On Sunday, August 4, I headed over to Guild Hall in East Hampton for a conversation hosted by Questlove with acclaimed DJ, artist, and Oscar-winning producer Mark Ronson as part of the “Midsummer Night Conversations on Creativity” series.
Questlove, the musical director for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” where his group The Roots serves as house band, hosts these conversations on creativity with special guests throughout the summer. The two discussed their creative process, their challenges, and stories from the road. The discussion was informative and always entertaining.
The two were asked questions about role models, and the first record that blew their mind. For Ronson, it was Stone Roses’ cover of “Fools Gold.”
“I have a long history of falling in love with the wrong album,” said Questlove.
“At least you don’t have to divorce an album,” answered Ronson.
“I love the records that were critically panned,” replied Questlove.
Both artists are known for their songwriting, performing, and producing, but both are also acclaimed DJs. “At the end of the day, it’s mainly because I love other people’s music as much as I love making music myself,” said Ronson.
“Remember the time we did a gig together and a fight broke out?” said Questlove. “You instantly played Bob Marley. I felt it actually helped because of the irony of blasting Bob Marley when someone’s getting their face busted in. I’ve used that trick before. I have my ‘uh-oh’ file. Yeah, you taught me that.”
They also discussed failures and accomplishments and gigs gone right and wrong. As part of the “Hamilton” team, Questlove had DJed the show’s cast party for the Tony Awards. “It was a big event and I prepared as such. I felt like this crowd would be super open to my experiments. I was playing television themes, commercials, songs from ‘Sesame Street.’ It was the best seven-hour gig of my life. They fell for it hook, line, and sinker,” he said.
“Then I tried the same exact DJ gig during the Obamas’ last week in the White House,” he continued. He explained how the room was filled with Sasha and Malia’s friends, who sat on the floor just not feeling it. Then the President came over and “tapping me on the shoulder, said, ‘You’re doing a good job, but they want to have fun too.’ I’m trying not to be freak out — the President of the United States is criticizing my DJing,” recalled Questlove.
First song in the transition? “I played French Montana. I was on my phone on Shazam looking at the top 10. Looking up songs kids like,” he laughed. He also mentioned that Bruce Springsteen was in the crowd and he shot him a look like: “You’re better than this?” said Ronson, jumping in to finish his sentence.
For Ronson, “I always wanted to make music, but DJing was a side career that took off. I was always a producer that no one knew about. I remember I’d be DJing Kanye’s Grammy after-party and he’d hit me on the mic — ‘This is Mark Ronson. He’s my favorite DJ!’ And I knew it was a compliment, but I’d be like ‘I just want to make music,’” he recalled.
“So, I’d been doing it for seven to eight years and my first success wasn’t until my early 30s. And I guess I thought nothing I did was going to be massive, so I might as well just make the s*** that I like,” he acknowledged.
“When I was working on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black,’ there was no massive expectation for her. Obviously, they wouldn’t have put her in the studio with me,” he said. “We made what we thought was good. So, when it came out and was as big as it was, I was more in disbelief.”
For more info, visit www.guildhall.org.