In the past few years, there is little about Samantha and her kin’s pedigree that has gone undiscovered. In addition to the shared surname, the siblings are all also intensely talented: brother Mark is a Grammy nominated producer, and twin sister Charlotte is a successful fashion designer. Then there is Samantha’s storied career behind the decks. In getting so caught up in the things one thinks they know about Samantha Ronson, there is a danger that one might miss one of the best parts- her lifelong love and talent of playing, making and writing music. The latest proof comes in the form of Chasing the Reds, her debut album out on her own label, Broken Toy Records.
Despite what people think they know about Samantha, it should come as no surprise that the studio is a second home to her, and a music career inevitable. Samantha fondly recalls visits to the studio with stepfather Mick (and Foreigner guitarist), where she would find herself endlessly absorbed with the realm of possibilities a room could contain. For virtually every experience she had as a child, there was an accompanying soundtrack.
But it was because of these early experiences that Samantha initially avoided a career making music. “I stayed away from it for so long, because when I was a kid I thought, ‘I’m never going to be better at it, so forget it.” Samantha’s foray into making and writing music was essentially accidental – a guitar left by her stepfather for safekeeping followed her to a few apartments, until one day she wanted to know how to play a song her friend was trying to figure it out. “Once I picked it up, that was it. That was pretty much all I did. I started writing my own songs,” says Ronson, which felt like a natural evolution from the self-described “depressed adolescent kid writing poems” she had been penning. From there, in 2004, Samantha played open mic nights, and soon found herself with both a producer – Duncan Sheik, and a record deal – with Damon Dash’s Roc-a-fella Records. Inauspicious timing and the dissolution of the label led to her first album Pull My Hair Out never being released, and Ronson found herself back where she’d started. “I began to DJ mainly so I could pay for my band, then I got really busy DJing and didn’t have time [for making music].”
Chasing the Reds is an album a decade in the making, created out of everything from journal entries to CNN headline news, and every interaction that’s happened in between. While years spent DJing could have garnered Ronson an advanced degree in what gets bodies on the dancefloor, Chasing the Reds is an album of the space between beats. “I do know what [songs] go well now, but I can’t sit in the studio and make that. I made a record of songs I like, that I’m happy with. I couldn’t have made a record of dance pop music. I would have killed myself,” says Samantha sarcastically.
Her humor – and more appropriately, her worldview – are all over her debut album. Wry observations and crystal clear scenes are rendered in a throaty vocal -- equal parts Debbie Harry droll, Joan Jett and Shirley Manson sneer and Sheryl Crow mellifluousness. There is a vulnerability to Ronson’s voice -- a product of the events that have occurred in her life, some of which have made it on to the record. Guest stars appear on the album including Ronson friends Wale on “Summer of Sam” and Alex Greenwald on “Captain Jack”. There is the machine gun stutter of “Skyscrapers,” a stunningly paced ratatat of Samantha speak-singing through an urban sojourn, a love song written over a decade ago for New York, co-produced by Mark Ronson. “A lot of the songs are based on heartbreak. I only write when I’m sad. When you’re happy, there are a million other things you’d rather be doing.” There is the steady ache of “Love Song,” featuring a guitar line courtesy of childhood hero Slash, a stripped down ballad born of excavated pages of Samantha’s journals. Album opener “Chasing the Reds” serves as an album mission statement, a jittery and taut rocker that owes as much to ‘70s punk as ‘80s pop.
“It’s about chasing after something you’re never going to get,” says Ronson of the title. “Whatever your thing that you’re chasing is, is what the red is.” With a new album, and a new focus, never has perpetual yearning sounded so good.