Mayer Hawthorne is, above all, a breath of fresh air. Taking cues from Smokey Robinson and other â€˜60s Motown legends, his music is a revelation â€“ it manages to reinvigorate the classic soul sound with a modern flavor entirely his own. With his Stones Throw debut, A Strange Arrangement, set to drop this fall, Hawthorne seems poised to take the music world by storm with his earnest, catchy songs and quirky individual style.
“My music is naturally reflective of the era that I grew up in. Itâ€™s definitely inspired by Motown and â€˜60s soul, but itâ€™s updated for a new generation.”
Format: Youâ€™re often pegged as â€œretroâ€, but there is something distinctively contemporary about your music. How do you take that timeless Motown sound and bring it into the 21st century?
Mayer: Well, I think it just happens naturally for me because I wasnâ€™t even alive in the â€˜60s. I grew up in the 80s, listening to hip-hop music. I think I didnâ€™t really have any choice in the matter. I could never create a strictly retro album because I wasnâ€™t even around then. I think my music is naturally reflective of the era that I grew up in. Itâ€™s definitely inspired by Motown and â€˜60s soul, but itâ€™s updated for a new generation.
Format: What is it about soul that captivates you most?
Mayer: Man, thatâ€™s a tough question. Itâ€™s always sort of resonated with me. I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s where I grew up, just outside of Detroit â€“ that might have something to do with it. Soul music is some of the most heartfelt music around. They call it â€œsoulâ€ because it really comes from the soul, and thatâ€™s why itâ€™s so powerful.
Format: Youâ€™ve said before that the legendary songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland is one of your greatest influences. When writing your music, is there anyone you consistently collaborate with or turn to, or is it strictly a solo undertaking?
Mayer: I wrote all the songs on the album except â€œMaybe So, Maybe Noâ€, which is a cover of a classic Detroit record, and I played the majority of the instruments on the album. I try to do as much of it as I can and it helps me to get the sound that Iâ€™m hearing in my head translated on the tape.
Format: I know you recorded â€œJust Ainâ€™t Gonna Work Outâ€ in your bedroom at home â€“ was that where you wrote and worked the rest of the album?
Mayer: Yeah, I recorded almost everything in my bedroom. I never sit down and try to write a song, they usually just sort of come to me when Iâ€™m like driving, or flying, or grocery shopping or whatever.
Format: Tell us about A Strange Arrangement, and what we should expect.
Mayer: Iâ€™m a super perfectionist in the studio, and I take the songs and music very seriously, but at the same time I have a lot of fun doing it and the album is a lot of fun. Itâ€™s definitely heavily influenced by classic soul and Motown, but it also sounds new. Thereâ€™s something on there for everybody, and Iâ€™m really excited for people to hear it.
Format: In addition to your solo work, you produce and record hip-hop beats. Do you think that side of your music will ever become more prevalent on your records?
Mayer: I think itâ€™s kind of already there. The hip-hop influence is definitely heavy on my album. Itâ€™s something thatâ€™s impossible for me to turn off because Iâ€™ve always been such a hip-hop head and Iâ€™ve been a hip-hop DJ and producer for most of my life. I think that element of it is always there for me. Iâ€™m still working on hip-hop music, too â€“ thereâ€™ll be more of that coming soon.
Format: Youâ€™ve also made a couple awesome podcasts for Stones Throw that are made to sound like vintage â€˜60s radio shows. How much fun was it to put those together?
Mayer: Those are a lot of fun, man â€“ I really had a lot of fun doing those. Hopefully I can keep doing more of them. They let me bring out a lot of the DJ side of me. It lets people that donâ€™t really know me find out that Iâ€™m actually a DJ as well and not just a singer.
Format: Are the retro commercials in your podcasts real or do you guys make them yourselves?
Mayer: [Laughs] Nah, most of them are actually real â€“ theyâ€™re just kind of collected from wherever I can find them. I recorded a couple little jingles myself, but all those commercials are real.
Format: For someone who never intended to be a singer, how weird did it feel for Peanut Butter to sign you after only hearing two songs, and getting praise from people like Gilles Peterson and Mark Ronson?
Mayer: Itâ€™s sort of like a fantasy land. Itâ€™s really been unbelievable. I never would have imagined in a million years that I would get to where I am today with Mayer Hawthorne music. At the time that I recorded the first two songs, I never had any plans to even record a full album of it. I was mainly just doing it for fun on the side as an experiment. Iâ€™ve had to kind of suddenly switch gears and really develop this Mayer Hawthorne style. Itâ€™s been a crazy experience, but itâ€™s also been a lot of fun.
“Iâ€™ve tried not to over think anything for this project and just do what comes naturally â€“ what feels right.”
Format: So everything sort of just happened naturally for you â€“ it all just kind of clicked.
Mayer: Yeah, I try to do everything as naturally as possible and just let it flow, because thatâ€™s how the first two songs came about. They just kind of happened. It was all very spontaneous, and natural and fun. Iâ€™ve tried not to over think anything for this project and just do what comes naturally â€“ what feels right.
Format: Youâ€™re known to be an avid vinyl collector. Any gems in your collection that youâ€™re particularly proud of?
Mayer: First of all, yeah, for sure â€“ I am a super big vinyl record junkie geek. I dig any chance that I can get. Iâ€™m always buying new records all the time, as many as I can get. Every record in my collection has a story behind it, whether its how I came across that record, or who introduced me to that record, or what I was doing the first time I heard that record. Thatâ€™s part of the charm for me and what makes it so endearing.
Format: Spoken like a true vinyl junkie.
Mayer: Yeah, itâ€™s hard for me to pick out individual records because there are so many and every one has a unique story, you know?
Format: Definitely. Outside of soul, whatâ€™s inspiring you right now?
Mayer: Ah man, I listen to all kinds of music. I really liked the new The Bird and the Bee record; I thought it was fantastic. Iâ€™m a really big fan of this Norwegian songwriter named Hanne Hukkelberg. Iâ€™m a big fan of what Dam-Funk is doing, and James Pants and the other Stones Throw Family. I still listen to a lot of hip-hop â€“ Buff1, whoâ€™s my favorite MC, just put out a great album that I love.
Format: How was your experience on the Stones Throw tour?
Mayer: It was an incredible experience. It was most peopleâ€™s first time seeing me perform, so I really got to see people react and respond to my music. I think in some ways it was even better for me than it was for them. [Laughs]
Format: For me, one of the most interesting about your music is that even though itâ€™s inspired by an earlier era, it still sounds completely fresh. I think thatâ€™s a big part of what people like about you.
Mayer: Well hey, thatâ€™s a good a compliment as I can get â€“ thatâ€™s all I can really hope for. Iâ€™ve tried to let this project develop as naturally as possible, so itâ€™s always amazing for me to hear that people really connect with it.
Format: Where do you think your career will take you next?
Mayer: Iâ€™m just really excited for people to finally hear the record. Whatever happens, Iâ€™m always going to be writing music, and Iâ€™m just thrilled with where itâ€™s taken me so far.