Just a few hours before he took to the stage to headline DXBeach on Friday, I sat down with Mark Ronson. We met in a glamorous lounge at the One&Only Royal Mirage, amid golden picture frames and ornate chandeliers. Beforehand, his publicity team handed me a copy of the lyrics to the songs in Uptown Special, his latest album, at the artist's request.
Ronson arrives in a cool, yellow, oversized retro suit – but soon strips off the jacket to reveal a white vest. Before the interview he steps out for a cigarette. While we chat, he fidgets with a box of matches and he talks in long, contemplative sentences. His transatlantic tones lack animation or exclamation, yet he talks with intent and clear passion.
Ronson is an accommodating and friendly interviewee. Something else I notice as he stands to shake hands: he’s tall. Very tall. And he’s one of the few men in the world who can pull off a white vest.
You were on track to have the longest-held No 1 spot for a single in the United States, but were recently knocked off the top spot after 14 weeks. How annoyed are you at Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men [whose One Sweet Day was No 1 for 16 weeks in 1995]?
I think the legendary combination of those two acts definitely makes it a little bit easier to swallow. It's all so crazy when you think we made a party song, a funk song – it literally came out of a jam at Bruno's [Mars] studio. You see, the other songs are like I Will Always Love You, Candle in the Wind – to be up there with those songs is nuts. I don't think about it too much, it's just a wild phenomenon that I'm super grateful about.
The song has become bigger than everyone who was involved in it.
Yeah I think so. I met this woman from YouTube and she said there were 1.6 million covers of this song – not 1.6 million views, 1.6 million individual [videos] – whether it’s a kid playing the bass in his room, to the amazing ones like the Texas schoolteacher with his whole school. That is what happens – as soon as you release a song, it’s not yours anymore.
1.6 million covers? That’s a lot of royalties you’re missing right there.
Yeah, I know. Whatever – I think we still get a small amount, but it’s not like the 1980s.
People have accused you of ripping off the theme to The Really Wild Show. Does that bug you?
No, because I’d never even heard that song. Obviously it’s funny to draw a comparison between a current song and a ridiculous TV show from the 1980s – but no, it’s fine.
The whole record is a big homage to 1970s funk – was that your intention at the start?
You can say whatever you want when you go into a record, but when you actually start it’s a very different thing. I don’t ever sit down at a piano and say “I want to write a song like this today”. A lot of the songs on this record just came after a year of writer’s block and not “feeling” anything I was coming up with. So I just went out to Venice, California, to work with [co-producer] Jeff [Bhasker]. People always talk about the cliché of the LA record, like there’s something that happens in LA. Venice especially is cool, like LA, but with a little bit more noir vibes to it, it’s a little seedy and there’s a lot of interesting characters, so that probably shaped the record a bit.
It seems you were disappointed with your last album, 2010's Record Collection.
I don't listen to that – I think Bang Bang Bang and Somebody to Love Me, I'm as proud of as anything I've ever done. There's some other stuff on there which makes me think that I was in a bit of a haze when I made it – coming off the massive success of Version (2007). So maybe I got a little carried away "that's cool, people seem to like whatever I do". I didn't even see it as a commercial disappointment – obviously it is if you compare the numbers to Version – but I got to go play and tour with MGMT and Tame Impala. It was fun. But I do hear certain songs on Record Collection, [and think] like "why did I make a weird electro 3/4 swing record?"
You’ve been linked to doing the Bond theme. Are you still interested?
Of course – if someone asks you to do a Bond song, you say yes. Me and Amy [Winehouse] were offered it for Quantum of Solace and we didn't finish – I don't know if you get asked again. I'm not doing this one [Spectre].
When I spoke to Jess Glynne a few days ago, she said it would be a dream to work with you. Do you rate her?
I do, I think she’s got a really great voice, and she’s cool. I met her once or twice and she seems like she’s the real deal. Maybe we’d get to do that someday.
You recently had the opportunity to meet your hero, Stevie Wonder, but you were too scared. Who has intimated you the most?
Probably the one that springs to mind is Paul McCartney. He’s so used to everyone being pretty terrified that first day, so you have a grace period to get your [stuff] together.
You turn 40 this year and you seem particularly contemplative right now.
I think I’m just contemplative in a good way. With everything you do a little more is at stake, you realise: “OK I can’t afford another mediocre album.” I think I passed the standard sell-by age of most pop music quite a while ago, so the fact that I’m having my biggest hit now, I feel really lucky. You look at the biggest hits of the past couple of years – Daft Punk, Pharrell – it’s all about the same age, maybe there’s a little bit to be said for experience now.
You’re playing some massive festivals this summer, including Glastonbury. Why come to DXBeach?
Mainly because I’ve always had good gigs when I’ve played here. Dan Greenpeace [Dubai-based promoter and DJ] is a good friend and I trust him and he said: “Come out and it will be fun”.
Your 2010 album was called Record Collection. How big is yours and how do you order it?
It’s been pared down to maybe 8,000 records. I’ve probably lost a few thousand along the way – when Hurricane Sandy happened in New York, I lost some stuff in storage. I have it alphabetically by genre – so there’s reggae, R&B, house, all rock and soul goes together, and then hip-hop is probably the largest.
• Uptown Special is out now on Sony Music Middle East