Say ‘How Do You Do’ to singer Mayer Hawthorne – USATODAY.com

Say ‘How Do You Do’ to singer Mayer Hawthorne – USATODAY.com.

Soul sensation Mayer Hawthorne’s latest album, How Do You Do, sounds like a stroll down Motown memory lane. But the 33-year-old singer dislikes being called vintage or retro.

Mixing the old with the new:Barry White, Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield are big influences for me,” says the Michigan native. “But I’m also a metal head. I was in a bunch of punk rock bands. The Bee Gees, hip-hop and the Beach Boys are just as much of an influence on me as Smokey.”

TalkingThe Walk: At first listen, his single The Walk, which has climbed to No. 3 on USA TODAY’s adult-alternative airplay charts, is in line with the fine tradition of Motown ballads. But the lyrics, about a bitter breakup, sound more tongue-in-cheek (think Cee Lo Green). “You won’t hear any screaming guitar solos, but there are little things, like, when I’m mixing my drums, I want them to be banging, like (the late hip-hop producer) J Dilla,” he says. “I make soul music for hip-hop heads.”

Whatever his formula is, it’s been working: His debut album, 2009’s A Strange Arrangement, garnered him a little attention. Ballad When I Said Goodbye was featured in the short film We Were Once a Fairy Tale, starring Kanye West as himself and directed by Spike Jonze. Another song, Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’, was featured on the fourth-season finale of Ugly Betty. And in August, Kanye gave him props via Twitter: “That Mayer Hawthorne album brings me back to that golden time in music.”

Soulful roots: There’s no denying that Hawthorne’s musical roots lie in soul. “I grew up in Ann Arbor, about 25 miles west of Detroit. And when you grow up in that area, you get a healthy dose of Motown automatically,” he says. “But I really got most of my music education from hip-hop. If I heard a sample from a track I liked, I’d dig around record stores to find the origins. I took everything I listened to and smashed it into Detroit soul. That’s the real me.” His father taught him how to play bass. “I was lucky to grow up in a musical household,” he says. “My dad still plays in a band in Michigan. He also has a huge record collection with all kinds of music.”

Surprise career change: “I never intended to be a singer,” Hawthorne says. With his seductive croon, that’s a surprising claim. “I was a hip-hop DJ most of my life and wanted to pursue a career in rap. The founder of Stones Throw Records (Hawthorne’s original label), Peanut Butter Wolf, heard my rap music and said he didn’t like any of it,” says Hawthorne, who is now signed to Universal. “But he heard some demos of my soul music — which I’d recorded in my bedroom, playing all the instruments — and he liked that.” Pleased to get the recognition, Hawthorne figured that the soul gig would be a little side project. “But my singing really seemed to connect with people, and it ended up as my main career, which I love,” he says. “I still DJ as much as I can. In fact, I’ve got six turntables here in my house, two in my case, ready to go.”

Inspirations: Motown legends and hip-hop artists aren’t the only sources that get this artist’s creative juices bubbling. “Beautiful women, too,” says Hawthorne, whose real name is Andrew Mayer Cohen. “In my line of work, I do meet my fair share. In fact, my stage name is my porn name: my middle name and name of street I grew up on. It works every time!”

Star turns: Lovely ladies aren’t the only people lining up to see the burgeoning star. Snoop Dogg also lends his prowess to a track, Can’t Stop. “When I work with other artists, I try to get them to do something that they aren’t known for or aren’t used to doing. So when Snoop asked me what he had to do to get on my album, I told him, ‘No rapping, you got to sing,’ ” says Hawthorne. “I think we knocked the song out of the park. He killed it!” In the future, Hawthorne hopes to work with more celebrities. “People might find this strange to hear, but I’d like to do a song with Justin Timberlake— he seems like he knows how to have fun. And I would like to work with Santigold; she’s amazing.”

Fond memories: “I was in this rock band, Athletic Mic League. There were seven of us and I was the DJ. One of the guys had a beaten-up Dodge Caravan that we called The Biscuit,” he laughs. “It was brown, rusted-out and had a hole in the floor. We’d all pile in, drive 11 hours to Minneapolis to do a show for $50 to split seven ways. I’ve been there.” So what’s he driving now? “It’s better than that.”

Next up: Hawthorne is busy promoting the album with his band. “We’re going on a How Do You Do world tour. We’re going to work ridiculously hard on our live show and spread the gospel where we can,” he says. “I’ll even go to Antarctica to play for penguins if I need to. The tour will take us through the year, and then, I’ll think about what to do next.” But he also plans to balance work with play. “I just want to have fun and party with everyone around the world. That’s the only rule, to have fun.”


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