Interview Mayer Hawthorne

A hip-hop producer turned soul sensation of 2009, Mayer Hawthorne is still surprised by the acclaim his classy first album, "A Strange Arrangement", received. While in Paris back in november, this proud Detroit representative shed some light on his astonishing transformation.

31/01/2010 | Interview by JB with contributions from Nemo | Version française

A: You started out as Haircut. Can you tell us more about it?

M: It's been a nickname of mine. This Mayer Hawthorne thing is very new for me. I've been Haircut for 15 years and Mayer Hawthorne for one. My parents still call me Haircut. The name came from when I was a toddler. I was two years old, my parents would take me to get my haircut and I would have a temper tantrum. I hated and I hated getting my hair cut. The only way they could get me to shut up and sit there was buying me records. That's how I started collecting records and deejaying.

A: What were those early records your parents would buy you?

M: They'd buy me 45 like Earth Wind and Fire's 'Let's groove', Blondie, Queen's 'Another one bite the dust', Motown stuffs like The Temptations, The Four Tops… The Cars, too. Whatever was popular at the time.

A: You have a long history with hip-hop, too…

M: Yeah, really long. That was my main focus even when I started making Mayer Hawthorne. When I started making soul music, it was like a side project and hip-hop was my main focus. But I love what I'm doing right now, Mayer Hawthorne is an incredible experience. I look forward continuing, I'm already writing songs for the next album. I'm having a blast. I'm still a hip-hop head, I still love to DJ and hopefully, I can keep making hip-hop music as well.

A: What has been your hip-hop career so far?

M: I started in a group called Athletic Mic League. We released, like, three albums in Detroit . For our last album, "Jungle Gym Jungle", we were signed to Barack Records, the same label as Slum Village . When AML started to slow down a little bit, I joined another group called Now On. We released two albums as well. Actually, the most recent album, "Tomorrow already", was just last year. It's something that I'm extremely proud of. With the last Now On album, I thought we really created a new sound that was still very hip-hop, very soulful, but it was new. It was like nothing I have never heard of before. That's a really difficult thing to do.

A: How did it sound? That's a tough question…

M: Yeah! I don't know anything to compare it to, you can only listen and see what you think. It's very electronic but it's very melodic. I sing a lot on the album, and that was sort of how I started singing more and more. That album really helped to progress into Mayer Hawthorne.

A lot of professional engineers would probably laugh at the way I record things, but that's the only way I know how!

A: Was it a natural transition?

M: Well, it's definitely not easy. But I feel I'm getting hanged of it now, I figured it out. I'm the kind of guy that just sits and experiment. I record everything at home, in my room in Los Angeles . I play something over and over again until it sounds right. When I was recording this Mayer Hawthorne album, I was still really figuring a lot of things out, and doing a lot of experimentation. I didn't really have a formula, now I feel like I sort of got it.

A: Are you frustrated of being successful with a soul album with you've been making hip-hop for so long?

M: In some ways it's frustrating that I worked for so long to make hip-hop and it was this side project that got all the attention. But I'm just as proud of my soul music as I am of my hip-hop project. Hopefully now, people will start to research the music that I made in the past. It doesn't matter to me, as long I'm able to make music for a living. That's the way it goes, you just gotta go with the flow. I'have already written songs for the next Mayer Hawthorne album, but I'm also making all kind of music. I'm working on that new wave album with 14KT, I'm also working on an album with Jake One and that's gonna be some totally different shit. I'm working on new AML and Now One albums, tracks with Snoop Dogg and Ghostface… I just did a track with Freeway for his new album…

A: You should produce a whole album with Ghostface, this would be crazy.

M: We talked about it, he wants to do that.

A: What's surprising is that the album has a very strong identity despite the fact that you recorded it at home. Are you a lot into hardware, instruments and stuffs like that?

M: I record, engineer and mix everything myself. But I only know what I know. I'm not a very knowledgeable engineer. I've never been schooled or anything. I just figured out on my own. I'm sure a lot of professional engineers would probably laugh at the way I record things, but that's the only way I know how!

A: You have the reputation of being a vynil-junkie. How big is your collection?

M: It's too big! Cause I'm running out of space for it. I need to move to a bigger apartment because I can't fit any more records in it. I have probably 6000 or 7000 records.

A: What is your favourite piece in that collection?

M: One of my favourite pieces is a copy of Sade's "Love Deluxe" on vinyl. This album was never pressed in the US . I think mine is a Korean press. It's just a record that not many people have on vinyl. That one was very hard to track down. That's a big one for me. But every record has a story. For me, it doesn't necessary have to be a valuable record or anything. The records I love the most are the ones that mean the most to me. I was digging in Cologne , Germany , with Peanut Butter Wolf and I found that record. I'll remember that forever.

A: You are a Sade fan, do you know where is she? [Ed's note : the interview has been made before the announcement of Sade's new album]

M: That's a good question, I wish I knew! We were just talking the other day about how there's sort of a hole now in music where Sade used to be.

A: What's your take on the whole debate between vinyl and Serato?

M: I use both. I'm obviously a huge lover of vinyl. I think everything sounds better on vinyl but I'm not afraid of technology. Serato is dope, it's incredible technology. I can show up in Paris with nothing but my laptop computer and DJ for six hours straight. That's an incredible thing. If I could spin vinyl, I would rather spin vinyl.

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