Back Issue__ Mayer Hawthorne Makes Love
Photos: Kenza Chaouai
About to embark on a tour of the US, we take you to where Mayer Hawthorne was first. hearty magazine presents Mayer Hawthorne's Firsts mixed by DJ Lady Sha. We all remember our first kiss, but what song will take you back there? Download the mixtape for free here.
With his Motown-inspired sound and wholesome, romantic lyrics, Mayer Hawthorne will transport you to a time of teenagdom past. It's 1964, you're cruising around in an Oldsmobile 442, and you can feel it coming--you're about to have your first kiss. You're at a school dance, scanning the room, ready to grab a partner and start jiving. Your family has sat down to dinner--Spam casserole--and your daddy decrees you are not allowed to date that boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan--just outside of Detroit, the home of Motown--channeling this sound came naturally to Hawthorne. He also spent a lot of time driving around in his father's car, listening to jazz and Motown. And while Hawthorne has neither the syrupy voice of Marvin Gaye nor the smoky chops of Teddy Pendergrass, he'll whisk you away with his modern take on their classic sound.
As a teen, Hawthorne was a self-proclaimed over-achiever. "I did really well in school. I was really into music. I played in bands--punk bands and rock and funk," he says. "Then I got really into hip hop when I was in high school, and I started DJing." He formed two rap groups, Athletic Mic League and Now On, and the latter of the two took him to Los Angeles, where he lives now. “It was hard to make a living out of Detroit; there’s a lot of amazingly talented musicians out there,” Hawthorne says. “But very few of them are making a living out in Detroit.” That said, he still carries a torch for his hometown. "Besides my family, who all still live there, I miss the record stores and the food" he says. "I miss Lafayette Coney Island. I miss chili dogs. You can’t get a good chili dog in L.A.”
Despite his newfound proximity to Hollywood and all of its chili-dog-deficient glitz and glamour, things didn’t go as planned for Hawthorne and Now On. Around this time, though, Hawthorne met the person who would change his path. "When I ran into Peanut Butter Wolf, Stones Throw [Records] was already very established as a hip hop label. And he was trying to move in a new direction, so he wasn't interested in hip hop, but he did really like some of these weird old soul demos I did in my bedroom." Peanut Butter Wolf--who founded Stones Throw in 1996--asked Hawthorne to create a whole album of the weird old soul demo stuff he had made for fun. "So I did it," Hawthorne says. "But none of us had any idea that it would explode like this."
Hawthorne's "A Strange Arrangement" LP led to touring all over the United States and Europe, selling out locations like Webster Hall in New York, and garnering attention from the likes of Ghostface Killah, who says Hawthorne's music is fire, and Rolling Stone magazine, which called Hawthorne's soul collection "jaw-dropping."
Marketing tactics such as pressing Hawthorne's "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" single as a 7-inch red heart-shaped record didn't hurt, either. Even his press shots play on the retro romantic sensibility; in one, Hawthorne is surrounded by hearts; in another, he wears a vintage red suit and is seated behind a piano. Hawthrone has also produced videos for tracks like "I Wish It Would Rain" and "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin." His outputs suggests it's all love, all the time, but is Hawthorne really the consummate lover? "I would say I'm a romantic guy, but at the same time, I'm also a very realistic person. I definitely live in the real world. There's a certain level of romance that is only in movies."
He definitely loves his label. Stones Throw is notably supportive of creativity and they essentially let him do whatever he wants, he says--which may be why Hawthorne is working on a variety of projects, from a new-age album with producer 14KT to a boogie funk album to a pop vocal record with his friend Sam Beaubien, who is "going to be arranging and conducting sort of Sinatra style--Michael Bublé, if you will, but cooler."
And while a lot of artists are having problems with their labels these days, Hawthorne respects his. "Stones Throw puts out music they just generally love, and they don't sweat it that hard, whether they think it's going to sell a million copies. I think that's why they're so successful." He also admires his label mates' work. "James Pants is one of my favorites. Dam Funk is incredible. Obviously Mad Lib is a legend at this point. And Guilty Simpson, that's my homie from Detroit."
In the '60s, Motown music brought people together, regardless of age or skin color. Influenced by the past as well as the present, Hawthorne hopes his music has a similar effect. "Definitely people my parents' age have a completely different reference point for it, but I think it affects people different ways, regardless of age, and the proof is in the pudding."
Hawthorne's shows attract a range of fans. "We have hipsters and grandparents and hip hop heads and indie rock kids, and they're all jamming to the same tunes." It really is all about the love.