After huge hits with the likes of Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars, for his new album, Mark Ronson has mined his recent painful breakup, writes
It's been several months since Mark Ronson won an Oscar, but it still hasn’t sunk in. The DJ, songwriter and record producer, who won the original song Academy Award for ‘Shallow’ from A Star Is Born alongside Lady Gaga and songwriters Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt in February, says he never expected such a thing for himself.
For someone who is behind critically acclaimed albums from the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele and Queens Of The Stone Age, who has won an impressive haul of Grammys, Brits and other major prizes, and who has created one of the most era-defining pop songs of a decade (‘Uptown Funk’ with Bruno Mars), an Oscar might have seemed the next feasible step.
But not for Ronson. “It was just so far beyond anything I ever expected for myself, so it almost feels not real,” he says, ever humble.
I’m still having a mildly dissociative experience with it. It’s something magical — it was the perfect storm of a song we wrote with this beautifully directed, wonderfully acted and then incredibly performed song.
Having achieved such success with the track, performed movingly by Gaga and Cooper in the hit film, Ronson — who has largely worked with other artists since he emerged nearly two decades ago — is now focusing on his own body of work, his fifth album Late Night Feelings.
Describing it as a collection of “sad bangers”, the album comes after his painful separation and divorce from French actress Josephine de la Baume.
Packed with melancholic collaborations with an array of prestigious artists from Miley Cyrus (their track ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ was released last year), Camila Cabello, Yebba and Alicia Keys, Ronson, 43, says it is his most emotionally complex body of work to date.
He poured the last few years of his life into his art in a way he has never done before.
“Obviously I’ve worked on albums with other incredibly talented people, records you consider to be kind of deep,” he starts, before adding somewhat hesitantly: “I hate to keep harping on about it, but Back To Black with Amy.
“And then stuff I’ve done with Lily Allen, and Queens Of The Stone Age or Gaga and Rufus Wainwright. I’m always dealing with artists that have a lot of depth and when you go into their worlds to make a record with these people, even if you’re not necessarily writing the songs you’re getting to share in something that has some emotional weight.
“But on my own records, I don’t know if it’s because I come from DJing and I’m always just thinking about how people are going dance or move or have a good time to it.
Also, I never really thought of my own records as a place to put a great deal of emotional depth or honesty before. It’s a little bit ironic...
Correcting himself, he says: “No, not ironic. It’s strange, because that is what I look for in the music that I love and I listen to.”
He says there are several very personal songs of the album, and that the “emotional state I was in probably jump-started the whole thing”.
While hesitant to talk about the breakdown of his union with De la Baume, from their separation in 2017 to their divorce the following year after a seven-year marriage, it’s clear it had a profound effect on the British-American music maker.
He allowed work from his collaborators to do the talking on the album, too. “The album has got so many stories from other people with their emotions wrapped into it,” he says, referring to title track ‘Late Night Feelings’, featuring Swedish singer Lykke Li, written by Li and songwriter Ilsey Juber.
“There’s a lot of sadness and melancholy and longing in the chorus and the musical arrangement, and then there’s something really uplifting about the ‘On and on’ parts.
“So I guess I’m having to bare my soul a little bit more in the interviews that I’m doing than maybe is fully in the album, but I’m glad that I got to go to this place.
“Because obviously you don’t want to go through a wrenching heartbreak just for the sake of it.
But I imagine that if that hadn’t happened to me I’d be sitting here trying to follow up ‘Uptown Funk’ with some lesser, groovy-type music.
He adds: “I would just be doing a carbon copy of a carbon copy of a copy, you know? I’m glad for whatever reason I’m not doing that.”
However, on the topic of ‘Uptown Funk’ — the behemoth of a single with Mars that, since its release in 2014, has become a piece of pop culture history thanks to its addictive funk-pop, and retro stylings — Ronson says that he does not feel it looms over his career in a bad way.
Of its success and continued popularity as a wedding song favourite, Ronson laughs: “I don’t mind that at all. That’s an amazing feeling. I’m still seeing videos of little kids dancing to it, and if that song is the thing that looms over me then, thank God, I love that song. But I’ve just got to switch it up.”
Ronson admits to gravitating towards artists who were going through similar upheavals in their lives for the album, although it wasn’t a conscious decision on his part. Laughing, Ronson explains: “I didn’t like, give anyone a job interview. I didn’t say, ‘On a scale of one to 10, how sad are you right now?’”
Of his “crew for this record”, which also includes the likes of emerging singer-songwriters King Princess, Diana Gordon and Angel Olsen, Ronson says they were all just “really talented people who I love who write great melodies who just wanted to do more fun shit”.
Most importantly, Ronson says he thinks the album is the best he’s ever done.
None of this would matter if I didn’t feel the music was great, and it is my favourite record I’ve made
“And I guess I can just tell... obviously there are a lot of really special performers on here, people that have a really devoted legion of fans so there’s that.
“I can feel that a little bit. But then it just feels kind of good. I am really proud of this record.
“It’s the first time I can say, I don’t know... I really just think it’s the best I’ve done.”