Mark Ronson interview: working with Miley Cyrus, turning divorce into disco, and his new album of ‘sad bangers’

"I’ll never be able to fully turn off the spinning disco ball in my head"

Picture Mark Ronson and your first thought probably isn’t a break-up album. The man who’s made his name filling dancefloors with bodies and tracks with triumphant horn sections might not be your go-to destination when you’re going through a brutal dumping. That, however, may be about to change.

‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’, the newly-released, Miley Cyrus-featuring single from the production whizz, is something of a left-turn. A country-tinged break-up anthem, it’s somewhere between the sad pop bops of Robyn et al, and a modern-day ‘Jolene’. It’s also the first release from Mark Ronson’s brand new album – a record, he explains, which is filled with “sad bangers”.

The full record might not be quite finished, but at a recent preview, Ronson dropped a few tantalising tips to what to expect. The record, written in the wake of a divorce Ronson went through last year, features a who’s who of powerful female talent – from Romy Madley-Croft of The xx, via Lykke Li, and newcomers like Yeba and King Princess. It shows a new, darker side to the man who brought you the Dua Lipa and Silk City late-summer banger ‘Electricity’, and – of course – ‘Uptown Funk’.

NME quickly caught up with the pop superstar to talk following ‘Uptown Funk’, and turning divorce into disco.

You say you’re not quite done with the album – how close are we to the finish line?

Mark Ronson: “I don’t really know! The Silk City thing was happening, we were doing some shows, I didn’t know when we were gonna put this record out. Miley was like, ‘November, let’s go’. So now I’m like, ‘Oh, I better go finish this thing!’ It’s good though, to have that kind of pressure. Sometimes I can just fuck around with, like, a snare drum, for three months. So I like having a fire under me right now.”

‘Uptown Funk’ was insanely popular. How do you follow a single that was that ubiquitous?

“That song was four years ago now, and obviously because I produce records for other people and write shit for other people, there’s been plenty of stuff that I’ve worked on since then. I guess, techinically, this is the follow-up to ‘Uptown Funk’, but it’s a different world. I love ‘Uptown Funk’, and I’m so grateful for all the shit that it brought – getting to the Superbowl, and getting videos from my friends of their kids [singing along] every couple of weeks – it’s amazing; that song is great. I think there was no… thing in my mind of, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta follow ‘Uptown Funk’. I think I fell into that trap with a few singles and shit that I put out since then, but this feels like a different project.”

Are there all female vocalists on the record?

“Yeah, there are. It just sorta happened that way. They were the people that I was working with and coming into contact with. There was no real conscious effort – I didn’t turn away any men at the door – it’s just how it turned out.”

It must lend a break-up album a bit more levity, having that contrast of male and female voices?

“Those were the people I was coming to around the time of this record, and they were going through similar shit. The last record was quite dude-heavy – you had Bruno Mars, Mystikal, Kevin from Tame Impala. There’s no conscious thing, it’s just how it turned out.”

Speaking of Kevin – how’s that Tame Impala record coming along?

“I’ve heard some shit and it sounded amazing – like that’s a surprise to anyone. It’s pretty mind-blowing and great. We have a song that we wrote together for my record called ‘Laurie’ that we’re working on.”

When did you decide to do a new solo record? You’ve got so many other projects going on.

“I think that, basically, I was working on it for a couple of years. As soon as ‘Uptown Special’ began to die down and we were done touring. Last year, while I was working on some stuff with Silk City and working on some stuff with Kevin from Tame Impala, I was floundering a bit. I was going through some shit in my personal life, and I was just a little messy and un-anchored. I was just throwing a lot of shit at the wall – I was starting to get a little removed from the music. I started to get to a point where I was in a room with some guy on a laptop and I was over his shoulder like, ‘Turn the hi-hat up.’ That isn’t what I do – for better, for worse, I’m the guy at the console fucking around. There’s been great people collaborate on this record with me – Jamie xx, Jae5 who did the J Hus stuff, and some other really great producers –  but I needed to get back to doing what I did. I think I was probably trying to make some fun shit and some club shit, but the only thing that came out of my fingers when I’d sit at the keyboard was something that had a little more emotion in it. For the most part, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s that fun music, with the horns, it makes you get up and dance!’ I think I locked into that new sound, and it felt really true and honest. This just feels like it a bit more… urgent, to me.”

Was it important for you to keep that element of dance in it? You could’ve sat down at a piano and written a bunch of break-up ballads…

“No, I don’t think anybody would really want that from me! I call it my ‘break-up album’, which sounds so nuts – that’s like saying ‘a librarian’s kegger’ or something – but look at the entire catalogue of Robyn and Drake, or emo dance music, or [The Communards’] ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ – you can go back as far as you want. I DJ, and I still want to go out and play these songs in the club, or at festivals and shit, so I’ll never be able to fully turn off the spinning disco ball in my head. It’s just a slightly different shade.”