It was do or die. My last album, Record Collection, hadn’t done well. And I really respect [RCA heads] Peter Edge and Tom Corson. I didn’t want to make them another quirky, eccentric album that they have no idea how they’re going to break. I wanted to deliver them this f—ing record so that they can have some ammunition this time. But I was surprised at every crazy notch that “Uptown Funk!” kept achieving. Anytime you’re doing something that sounds different, it’s a battle to get it through the door, but people just reacted to it. It’s a good lesson: Just do the shit that you really love, and make sure you make it incredible.
We didn’t take anything from [The Gap Band‘s “Oops Upside Your Head”] intentionally or unintentionally, but the “Blurred Lines” case just changed the nature of what goes on; it showed that it doesn’t matter so much if you break copyright according to the rule of the law. It was too risky. We made the song from such a place of joy and that’s what it brought to people, so to mar it in some kind of messy lawsuit, to poison the karma of the good feeling of that song, would have been a Pyrhhic victory. We did what we felt was right [and settled].
The highlight of my year was the Glastonbury Festival. I was like “F—, if I’m going to do this, I’ve got to pull off the best live show I’ve ever done.” We rehearsed our asses off — up until when I found out Bruno Mars wasn’t coming. I was in the pub with [XL Recordings owner] Richard Russell, like, “What am I going to do?” He says, “Let’s look at the lineup,” and starts reading: “Mary J. Blige, Grand Master Flash, George Clinton — that’s who you need.” I was like, “Holy f—ing shit. That’s the best idea ever.” I made some polite phone calls, and it all came together. We didn’t even get a rehearsal. Afterward I had a wild weekend reliving my 20s. Apparently I was walking around the hotel swimming pool naked.
It’s great to do these festivals and have people come to your shows, but I can still ride the subway with no paparazzi shaking down my door. I’m sure it’s different for Bruno. I was doing a photo shoot in February, and the photographer told me he didn’t really know who I was. He said his wife was like, “Who are you going to shoot?” And he said, “The white guy from the Bruno Mars video.” That’s about an accurate read on the whole thing.
On the other hand, I’m not gonna lie — when you have a hit record, your phone starts lighting up. I did a track for Adele’s album. I’ve been in the studio with Haim, Lorde, Royal Blood, Paloma Faith and Lily Allen.
It feels really good to be back in the studio creating. I consider myself a producer before an artist, so it’s weird for me to go out on the road and see my friends playing me shit they’ve been working on and I’ve got nothing to show for myself. I’m like, “What have I been doing for three months?”
*As told to Alex Gale
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of Billboard.