it. I’m sure he’s more expensive than I am. But we’ll see.
Nirmal Saverimuttu: We’ll see if we can get one good overlap so we have that [laughs].
Ronson: I’d love that. And actually, I’d love going to watch him DJ, too. I caught his set at Coachella, and it was killer.
Lynch: It might be uncouth to say, but what immediately comes to mind with Sir Richard Branson and a “voyage” is that shot of him kite-surfing with a nude model on his back. Is that image at all indicative of the experience one can expect from this, that type of “on-the-sea” lifestyle?
Ronson: I think with anything about the “lifestyle” that you should maybe take it.
Saverimuttu:Yeah. We’ve really tried to create something that’s very different, and we’ve created this world-class Creative Collective of people like Mark, Concrete Amsterdam, and Tom Dixon. We’re actually at Tom Dixon’s hotel today, where we had our event. And what we’re really trying to do is make sure we bring the radical glamor of a Boutique Hotel to the ocean. Yeah, there’s going to be great, great DJ sets and great parties, but there’s also going to be a very epic, healthy dose of well-being, because we think that’s a really important part of it.
We love yachts, we love the ocean, and we love sailing. But we’ve got things like outdoor sun decks and outdoor yoga decks, so you can workout outdoors, and we think that it’s going to be a magical experience. So I really think about it as kind of the radical glamour of a Boutique Hotel on the ocean with a wonderful well-being and vitamin C program to back it up.
Lynch: Mark, there’s this Amazon Echo commercial set to “Valerie” that stopped me in my tracks recently, just hearing Amy’s voice in it. And it made me wonder how you reflect on your great work with her, your body of work with Amy Winehouse.
Ronson: I saw that. Are you talking about this commercial with the grandfather and the son, with “Valerie“?
Ronson: Yeah, I saw that the other day. It’s really lovely. I mean, it’s crazy because “Valerie” didn’t even chart in America when it first came out. It was a hit in England, but that was always this kind of deep cut, so it’s really nice to see. I mean, obviously because Amy’s so celebrated in every way, people are going to unearth everything she’s done. But the way that that song “Valerie” has become this sort of joyous celebration of who she is is something I’m very psyched to be a part of.
And obviously I have really fond memories of the day we recorded it. It was the first time she met the Dap-Kings. They had already played on her album [“Back to Black”], but she had never met them. And it was a beautiful sunny day in Brooklyn. So yeah, I have a lot of good, good memories and, you know, attachment to the music that we made, and our friendship.
Lynch: I have to say, “Late Night Feelings” is a jam. The single, I mean. I haven’t heard the full album. But I was wondering about the steel drums on that song, and whether you had this oceanic partnership in the back of your mind at all when making it.
Ronson: We hadn’t done the deal quite yet for me to be a part of Virgin Voyages when I wrote that song. But you’re right, the steel drum thing. It’s definitely an island touch. Actually, for the steel drum on “Late Night Feelings,” I found this cool guitar pedal made by Electro Harmonix that has this steel drum setting. So I guess I’ll probably bring that with me on the ship and serenade everyone with these steel drum sounds, until they throw me overboard.
Saverimuttu: Like the guys on the New York subway [laughs].
Ronson:Yeah. I’m going to learn “The Little Mermaid” in time for it.
Lynch: [Laughs]. Lykke Li is great on that song, and I saw that she’s on a few tracks on the album. How was your experience of collaborating with her?
Ronson: Oh, with Lykke? [pronounced slightly differently].
Lynch: Oh, yeah, with Lykke [echoing pronunciation]. Sorry.
Ronson: No, no – listen, there’s no way to say it. It’s just a bad [phone] line. I wasn’t correcting your pronunciation of a Swedish name that like neither of us are saying properly. I met somebody Swedish recently, and they were like, “Oh, so you’re working with Lykke [pronounced to rhyme with ‘touché’] ?” And I was like, “What is that?”
But she’s actually someone that I’ve known for a while, and we’ve been friends. When I started to work on this album, there’s this songwriter named Ilsey [Juber], who cowrote “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” and “Late Night Feelings,” and a lot of this stuff. We started to write the song, and she was like, “I’ve been working with Lykke a lot. We should get her to come down and write the song with us, and finish it, and sing on it.”
And it’s funny because we’ve been friends for so long, and she almost lives down the street, that I never thought to ask her. And then to think what a big part of this record she’s become, since she actually named the album by coming up with the lyric “Late Night Feelings.” She’s really been a massive part of it.
Lynch: She’s drastically underrated in my opinion.
Ronson: Yeah. I think that hopefully this record and the next record she makes will definitely go on the way to changing that.
Lynch: I’m looking forward to the album, as I have for your previous four. I read in various places that you’ve called this your most personal album to-date. How do you think that manifested itself in the music, or how did your process shift?
Ronson: I guess in my 25 years of DJ-ing in clubs in New York, I think I’m always obsessing over the drum beat, and that’s how we usually write songs. Like “Ooh Wee” and “Uptown Funk” and “Bang Bang Bang,” they usually come from us making the track first, and then we figure out what the song is after, put a rap over it, write a song to it, whatever it is. This is the first album that I really wrote from an emotional point of view. The emotion came first, and then we figured it out.
So it is a very personal record, and I think that’s sort of why it’s better. I think the more honesty that you put in your music, the more it reaches or connects to something true and genuine. So, I feel like that’s what I’m especially proud of with this record. And it still has the cool baselines and dancy stuff that I’ve had in some of my other records.
Lynch: In the wake of your last album, “Uptown Special,” being such a success, did you feel that with your next solo project you wanted to take a certain amount of time off to kind of bask in it, the success of that album?
Ronson: I think the main thing was just to come to peace with the fact that I’ll never make anything that’s quite as wildly popular as “Uptown Funk.” That’s such a crazy anomaly. There was probably a split second where I felt like, “Should I make something like that?” But the fact is when we made “Uptown Funk,” we weren’t thinking about anything but having fun and making something that felt true in that moment.
And that’s the same thing for any records I’ve been involved with it. You know, none of them really sound like anything out at the time when they come out, whether it’s “Locked Out of Heaven,” or “Shallow,” or “Rehab,” or whatever it is. None of these songs really have anything on the radio that sounds like them. So we’re always trying to make stuff from an honest place that feels genuine.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.