Bruno Mars: Out of this world!
Having written, produced and sung on two recent worldwide smashes for both B.o.B (‘Nothin’ On You’) and Travie McCoy (‘Billionaire’), sweet-singing, Hawaii-born-and-raised man-of-the-moment Bruno Mars has additionally this month launched his own solo career big-time via the transatlantic chart-topping success of his buoyant debut single ‘Just The Way You Are’. Whose blend of heartfelt lyrics, instantly-haunting melody and infectious groove in turn makes for an ideal conversation-starter... As a beshaded, behatted and charmingly chatty Mr. Mars enjoys lunchtime drinks in the autumn Kensington sunshine with a similarly-beshaded-and-behatted Pete Lewis!
“Well, I’m a big fan of songs like Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ and Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful Tonight’ - songs that go straight to the point”, begins the mega-talented 23-year-old singer/songwriter/producer: “You know, there’s no mind-boggling lyrics or twists in the story - they just come directly from the heart. And to me ‘Just The Way You Are’ is one of those SONGS! There’s nothing mind-blowing about it. I’m just telling a woman she looks beautiful the way she IS - and, let’s be honest, what woman doesn’t wanna hear those lyrics?!... I mean, that’s why I’ve been singing those kinda songs to get girls since I was nine years OLD!”
“And because of what it says, it’s also a song that can help guys stop getting into fights with their girl!”, he adds knowingly: “Like you’ll be getting ready to go out to a movie and the girl will be in the bathroom doing their hair, putting on 10 different outfits... And the guy’s like ‘Babe, come ON! Let’s GO! You look fine with what you’ve got ON!’… And it can all escalate into one big old fight! So in that situation ‘Just The Way You Are’ is the ideal song for guys to dedicate to their girl! If they don’t know exactly what to say they can just play the RECORD!”
The current global breakthrough success of ‘Just The Way You Are’ meanwhile, is also setting things up nicely for the forthcoming release of 23-year-old Bruno’s debut album, the unusually-titled ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans’.
“Well, ‘doo-wop’ is s very special word for me”, explains an ever-personable Mr. Mars: “Because I grew up listening to my dad who, as a Fifties rock & roll head, loved doo-wop music. Plus doo-wop, again, is very SIMPLE! You know, I could get a guitar, play you just four chords, and sing a thousand doo-wop songs! Because they come from a time back in the day when there were no TRICKS! You just needed a beautiful melody, you needed a beautiful voice, and you needed to CONNECT! And because to me ‘Just The Way You Are’ just feels like it fits into that vibe, that’s where the ‘Doo-Wop’ side of the title comes in. But, while the ‘Doo-Wop’ part is for the women, you also have to remember that I’m a young kid who likes partying and who gets up to some riff-raff sometimes! Which is in turn represented by the ‘Hooligans’ side!.. So the title basically reflects that you get to hear the two sides of me on this one album.”
So what in general can we expect musically from ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans’? “Just an eclectic mix of music coming from my soul!”, replies Bruno without hesitation: “I know it sounds cheesy to say, but I really don’t like to over-think music! You know, I don’t make a song for the purpose of the radio or anything like that. I just sit down and write a SONG! And I actually think the beauty of ‘Nothin’ On You’ being a hip hop song, ‘Billionaire’ being a reggae song, and ‘Just The Way You Are’ being a kind of pop ballad is that it’s giving people a WARNING - in the sense of ‘I don’t know what Bruno Mars is gonna come up with NEXT!’... Because that’s what the album is ABOUT!”
“You know, I just do whatever FEELS right to me! And so that’s what you’re gonna GET!”, he adds enthusiastically: “So I have songs on there that just have an acoustic guitar; I have a reggae song that features Damian Marley; I have a song called ‘Run Away Baby’ that’s the show-opener - you know, that aggressive ‘Here we COME! Here we ARE!’ vibe... And then I have songs like (the next single) ‘Grenade’, which represents the OTHER side of love - where you’re in love with a woman and you know for a fact that she doesn’t love you the way you love HER... So yeah, I’m definitely hoping that I can gain some new fans who are just gonna invest their time in me and say ‘You know what? I wanna know what he’s TALKING about! I wanna know what he’s got to SAY! Because he’s all OVER the place, and to me that’s interesting!’!”
Born in October 1986 in Waikiki, Hawaii to parents of Puerto Rican and Filipino descent, Bruno - one of six siblings - grew up in a musical family (his father a Latin percussionist, his mother a talented vocalist), and from an early age began impersonating musical icons like Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson as part of his father’s local Vegas-style revue which featured the entire family.
“Yeah, from a very young age I remember watching the show and being completely fascinated!”, he recalls fondly: “You know, my uncle would be up there playing guitar, my dad would be up there conducting the whole show, my mom would be singing out... And I’d be like ‘I wanna go up there TOO!’! So, from the moment my dad started allowing me onstage, I became a ham - and just started loving the attention! You know, I remember being four years old and just loving the fact that people were getting a kick out of my Elvis impersonation! I may not have LOOKED like Elvis, or SOUNDED like Elvis - but because the crowd were lapping it up, in my mind I was doing something really BIG!”
Interestingly, Bruno also attributes much of his innate musicality and gift of melody to his Honolulu upbringing: “Yeah, everyone in Hawaii is really laid-back and happy and content with life - because everyone knows the BEACH is right outside! And so music is just in the AIR, basically! It’s just everywhere you GO!”, he explains with a smile: “You know, there’s always someone around with a guitar who’s ready to SING! Like you see these big, 200-pound Hawaiian guys singing in the sweetest voices EVER! I mean, you simply cannot go to a barbecue without someone playing the guitar and singing! And so I guess that’s how I became how I AM - just ready to sing and play at ANY POINT!... I mean, reggae is HUGE out there! And if you ever listen to Hawaiian music you’ll hear that, even if you can’t understand Hawaiian, the melody is INCREDIBLE! It’s just memorable, classic melody that, once you hear it, you’ll never FORGET!... So I guess growing up there did in turn play a big part in helping ME to write songs like that - with melodies that STICK!”
Meanwhile, it was after graduating from High School in Hawaii that an ambitious 17-year-old Bruno moved to Los Angeles, California in pursuit of a musical career. A move which would eventually bear fruit big-time several years later... When, after experiencing an abortive solo deal with Motown Records, Mars teamed up with friends Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine to form the production/songwriting team The Smeezingtons - with whom he very quickly got to craft such bona fide global smashes as Flo Rida’s ‘Right Round’ and K’NAAN’s ‘Wavin’ Flag’. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until earlier this year that Bruno’s actual vocal talents came to the forefront - when he additionally ended up singing the hooks on ultimately-world-conquering tracks The Smeezingtons were creating for B.o.B (‘Nothin’ On You’) and Travie McCoy (‘Billionaire)... Which in turn immediately led to his current solo deal with Atlantic Records’ Elektra label.
“Yeah, when I got signed as an artist to Motown Records around 2004, I don’t think I was READY! I mean, what the hell are you gonna talk about at 17/18 years OLD?!”, retorts Bruno honestly: “So, once I got released from the label and I was a couple of years older, I was like ‘Why was I waiting for someone to tell me what to DO? Why was I waiting for a producer to call me so I could get into a studio with him? I actually PLAY music! Let me just do this shit by MYSELF!’… So I met Philip Lawrence - an incredible talent - and we started a production and songwriting team together that we called The Smeezingtons. You know, because we were so broke back then I was like ‘I’m gonna forget the artist thing for the moment! We need to EAT! So for now let’s just concentrate on writing and producing and selling our TRACKS!’!”
“So the whole time we were writing and producing stuff like ‘Wavin’ Flag’ for K’NAAN and ‘Get Sexy’ for The Sugababes, we were just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that somewhere along the way the A&R executives were gonna listen to the guy singing on the demo of these songs - ME! - and be like ‘This guy is GOOD! Let’s SIGN him!’”, continues Bruno, now in full flow: “Which is exactly what happened when the label heard ‘Nothin’ On You’! You know, they were like ‘This feels GOOD! Let’s not try to find a big artist to get on the hook so it can get immediate mass attention. Let’s instead try and break both B.o.B AND Bruno with this record!’… And that, in a nutshell, is the story of me becoming the solo artist you see today!”
Meanwhile, with our pleasant and revealing chat drawing to its inevitable close, one last question remains… With Bruno actually having been born Peter Hernandez Jr., how, when and why did he become ‘Bruno Mars’?(!!): “Oh, my dad nicknamed me ‘Bruno’ when I was two years old!”, he laughs good-naturedly: “You know, I guess I was this chubby kid, and at the time there was this chubby (Italian) wrestler called Bruno Sammartino! So my name has been Bruno ever since I can REMEMBER! My mom always called me Bruno, my sisters always called me Bruno… In fact, the only place I was ever Peter was in SCHOOL - because that was my GOVERNMENT name! So in that way I guess I grew up like two different PEOPLE! Which may be why my MUSIC is all over the place - I’m just a confused PERSON!!.. And then the ‘Mars’ came about through a joke in the studio. One day I was in there messing around and just telling people ‘Hey, I’m outta this WORLD! I’m Bruno MARS!’!... And from that it just STUCK!”
Bruno supports Travie Mc Coy on his upcoming UK tour - Birmingham Academy 2 (October 18); Oxford Academy (21); Manchester Academy (22); Glasgow G2 (23); London Kings College (25)
Bruno’s single ‘Just The Way You Are’ is out now. His single ‘Grenade’ follows on January 10; while the album ‘Doo-Wops & Hooligans’ will be released January 24, all through Elektra/Atlantic Records
Words PETE LEWIS