story / Heather Seidler
photographer / Justin Coit
stylist / Aubrey Binzer
hair + makeup / Stephanie Navarro @ Jenny Karl Hair and Makeup Agency
While most might know Samantha Ronson for her considerable skills on the turntable, her storied relationship with ex-girlfriend Lindsay Lohan, or for her famous family (superproducer Mark Ronson is her brother, twin sister Charlotte is a renowned fashion designer and her stepfather is Mick Jones from Foreigner) people might not know Samantha is also an avidly creative singer/songwriter/remixer and has been for quite awhile.
Regardless of what people think they know about Ronson from the headlines, the internationally recognized disc jockey is ready to prove what’s she’s really capable of and show everyone her serious musical stylings. A decade in the making, LA-based Ronson has just released her debut album, Chasing the Reds, a unique collection of solid pop-rock gems.
Ronson’s years of silent tolerance to misconstrued tabloid scrutiny hasn’t been an easy cross to bear, and every quid deserves a quo. With her new album, Ronson finally gets the last word, through heartfelt lyrics set against a slinky hybrid of grooves and sonically well-crafted melodies.
Ronson sits down with Ladygunn to have a sincere chat about her new record, media misimpressions, and what it was like growing up a Ronson.
Most people just know you as a DJ, which means they aren’t unfamiliar with the fact you’ve been song-writing for over a decade. In 2004 you had an album [on Rock-A-Fella Records] that got shelved, and it took you seven years to make this next album. Why now? I had just been travelling so much as a DJ, so I didn’t really have time. When I was home, I was just too exhausted all the time. Then I thought, “F*ck it! I should start writing songs again.” My manager hooked me up with a couple songwriters because I just needed someone else to motivate me to finish a whole song, as opposed to what I normally do, which is just half-finishing a bunch of songs. Then I realized I had ADD. [Laughs] With the business being the way it is these days, I didn’t want to ever put myself in a position again where I was basically stuck with someone else for a whole record, where you have no control of the product. So after meeting with different labels, I decided to put out the record myself. I spent every last dollar I had putting the team together and making the record. It was literally a money pit of life. I feel like Tom Hanks!
Tell me about the recording process and working with outside songwriters? I met up with a couple different songwriters—Jimmy Messer, who I ended up making the record with, was one of them. I liked him a lot. Even if I didn’t necessarily love [everything] he had, I ended up using it as an exercise. I’d play a melody on the guitar and then someone else would play it on the keyboard, and it just goes from there. “Don’t Want You” has to be one of my favorite songs on the record. When Jimmy plays it on the electric guitar, it seemed so masculine to me, and I didn’t want to write a rock record at first. The original concept of the record was going to be a love story. I was going to make a short film, and the music was going to be the narration without using any instrument post-1880s. But then I decided I love a good Wurlitzer. Then came the electric guitar. I just kept writing with Jimmy who eventually said, “It’s been six months. Let’s make a record.” I said, “Six months? It’s been eight years. F*ck it, let’s make it!” His studio was only three blocks away, so I moved my studio into the same building three rooms away.
I also worked with JC [Chasez] who I’ve known since I toured with him . He’s such a talented guy. The musician-ship on the record is really solid. I got some of the best players on my record. I’m proud of it, I think I made a great f*cking record. Why put in the work to write, create, and release a record if you don’t think it’s great? I worked really hard and put together a group of songs that are the best that I could ever do.
You worked with Slash [Guns’N’Roses] on a few songs, what was that like? Slash comes from that school of musicians who didn’t get into music to become rock stars. They became rock stars because they play guitar. But it was difficult because when he played for me, he turned a rock song into a ballad, and I was compromising what I wanted because it was Slash. I mean, come on! He’s such a f*cking lovely human being. He might be one of my favorite people in the entire world. He’s basically an exception to the rule. Usually, you don’t want to meet your idols because what if it turns out that they’re a dick? Slash couldn’t have been more nice, sweet, or humble. There are certain people who are so talented that you just have to wonder, ‘How are you so fucking awesome?’
Did your background as a DJ influence the direction or sound of your record? I think it’s more like my music influences my deejaying, because it’s so different from anything that I would play in the club. I would say that I wanted the record to sound like when you drop an AM radio into the ocean, but it’s still working. Or when you were younger and you would color a page with crayon and scratch out the drawing over the color. In the production aspect, my DJ influence came into play.
Did your stepfather [Mick Jones] have any influence on your decision to pursue music? My stepfather taught me music, and he’s f*cking incredible. Well, he wasn’t necessarily a teacher, but he would play a song and hand me the guitar and say, “Go.” I would say, “No, teach me.” And he would play the song again and hand me the guitar again. I had to have a really good ear to figure shit out just by listening. I have a generally photographic memory, so I would just watch his hands and know. I didn’t really start playing guitar until I was twenty actually.
My stepfather and I worked on a song together—it’s not on the record, I’m saving it for a B-side or something—he liked the way I played it better than the professional way because it had my swing to it. I like the shit to sound lo-fi. I didn’t want it all clean and glossy, but you can do that when you have musicians who are as good as they are. You don’t need to make it shiny in order for it to sound good.
With the album title Chasing the Reds is there any reference to Breakfast at Tiffany’s? In terms of the “Mean Reds”? Yeah, definitely. Also, “Chase the Reds” is actually a poem I’ve written. It’s like when you have a crush on someone and you want to follow them somewhere. It’s about being stopped at a red light, metaphorically, or chasing brake lights. When you’re chasing someone you know there are going to be so many roadblocks and that you shouldn’t be doing it. But you almost can’t help yourself. It’s like the universe is giving you four billion signs to turn around. You’re pulled over, and it’s raining. You don’t even necessarily want the person, but it’s the chase. Sometimes you even know they’re a terrible person. Chasing the reds is anything you do that’s self-destructive, but the attraction that goes along with it.
There’s this great quote from you that I remember reading where you said you hate playing for hipsters because when you DJ the Top 40 hits, they’re too cool to dance along, but when you play the more underground, indie stuff they still won’t dance either… It drives me nuts! I’m not catering to f*cking assholes with fake-vintage sweaters. I’ll be the first person to admit that I spend a lot of money to look like a degenerate asshole, but I don’t do it to look cool. I just like my vintage band tee-shirts and my fucked up jeans. Okay, so they’re Dior…I don’t f*cking care! I’m not trying to hide my wealth. I drive a Porsche. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t work for a living and that I don’t have nice things.
I just can’t stand posers. Maybe your hair looks dirty because you used that “Day-After” shampoo matting spray. I saw you at the same expensive salon I go to where we’re trying to get the same messed up hairdo. It’s like you’re trying so hard to be so different but you’re all the same. I’m down with anyone as long as they are who they are. I’m down with the cheesy club rat in the bikini top. Just do you. I’m all for anything that’s real.
What’s the biggest misconception the media has of you, and what’s something they don’t generally know about you? One major misconception is that I’m some spoiled brat that’s never worked a day in her life and sits around doing drugs all day. I never grew up poor, but I’ve been supporting myself since I was twenty. I haven’t taken a penny from my parents since then. Growing up, if we wanted more than our ten dollars a week allowance, we had to get a job. My mother wasn’t down with us being spoiled little rich kids. I’d borrow money from the other kids in class because my mother gave us enough money to get us out of trouble, but not enough money for us to make any trouble.
I feel like I’m such an easy target [in the press], and people just love shitting on me. I don’t respond to people because it just gives them what they want—attention. Do you know how hard it is to take the high road for so long? Because of it I’ve had eczema, panic attacks, I used to even get nosebleeds …I had so much anxiety in the recent past. I just thought, “I’m not going to get into wars with these people.” These people can say anything they want, but there’ll never be any proof to anything they say. If I had done drugs in the past, I would’ve been caught by now. Especially when my every move was tracked on camera because of dating Lindsay Lohan. I’ve never been caught because I’ve never done anything!
What most people don’t realize is everything I have, I got from working my ass off. Yeah, deejaying seems glamorous, but do you want to get up with me at 5am, catch a plane, try to squeeze in as much sleep as possible, which isn’t much, then DJ all night, go back to your hotel and try to get that small amount of sleep again, then hop on a plane again? I started off deejaying in New York from 10 pm to 4am for a hundred dollars a night, schlepping heavy -ass records everywhere. Kids now-a-days can use their iPods. People call me an iPod DJ, and I say to them, “Sit with me in the booth for one night and call me a f*cking iPod DJ.” There’s a reason I’ve been doing this for so long.
Do you have any plans to have other artists on your label [Broken Toy Records]? I just put out another version of “Chasing the Reds” where a hundred percent of the proceeds go to charity. I just want to be able to put out whatever I want whenever I want—get a hundred different artists together, you know. I mean this [album] is definitely the guinea pig, but eventually I’d like to be able to put together a well running label.
Since this is for our Obsession Issue, what was your first obsession? My Little Ponies. I had so many of them. I even had the Paradise Estate ones.
If you were a mad scientist and could invent anything, what would you invent? An airborne happy pill. What a great world would it be if everyone were happy? Well, you can’t have happiness without sadness. That would actually fuck up the whole balance of things. If everyone is happy that’ll just become the relative state of being—it would be the norm.