If there is one thing considered positive to have come out of over a year in quarantine, it's the do-it-yourself nature many people have adopted, brushing the dust off different gadgets they may have lying around the house, or clicking on applications they'd forgot they'd downloaded, and using them to craft something special.
Even Mark Ronson is impressed by what everyday people can do particularly with the music-making tools that have become so accessible to everyone. "The sample packs and the sound loops and stuff that they have on the new additions of Garage Band are incredible," the Grammy- and Oscar-winning music producer tells EW. "It's hard for me to listen to some of them and not just want to be like 'Damn, maybe this is a track on my album.'"
In the exclusive clip above from his new Apple TV+ docuseries Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson (out Friday), viewers actually get to see the host play around with that aforementioned technology more and more people are learning to use. The difference is, when Ronson gets his hands on a sampler, it only takes him a minute to make a bop.
Read on to see how Ronson figured out how to keep even casual music fans interested in the revolutionary technology used to produce the songs they love, which involves interviews with Questlove and Paul McCartney.
Joe Pugliese/Apple TV + Grammy winning producer Mark Ronson hosts a new show on Apple TV+ titled 'Watch The Sound.'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we fully dive into talking about your new show, I noticed that you've been doing quite a bit of press with Questlove lately, as he promotes Summer of Soul and you promote Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson. I know you two have had a long friendship, but have you guys found yourselves talking to each other more and comparing notes about your new shared experience of spearheading documentary projects this year?
MARK RONSON: You know, it's funny with Questlove because I mean, obviously I was a fan of the Roots before I met him. And especially coming from where I came from, playing music in a band when I was a kid, and then getting very into hip hop, when the Roots came along it was just mind blowing, like how is there a band this tight, this good? Obviously, that always starts for me with the drum at the core. So the first record I produced, [Everybody Got Their Something by] Nikka Costa, he was the drummer, and it's crazy at 23, the first record you produce, you're working with Questlove and the same musicians that play with D'Angelo. And then through the years I just have worked with him on different projects, but I've always kind of been intimidated by him because of his musicality. He can come across a little standoffish at first. And then, really in the last three or four years recording on the Yebba album, and on my last record, running into him we really started to bond and connect more, and it's lovely. He's the Oracle, you know, he is the person for our times, almost like the Leonard Bernstein, the person who's made great music, who could talk about great music, who makes things accessible, which I guess is something we're trying to do with our show Watch the Sound.
I was on [The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon] last night and Jimmy asked me about DJing because I hadn't DJed in a year and a half till really recently. And he was like, "What was that like doing that first gig?" I was like, "I still love it. It's still one of my first loves." And I asked Questlove right there sitting on the drum stool, "I mean, come on, you're an award-winning documentarian now and you're still on Instagram Live doing these sets?" He's like, "Yeah, I love it. It's instant gratification." So Questlove, just the fact that he's given so many great interviews — even on Watch the Sound. I don't think I've ever heard him tell the story before that the reason that he has his really amazing hip hop feel where he never changes the beat, where he can almost sound like a machine, which is one of the things that makes his playing so iconic and special, is because when he was a kid playing in his dad's doo-wop group, if he played a drum fill, his dad would find him. So it was like, "Oh man, I better just keep playing the same thing over and over again." So it's like, wow, even with Questlove, even with Sir Paul McCartney on this show, it's crazy these people are telling these stories that even I've never heard before, and I'm a big geek and like to read everything these people say.
So how did this show come about?
Well, when Apple TV+ launched, they came to me and said they really liked this TED Talk that I'd done on sampling. And I'm not putting my TED Talk up there with the best TED Talks, but what makes a good TED Talk is someone talking about the thing that they're passionate about, and their technology, but it kind of relates to everybody, or you can find yourself in it. And I was talking about sampling and some of the technology, but also talking about why "La Di Da Di'' by Slick Rick is a song that somehow has touched culture, from Miley Cyrus to the Notorious B.I.G. and everyone in between. And [Apple] said, "Can we do a show that's like that, that's about music and technology, but that everybody can watch an episode and go, 'Oh, that's how they made my favorite thing.' Or 'That's why the music that I love sounds like that,'" you know. So that's where we started out, and they put me together with Morgan Neville, who's a brilliant documentarian who made 20 Feet From Stardom and Won't You Be My Neighbor?, and he's just such a music fanatic too. And we started to talk and talk and be like, "How do we break this up into episodes?" And we arrived on reverb, distortion, synthesizers, autotune, all the things that we think we can talk about, the biggest breakthroughs in modern music, and why it sounds the way it does.
Do you as a viewer enjoy documentaries that make you interested in subjects you wouldn't have thought you'd be interested in before? I certainly didn't think I was interested in learning about music technology, but after watching the show I think there's a whole movie to be made about Wendy Carlos and her impact on synthesizers.
Right? It's true. And yes, definitely. Even when I saw the initial blurb for the show, when I saw the word technology, I'm like, Oh no, because I hate the fact that people can just see it and be like, "This is some kind of nerdy thing." Because it's not. And I guess if I could run around telling everybody sound is why you love "Pony" by Ginuwine, because that [opening] sound, Britney [Spears] "Toxic," those are sounds, that's why we love music. We love the singers and the vocals and the melody, but also these other things. We definitely wanted to make it for the people who love all these technologies and are fascinated by them, and make music every day. And then for, exactly, just people who love music. And I think that is the sign of great documentaries that I've seen. I'm not extremely passionate about high school basketball, but Hoop Dreams is one of the greatest docs ever. Actually that's the barometer of a great 30 for 30. I don't really know anything about long distance ultra marathons, but I'm just glued to this thing.
So you're right, the research team on this show found so many great stories that I didn't know. I didn't know why auto tune was invented. I didn't know that essentially, a trans woman was one of the main reasons that the Moog synthesizer became so amazing and popular, because Wendy Carlos helped Bob Moog make it more artist friendly. I mean, Suzanne Ciani, this incredible composer, made all those commercials in the '80s, where the Coke can would open, and it'd go like "gluck, glug, glug, glug, glug, glug." Those were all sounds that were designed on synthesizers. I didn't know that watching those things as a six year old kid. So there were amazing stories that even I didn't know before we started making the show.
Apple TV + Mark Ronson hosts 'Watch The Sound ' on Apple TV+.
Another great thing that you did last year was memorialize music icons and hidden figures through short Instagram videos. Do you feel that effort extended to the show? Was there somewhat of a goal of memorializing artists like Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain through it?
Yeah, I started making these things last year when the pandemic first hit, because a lot of us found ourselves with a bit more sort of extra time on our hands, and a lot of my favorite musicians were passing. I was like, this is crazy. There was one week where it was John Prine, Mike Longo (who played with Dizzy Gillespie), Manu Dibango, Adam Schlesinger. And I just thought, I love these people. My tribute is not going to be any more important or well edited than anything that anybody could make, but I feel like I just want to talk because I have a little sliver of this audience that might not know about these people and I can talk about it. And that's really all of it now, unfortunately. A lot of legends. Just look at the past year, I think Chuck D posted the list of all the rappers that had passed since 2021 started, and it's like DMX, Gift of Gab, Black Rob, Shock G from Digital Underground. It was just crazy. And a lot of people do know about these people because of their music, and it's great, but there are people that I think are really influential, really important and they affected me in some way, so I do like talking about it. I don't think I'm doing the world a service by doing it, but I just love to celebrate these people's contribution.
I found myself Shazam-ing the songs that played during the credits of the episodes, only to sadly see they're not out yet. Is this show going to come with an EP of those tracks?
Oh cool, yes there's definitely an EP coming with all the songs from the show, which is exciting, and I am proud. The songs were a bit of an offshoot. We didn't know when we were going to start [production] that we'd get a song out of everyone, but then these really beautiful songs would start to come about [from] these jam sessions when we were talking about reverb or drum machines.
Do you see yourself making more episodes of Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson?
It's hard to think of at this point, because we worked so hard on it, and it's just like at the end of whenever I finish an album, I've basically exhausted every possible idea I have and I can't ever imagine making another album. But then of course, three months go by and you're like, "Oh yeah, there's this other thing we didn't cover. And this other thing." So I love what we covered, I am so proud of the show and all the people that we talk to, but would I want to go talk to Mariah Carey about reverb, or Celine Dion? Of course. There's so many other great people and probably other sounds we haven't covered. So, you know, that would be great as well.
This interview has been edited and condensed.