Mayer Hawthorne: A Motor City Kid Looks To The Future The neo-soul singer, multi-instrumentalist, and Michigan native says Detroit's music scene has learned a lot from the city's auto industry.
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Mayer Hawthorne: A Motor City Kid Looks To The Future

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Mayer Hawthorne: A Motor City Kid Looks To The Future

Mayer Hawthorne: A Motor City Kid Looks To The Future

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Time now for music.


MARTIN: Mayer Hawthorne sounds like he might've been born in the wrong decade and maybe even the wrong city. The 32-year-old singer/songwriter channels some serious Motown vibes on his new album. It's called "How Do You Do?" It's a sound that feels like home to Hawthorne, even though he grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, not Detroit, with a bass player for a dad and an early kinship with the King of Pop.

: I was doing my own Michael Jackson concerts when I was 5 years old, so - and my dad taught me to play bass. He's a bass player. He stills plays in a band in Michigan to this day.


: And he taught me to play bass when I was about 6. And I used to just go to band practice with him, and whoever didn't show up for rehearsal that day, I would take their spot. So that was how I started playing all the instruments.

MARTIN: So I want to get into talking about the music a little bit. There's a lot of Motown coming out in what you make and...

: Yeah. Oh, yeah, for sure.

MARTIN: Yeah. The title of the new album is called "How Do You Do?" I want to delve into it a little bit. Let's listen to this track. It's called "A Long Time."


MARTIN: Some serious funk in there.

: Yeah. We get down, you know?


MARTIN: There's also this - I mean, there's some kind of classic, you know, Motown harmonies in there.

: I love the harmony. The harmony is my favorite part by far. And I do most of the backup vocals myself, and that's always, like, the most fun part for me.

MARTIN: Do you think a lot about how to take what Motown was and is and make it yours, make it different?

: Well, I've sort of taken the whole Motown assembly line aspect of it and just broke it down to the one guy, so...

MARTIN: What do you mean by that, the assembly line? That has very distinct visual images. You think about Detroit and making cars.

: Well, that was definitely a big part of the Motown formula was, you know, they took music and turned it into this sort of automotive assembly line, and they were cranking out, you know, 10 songs a day in that studio or more. I got a chance to work with Dennis Coffey on the new record, who is one of the original Motown funk brothers, and he was telling me that they had an hour per song...


: get a whole song done, you know? So they had to really crank them out. And they took a lot from Henry Ford and incorporated that whole automotive assembly line aspect to the music.

MARTIN: And so what about that did you wanna keep and what did you need to change?

: It's all about moving the music forward for me. You know, I don't want to take it back to the good ol' days. I want to make the new good days.

MARTIN: Hmm. I want to talk a little bit about your voice.

: Okay.

MARTIN: You know, it's a very distinct sound, and there are a couple of songs in particular where it's really highlighted. Let's take a listen to the song "Hooked."


MARTIN: I mean, I know the whole point of this is to move this music forward, but you just transported me back in time...


MARTIN: a good way.

: Well, that's definitely one of the most classic Motown style of songs on the new album.


MARTIN: Did you get any pushback? I mean was there anyone out there who said you do have no business doing this? You're a white guy from Ann Arbor.

: You know what? I thought that I would get a lot more of that, and I was worried about that at first. But I remember when I started recording the first album of "Strange Arrangement," I was in Detroit with a friend of mine, and he took me through to meet a man named Hermon Weems who was one of my heroes. He was a writer for Motown back in the day, and he wrote one of my all-time favorite songs which is D. Edwards' "Why Can't There Be Love?"

And I got a chance to meet him before he passed, and I played him a couple of the demos that I was working on for my new record. And I remember so vividly that he got up and started dancing in the middle of his living room. And he was probably, you know, 65 or 70 years old at the time. And that was the point when I really - I didn't care about that anymore.

I was like, if it's good enough for Hermon Weems, then I don't really care what anybody else thinks about it.

MARTIN: My guest is singer Mayer Hawthorne. His new album is called "How Do You Do?" So one of my favorite songs on this album is called "Can't Stop," and it features a cameo from someone you may not expect to find on this record. Let's take a listen.


MARTIN: A little Snoop Dogg.

: Yeah.

MARTIN: Snoop Doggy Dogg...

: Yeah. D-O double (unintelligible).

MARTIN: ...singing his heart out.

: Yeah.

MARTIN: How did this happen?

: It started with Snoop heard my music from one of his studio engineers, and he got really excited and called me on the phone. And he said, you know, he calls everybody nephews. He's, hey, nephew, I really like what you're doing, man.

MARTIN: It was a good - that was a good Snoop.


: That's as good a Snoop impression that you're going to get from me. But, you know, he was just one of the most genuinely cool guys that I'd ever come across in the business, and...

MARTIN: So you asked him to be on your new album?

: Well, he asked me to remix a song for him for his album, which I did. And then after that was in the can, he asked me how he could get on my album. And I told him, well, there's not really any rapping on my album so you'd have to sing. And that was kind of a loaded request, though, because when I'd hung out with him, he wasn't listening to rap music every - he was listening to classic souls. He loves that music, and he's always singing along with it.

So I knew that he would be able to do it. You know, any time I'm working with another artist, especially somebody as well-known as Snoop, I'm always trying to get them to do something different, you know, something that they're not used to doing. And I think we really knocked it out the park with that one.

MARTIN: You've done soul, jazz, hip-hop. Next album coming out, what are you going to channel to move the music forward for that?

: I think I'm going to do a heavy metal dub step flute record.

MARTIN: You're kidding me.



MARTIN: Although that'd be cool. That could be cool.


: I really try not to put any sort of rules on myself. And I'm going to focus on this record for a little while, and then whatever I feel like doing next is what I'll do. And, you know, hopefully, the label will still be behind me.

MARTIN: That's singer Mayer Hawthorne. His new album is called "How Do You Do?," and it's in stores now. Mayer Hawthorne, thanks so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

: Absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me.


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