Published Jul 31, 2013Because he'd grown accustomed to wearing the creative and producing hats for his first two albums, soul-pop crooner Mayer Hawthorne tells Exclaim! that having someone like Pharrell Williams hold the production reins for his new album, Where Does This Door Go, took some getting used to.
"It's not easy for me. I'm a perfectionist. And I'm kind of a control freak in the studio," says the self-described "flashy but classy" singer-producer. "But, you know, if you're going to hand over the reins to somebody, who better than Pharrell Williams? It ended up making me a much better producer myself."
Produced in Los Angeles and Miami over a six- to eight-month period — recording "like, maybe 40 or 45 songs," says Hawthorne — the new 15-track album is a departure of sorts, he relates. Where it was formerly all about playing around with the Motown and vintage R&B groove Hawthorne loved and listened to growing up in Michigan, Where Does This Door Go leverages his eclectic musical tastes. A track like lead single "Her Favorite Song" (featuring UK singer Jessie Ware on background vocals) symbolizes the soul- and pop-influenced vibe of the project as a whole.
"It's a major shift," he says of the album direction. "All of my musical influences kind of shine on this record. I grew up listening to bands like the Cars, Steely Dan, the Byrds, the Beatles and all that stuff."
Recording with Pharrell also enabled him to focus strictly on his lyrical storytelling skills: "Pharrell wanted me to really focus on storytelling. He definitely had a big hand in the direction of the record. He was the one that really got me to focus on just telling the most vivid story possible."
One such story involved Hawthorne and his boys getting booked for drinking on a Malibu beach, he says with a laugh. The end result was "Crime," featuring Kendrick Lamar.
"I had gone to Malibu Beach with a bunch of my homies and we all got tickets, fined $300 a piece for drinking a glass of wine on the beach," he recalls. "I just thought that was the wackest shit ever, and I went in the studio to write the song 'Crime.' It was kind of my version of NWA's 'Fuck the Police.' I was just like, 'Kendrick is the only dude that could do this track and really take it to the next level.' Him being from Compton where NWA is from seemed like the perfect fit. And he killed it."
While he wouldn't let slip what the next album or single might be — "We haven't figured that out just yet; I think the people are going to decide that one" — he notes that it's just focused on pushing and promoting at the moment.
"I'm going to be touring all around the world and try to party with as many people as I can," says Hawthorne. "And eat as much good food along the way."
Hawthorne is in the midst of a North American tour, with Canadian dates in Montreal on September 5 and Toronto on September 6. You can see the complete schedule here. Where Does This Door Go is out now on Republic Records.