At the age of 34, Mark Ronson  already knows what his epitaph will read. It's not that he's a morbid guy; he's just wryly aware of his musical legacy.
"At the end of the day, it will say 'producer' before it says 'artist,' " says Ronson, who has released two solo albums but is best-known for his turntable and production skills. "I was once known as a DJ and that will stick forever. I will always play in the dance tent at a festival-it doesn't matter if I start making polka or classical music."
Ronson's flashiest achievements-his production work with Lily Allen  and Adele , his 2009 "Britain's best dressed man" trophy courtesy of GQ and the throwback vibe of Amy Winehouse 's "Back to Black," which helped him earn the 2008 Grammy Award for producer of the year-have pigeonholed him as a stylish DJ who makes stylish, U.K.-friendly beats. The Brooklyn-based artist doesn't care if that perception never changes, but third album "Record Collection," hitting the United States Sept. 28 on RCA Records, is a conscious decision by Ronson to leave his comfort zone.
The Brooklyn writing sessions led to Ronson reaching out to an eclectic mix of veteran and fresh-faced collaborators. Boy George  lends vocals to the disco-baiting "Somebody to Love Me," while New York electro-pop group MNDR signed on for lead single "Bang Bang Bang" after meeting Ronson at one of his East Village Radio shows. Reclusive R&B singer D'Angelo , who shared the same manager as Ronson, also delivers a powerhouse performance on the synth-heavy "Glass Mountain Trust."
MNDR's Amanda Warner, who admits that she had never heard of Ronson before she met him, believes his production style is so effective due to a mix of his affable personality and precise musical vision. "He would send me an e-mail politely asking if Q-Tip  could rap on our song," Warner says. "But he's also challenging in the studio, where there were many parts that he wanted me to re-sing. Mark knows exactly what he wants."
One thing Ronson never thought he wanted was to add his own vocals to one of his songs, but he contributed to two album tracks: "Lose It (In the End)," alongside Ghostface Killah, and the title track with Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon. Ronson says that he didn't approach the album with the intent to sing, but that failing to find a vocalist for "Lose It" made him consider lending a "soft, '60s, Zombies-esque" hook for the song.
As for the title track, the Kaiser Chiefs' Nick Hodgson penned a set of sarcastic lyrics that gently mocked Ronson's jet-setting lifestyle: "I just got in from somewhere really cool . . . I'm not as clever as I thought I was." Ronson felt it was only right to handle the song himself.
"It wasn't like, 'Yeah, I'm going to sing two on this record, then five on the next, then you can file me under Ray LaMontagne ,' " Ronson says. "It was more of a happy accident."
CROSSING THE POND
A peak at Ronson's chart history reveals the divide between his pop-star profile in the United Kingdom and the United States. "Stop Me," a Smiths cover on "Version" that features Daniel Merriweather , peaked at No. 2 on the U.K. chart but could only muster No. 44 on the Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart. "Bang Bang Bang," from "Record Collection," sold 50,000 copies in its first week and hit No. 6 in the United Kingdom, but has yet to make a dent on U.S. radio.
Ronson, who splits his time between London and New York, says he isn't sure why his appeal has been limited to England but thinks his material might be "too weird or idiosyncratic for a massive American market." However, Smith says that "RCA is very serious about breaking Mark in the U.S. this time around," with TV and radio spots lined up for the fall and appearances at independent retail stores expected to coincide with the record release.
In the United Kingdom, Ronson performed "Bang Bang Bang" on British chat show "Friday Night With Jonathan Ross" last June and was spotlighted on the cover of NME magazine in August. Meanwhile, second single "The Bike Song," featuring the View's Kyle Falconer and Spank Rock , is being used as the theme for Transport for London's "Get Cycling" transportation campaign.
The Business Intl. will also bring a new twist to Ronson's live show, replacing the brass mainstays with a heavy dosage of synthesizer. MNDR, Greenwald, ex-Pipette Rose Elinor Dougall and Spank Rock will all be part of the first few shows on Ronson's tour, which kicks off Sept. 27 at Bristol's O2 Academy.
Aside from supporting his own material, Ronson will mix Duran Duran's album in September for a possible holiday release, while he hints that he might help out with D'Angelo's long-awaited third album . Allido Records, Ronson's record imprint/production company under Interscope Records, is also keeping busy with artists including Wale and Rhymefest .
Even if "Record Collection" doesn't help him rule the Billboard Hot 100, Ronson is fine with being pegged as a producer first, artist second in the United States for now. Just don't expect him to stay in the background forever.
"I felt like I made it when I was playing to 300 kids in hole-in-the-wall clubs, so I don't have any grand or outlandish dreams," Ronson says. "But the other thing is, I didn't have any real success until I was 31 or 32. Each little [achievement] might just be a baby step."
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