Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1094

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Mayer Hawthorne: Retro Golden Mayer

Mayer Hawthorne -  Photo: Jake Michaels
Mayer Hawthorne -  Photo: Jake Michaels Mayer Hawthorne -  Photo: Jake Michaels Mayer Hawthorne Mayer Hawthorne

“I’m always just trying to create something that’s timeless. I want people to be digging for my records in thirty or forty years just like I’m digging for records from thirty years ago. That’s really the goal. I’m always trying to make something that’s new, but takes the best of what I’ve learned from those classic records that have lived on for thirty years. It’s just about creating something that can stand the test of time, you know...” Mayer Hawthorne on what inspires him musically.

Raised by musical parents in Michigan, the birthplace of Motown; it is easy to imagine that soul music was just in the blood of a young Andrew Mayer Cohan, who says he began collecting records before he could read the labels. Fast forward to present day and Cohan has morphed into a fully-fledged artist in his own right, performing under the name Mayer Hawthorne. With an innate sense of funk and groove, developed through listening to 70’s soul records, Mayer actually began his career in music as a hip hop producer and DJ performing under the moniker of DJ Haircut.

Upon discovering that creating his own original music for samples was easier, cheaper and ultimately more artistically fulfilling then just using snippets from old records, Hawthorne began the journey to becoming the singer, songwriter, producer that we know today. After hooking up with a collective of like-minded musicians called The County, Mayer hit the radar of State side music fans since the release of his stunningly soulful debut “A Strange Arrangement” in 2009. A Grammy nomination followed his album “How Do You Do”, along with other projects including Jaded Incorporated and Tuxedo, (a band Mayer formed with hip hop producer Jake One). Hawthorne later toured with Amy Winehouse and his last album, “Where Does This Door Go” co-produced by Pharrell, included the hit “Crime” featuring Kendrick Lamar. On his new studio album “Man About Town”, Mayer chose to work alone primarily producing and even playing all the instruments himself. “Athletic Mic League, Wow! You took it back with that one!” Mayer laughs referring to a hip hop crew he was a part of in his high school days. Well, I played most of the instruments on my first two albums so it was basically a return to that. On my last album, “Where Does This Door Go” I got the opportunity to work with all these incredible producers like Pharrell Williams, Jack Splash and Greg Wells. They did a lot of the heavy lifting for me. I basically just soaked all that up and tried to just learn everything I could from those incredible producers and I went back in on my own. It just feels more like me. I think when I’m playing all the instruments and producing it myself, you get the most authentic me. I was doing that on the first two albums but I wasn’t as good (laughs), I’m definitely better at it now”.

However, long before a studio session is even booked, Mayer has an innovative way of collecting song ideas: sending himself voicemails on his phone. But just like the rest of us, at times technology has let him down “Yeah, there’s been a couple of those. I lost a couple of things” he says with a smile. I figure the really good ones they either stay in my head or it wasn’t meant to be”.

For his latest single, “Love Like That” Hawthorne tweaks his signature slick production and integrates it with some 80’s synth pop. “Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really think about whether it sounds the seventies or 80’s or 90’s. To me it’s about making something that doesn’t have a period. The best music is when you can’t tell when it was made. I listen to a lot of records that where made it in the 80’s that sound like they could come out today and be brand new. Those are the best to me”.

“It was amazing, he’s an inspirational dude” Mayer continues, speaking of his experience with superstar producer, Pharrell. “The number one thing that I learned from Pharrell was his passion for making music. Even after all these years and with as many hits as he has, he still comes in to the studio every single day unbelievably excited to make music and it’s infectious. That’s something that I’ve been praying for... that I can keep the enthusiasm like he does”.

But with so many strings to his musical bow, could a cohesive project merging his hip hop persona, DJ Haircut (a name born out of his childhood hatred of going to the barbers) and the dapper gentleman that is Mayer Hawthorne ever see the light of day? “I do on every record that I make; I am incorporating elements of it. I can’t avoid it, it’s my upbringing. I grew listening to LL Cool J on cassette tape and Slum Village and NWA and Ice Cube so that is in every aspect of what I do. I couldn’t get away from that even if I wanted to.”

Hawthorne’s debut single “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” was a classic sounding breaking up song complete with vintage doo-wop style harmonies on the chorus. To capture public attention, the song was pressed on red heart-shaped vinyl “I’ve always been a big vinyl collector my whole life. It was purely just wanting to make something that would attract attention if you were walking by in a record store. I just wanted my single to stand out. Both of the songs dealt with love and heart break, so I said “why don’t we make it into a shape of a heart.”

Album “Man About Town” and single “Love Like That” are both out on April 8th through BMG Rights


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Words Karen Lawler

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