If you find the new Rufus Wainwright disc Out Of The Game (Decca) to be particularly fetching, not to mention full of pop and funk flourishes, some credit should be given to Mark Ronson. The DJ-turned-producer helped the estimable Wainwright untangle his occasionally convoluted tunes. He then took these beautifully-wrinkled shirts and smoothed them out enough to be bought by the mainstream consumer. We caught up with Ronson (okay, he called from Paris), to talk about Rufus, Amy, his Foreigner-leading stepdad, and a few other things. At least until those pesky roaming charges kicked in.
You certainly seemed to help Rufus make a pretty straight-ahead pop record this time out. Was that intentional?
No, not really. It was just about what I thought the record needed. Rufus was caught up in working on his opera [Prima Donna]. So, I had certainly had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to add to Out Of The Game.
Tell us about the gestation period, if you will?
Well, the time frame was unique for me. I listened to Rufus’s demos for a year before starting the record. What initially seemed daunting was… several tunes had time signatures that were complex. I began as a DJ, so groove is very important to me. I needed time to figure out how [Ronson and The Dap-Kings] could make the stuff flow. Luckily, Rufus wasn’t around too much. So I had time to arrange things.
I can’t get the song “Bitter Tears” out of my head.
Thanks. Well, it’s catchy, that’s for sure. That’s partly because of the synth stuff you hear which was inspired by [movie composer] Vangelis. People sometimes make fun of him because of the Chariots Of Fire score. But he’s done lots of cool, progressive stuff. And his music stays with you.
Have you ever asked your stepdad [Mick Jones of Foreigner] for any advice about producing?
No, not really. But I have watched him in the studio a bit. I think I just soaked some stuff up. And we did do a song together that’s on iTunes. He’s a really good producer.
Well he did do “Hot Blooded”—that’s enough for me.
Rufus mentioned Harry Nilsson as an influence. Were you aware of that?
Absolutely. He’s sort of been forgotten. But he wrote great songs and had the most gorgeous voice. His sound is in the record here and there. The beautiful voice contrasting with a sometimes sardonic background. That idea is a good one.
We were all so saddened by Amy Winehouse’s death last year. Were you hoping to work with her again?
Yes. We spent a little time together and talked about it. But, what little time we had, well, it was tense. She was in a bad state, God knows why. I think that the Adele thing had Amy freaked out. She liked her, but Adele’s success was making Amy feel upset, competitive, restless. Anyway, we lost touch briefly. And before she and I could really start the process of beginning a new album, it was too late.
Jeez. What else is on your plate?
Well, I’ve recently written some new songs with Andrew Wyatt of [the band] Miike Snow, so that’s cool. And…. [At this moment, there’s the sound of a door opening and a female voice calling hello]…Hey, my wife just walked in. We haven’t seen one another for a month. Would it be okay if we finished this up?
Yeah. It’s okay. I was young once myself, you know.
Rufus Wainwright performs at BAM tonight.