Bruno Mars: Singing His Own Songs, At Long Last At age 4, Bruno Mars was delighting crowds with his "Little Elvis" impersonation. His success as an adult didn't come as quickly, but fame came calling after he produced several big hits.

Bruno Mars: Singing His Own Songs, At Long Last

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No doubt if you were flicking through radio stations this summer, you heard this song:

(Soundbite of song, "Nothing on You")

B.o.B. (Rapper): (Singing) Beautiful girls, all over the world, I could be chasing but my time would be wasted. They got nothing on you, baby...

SIMON: That's the hit "Nothing on You" by rapper B.o.B., featuring Bruno Mars, who also co-wrote the song. He's also written hits for Ceelo Green, K'naan and Flo Rida, but now the prolific music producer and singer is proving he's ready to step in to his own spotlight.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BRUNO MARS (Singer, Producer): (Singing) When I see your face, there's not a thing that I would change, 'cause you're amazing...

SIMON: Bruno Mars's debut album is "Doo Wops and Hooligans." And did I mention he's just been nominated for seven Grammys? He joins us from the studios of KUHF in Houston. Mr. Mars, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. MARS: Oh man, thanks for that intro.

SIMON: Well, it's our pleasure. Let's get the stuff about your name out the way first, can we?

Mr. MARS: No problem.

SIMON: Your birth name, I've read, was Peter Hernandez, right?

Mr. MARS: Yes, sir.

SIMON: How do we get to both Bruno and Mars? How do we get to Mars? Sorry, I just caught that. Practice, practice, yes.

Mr. MARS: My father named me - nicknamed me Bruno after a wrestler back in his day named Bruno Sammartino. I guess I was a chubby baby. So I've been Bruno, you know, ever since I could remember. My mother nor father never called me Peter. The Mars just kind of came joking around in the studio telling, you know, people I'm out of this world.

SIMON: You're only in your mid-20s, aren't you?

Mr. MARS: Yeah.

SIMON: But you've been working, what, since you were five?

Mr. MARS: No, actually, since I was four. I was doing Elvis impersonations.

SIMON: When you were four?

Mr. MARS: Yeah. The way that started off is my dad had this 1950s rock and roll show and my uncle used to come out and do an Elvis song. And I would watch the show every night and beg my dad to bring me up on stage. So finally one night he did and it was a wrap after that. I started dancing around and people were screaming and it had to be every night. So he started bringing me on stage every night until finally they worked a little segment out for me. My mom made me an Elvis outfit and I would go up there and do my thing.

SIMON: May I ask, Mr. Mars, when you dress as Elvis at the age of five, four or five, what can you possible dress up like for Halloween?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARS: Absolutely nothing. Really can't top that.

SIMON: Let's listen to "Liquor Store Blues."

Mr. MARS: My favorite.

(Soundbite of song, "Liquor Store Blues")

Mr. DAMIEN MARLEY (Singer, Musician): (Singing) All greetings to the world. (Unintelligible) Bruno Mars alongside (unintelligible). You know what I mean?

Mr. MARS: (Singing) Standing at this liquor store, whiskey coming through my pores, feeling like I'm running cold (unintelligible). Not OK 'cause (unintelligible). That's why you can catch me here trying to scratch my way up in the sky. 'Cause my job's got me going nowhere, so I ain't got a thing to lose. Take me to a place where I don't care. This is me and my liquor store blues. Take one drag off my pace, one drag off my sorrow...

SIMON: This is a tough song, Mr. Mars.

Mr. MARS: Yeah. It is a tough song. It's the drunk man's song. You know, the truth is that it'll never be OK tomorrow. That's just what you say when you're intoxicated, thinking that, you know, let me get this quick escape and I'll sort it out tomorrow.

SIMON: Damien Marley's on this song, right?

Mr. MARS: Yeah.

SIMON: What do you enjoy about collaborating with others, 'cause that's been so much an important part of your career, artistically and commercially.

Mr. MARS: First of all, it's very nice, you know, to have two different voices on a song, especially when you've got a talented kid like B.o.B. And with "Nothing on You," for instance, B.o.B. would start rapping and he would kind of come with a more aggressive flow, and by the time the hook comes on, I come with this lullaby hook and you just have such great contrast.

(Soundbite of song, "Nothing on You")

B.O.B.: (Singing) Everywhere I go, I'm always hearing your name. And no matter where I'm at, girl, you make me want to sing. Whether a bus or a plane or a car or a train, no other girl's on my brain and you're the one to blame.

Mr. MARS: (Singing) Beautiful girls all over the world...

SIMON: Who else would you like to collaborate with in the next few years if you could?

Mr. MARS: There's a lot of people out there. I'm a big fan of Alicia Keys, Jack White. But it's such a hard question for me because I love working with as much artists as I possibly can and especially different artists, like Jumping Around. 'Cause that's the challenge. You know, I'd love to say I wrote a song for Dolly Parton, you know, I did a song with Stevie Wonder. That'd be fun.

SIMON: By the way, we're speaking with singer-songwriter and music producer Bruno Mars. Let's listen to another song, if we can, from this album. This is "Grenade."

(Soundbite of song, "Grenade")

Mr. MARS: (Singing) Easy come, easy go, that's just how you live, or take, take, take it all, but you never give. Should have known you was trouble from the first kiss, had your eyes wide open, why were they open? Gave you all I had and you tossed it in the trash, tossed it in the trash you did. To give me all your love is all I ever ask, 'cause what you don't understand is I catch a grenade for ya. Throw my head on the plate for ya...

(Speaking) Heavy, huh?

SIMON: Yeah, it is. Not to mention the fact, you make it very bad for those of us who say something like, honey, I'd take out the trash for you.

Mr. MARS: Yeah, mine's a little more extreme than that.

SIMON: So what put this in mind?

Mr. MARS: Being young and in love. It's probably the worst feeling in the world, when you're deep and madly in love with a woman and you know she's not feeling you the same way and you don't know why.

SIMON: Well, being realistic, I'm sure that's happened to both of the young princes of England, and Brad Pitt, for that matter, but I'm just guessing you've - probably haven't gotten a lot of rejections in your life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARS: Rejections overall or just with women?

SIMON: Well, you know, it's interesting, because the next thing I had kind of penciled down to talk to you about was, I mean, you know, you're a fabulous worldwide success in your mid-20s, but you did have some rough years, I gather.

Mr. MARS: Yeah, that's right. I was signed to Motown when I was 18 and that was it. That's all that happened. I just got signed. And nothing was going on and I was waiting around at home and waiting for phone calls for the label to basically call me up and tell me, OK, you're working with this songwriter and they're going to write you a song. And then also at 18 years old I was such a baby. I don't know if I would've been taken seriously.

My voice is already high as it is on these records. I probably sounded like Tweety Bird or...

SIMON: Tweety Bird's had a very long career, you know.

Mr. MARS: He did have a long career.

SIMON: Can you still do Elvis?

Mr. MARS: You know what, man, I never could do Elvis. I never...

SIMON: Not even a thank you very much for us?

Mr. MARS: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MARS: I get this question a lot. Like, man, what is this thing with Elvis? Like I always tell people, what I like about Elvis is the same thing I like about James Brown, it's the same thing I like about Michael Jackson, the same thing I like about Prince. These guys back in the day would, you know, there was no smoke and mirrors. It was just raw talent and they would step out on stage with a three-piece band and command an audience. Talk about awesome.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Mr. Mars, it's been a real pleasure.

Mr. MARS: Oh, thank you for having me, sir. Good to talk to you.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. MARS: (Singing) Another pretty thing ready for me to grab. But little does she know that I'm a wolf in sheep's clothing, 'cause at the end of the night it is her I'll be holding...

SIMON: Bruno Mars speaking with us from KUHF in Houston. His new album: "Doo Wops and Hooligans." And to hear more songs by Bruno Mars, you can come to our music site,

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. MARS: (Singing) Run, run, run away, run way, baby, before I put my club on you. You better get, get, get away, get away, darling, 'cause everything you heard is true.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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