Progress Report: Mayer Hawthorne
Name: Mayer Hawthorne
Progress Report: The neo soul singer/producer checks in on a break from his US tour.
Last month we launched a partnership with Mayer Hawthorne for styld.by, a new online platform showcasing items from Gap’s Summer 2012 collection. For this final installment of our collab we caught up with Hawthorne to see how life on the road’s been treating him. Check out the Q&A below and click on the photo above for details on the threads he’s modeling.
STEREOGUM: Whereabouts in the world are you right now?
HAWTHORNE: I’m in Cleveland, Ohio. Home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
STEREOGUM: Have you actually been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
HAWTHORNE: I have, but it was on a school field trip when I was young. I went to school in Ann Arbor, not too far away.
STEREOGUM: I’m curious about it … in my mind I picture it being like a Planet Hollywood.
HAWTHORNE: (laughs) It’s a little step up from a Planet Hollywood. It’s worth a trip.
STEREOGUM: So, your record came out at the tail end of last year. How have the past few months been for you?
HAWTHORNE: It’s been incredible. I’ve been traveling all over the world, partying with people in New Zealand and Indonesia and Brazil and London and Paris … and now, Cleveland, Ohio.
STEREOGUM: Were you surprised by the attention the record received?
HAWTHORNE: I’m always surprised to find out that people are listening to my music. You know, I make music that I think is fun and I definitely don’t make music to try and be the most popular artist in the world … so whoever listens to it and loves it, I just find it amazing. I’m very thankful that I get to make music for a living.
STEREOGUM: Your record seemed to come along at just the right time. It’s gratifying to see so many mainstream artists — I’m thinking of people like Adele, Mark Ronson, Amy Winehouse — who are really embracing soul music in their work. It’s cool to see this very storied musical tradition re-embraced by pop music. You seem to do that in your work as well.
HAWTHORNE: Yes. You know, the only rule that I have when I’m making music is that it has to be fun. I think that’s the real secret to my success — everybody likes to have fun. It doesn’t matter if you are black or white or green, or if you are Cleveland or Paris, if you are 15 or 100 years old, people like to have fun. There will always ben an appeal for music that makes you feel good.
STEREOGUM: You wear many different hats — and have worked on many different kinds of records — how was the experience of making How Do You Do? Was it a tough record to make?
HAWTHORNE: Oh, not at all. Quite the opposite, actually. The first record I made — 2009’s A Strange Arrangement — was mostly made out of necessity. I made the kind of record that I would want to sample. I was mostly working as a hip hop producer at the time and I wanted to make a record of songs that I could sample for rap beats. I was starting to get sued for all these samples I was using, so I decided to make my own samples so I wouldn’t have to pay anyone for the clearance. This new record, How Do You Do, gave me the opportunity to make a record that was really me. It took into account all the different kinds of music that have inspired me along the way — from Iron Maiden and Gary Numan to Public Enemy and the Beach Boys.
STEREOGUM: The album clearly sounds like it was made by someone with a pretty panoramic knowledge of pop music.
HAWTHORNE: The main thing that I love about it is that it’s not retro-soul or throwback R&B or classic rock. It’s just me.
STEREOGUM: What has your touring situation been like for this record?
HAWTHORNE: I’ve got my usual band, The County, along with me, so it’s been great. Those dudes are the best, in addition to being the greatest musicians alive. It’s been amazing to go around the world and play music, since that’s always what I’ve wanted to do.
STEREOGUM: And your tour extends through this summer?
HAWTHORNE: We’ve pretty much been on tour for two years now and it hasn’t stopped. Thankfully we keep getting booked, so it doesn’t look like the tour will end anytime soon.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a sense of what you’d like to do next, album-wise?
HAWTHORNE: We still have a long long way to go on this How Do You Do world tour, so that’s still the focus. Honestly, I haven’t even begun to think about the next album … but, you know, I’m always writing new material and I’ve already written a ton of new songs since we’ve been on the road. I’ve stopped at studios in various places — Miami, Hamburg — anywhere I can work for a couple of hours and record. I’ve been working on songs for some films that are coming up and I’m always working on new material. We just released a new video today and we’ve already got another one in the can, so that’s exciting as well. Always so much to do, man!
STEREOGUM: How was the experience of making the video for “Henny & Gingerale”? It looks like so much fun.
HAWTHORNE: Basically we got together with Hennessee — who I didn’t have any relationship with when I recorded and wrote the song — and they basically reached out to us after they heard the song. We got together with them and just threw a giant house party and filmed it. It was shot in LA. We invited all our friends and threw a big ass party and filmed it. It was like a fantasy. I wish we could do that every week.
STEREOGUM: Do you get approached a lot to produce things for other people?
HAWTHORNE: I’ve gotten a lot of requests to write songs for other people and produce things for people, which is really a huge honor. I’m just so humbled and so excited. I like to work with people who are creative and exciting and who share an interest in moving music forward. Those are the people who I’m excited to work with.
STEREOGUM: How many people are in your touring band right now?
HAWTHORNE: There are four guys in my band right now. I actually prefer to have a small band, it makes it easier for us to play shows in places that we couldn’t if there were more of us. We can go and do shows in a lot of places where they wouldn’t be able to afford paying for a 10 piece band … and right now it’s all about trying to hit as many places as possible and put ourselves in front of as many people as possible.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned that you’ve been able to play all over the world for this tour, what have been some of the most surprising places you’ve visited? Or the weirdest?
HAWTHORNE: Indonesia has been really crazy for us. It’s a place that I didn’t know much about, but I’ve been there three times in the past year. Jakarta is the most densely populated city in the world and they really, really love music there. There is this kind of cultural awakening happening right there and it’s amazing to get to play there and be a part of it.
STEREOGUM: What happens next? Are you on a break right now?
HAWTHORNE: We’re right in the middle of our US tour right now and we are going to be playing some dates with Foster The People next month. Then I might take a couple of weeks off to see my family for a little while. Most of them are in Detroit and I don’t get to see them much … which is hard because they remain my biggest supporters.