Published Oct 24, 2011Mayer Hawthorne hasn't been home for more than two weeks at a time in the past couple of years. An L.A. rental is mostly just "a storage facility for records," says the singer from a tour bus in the no man's land between Oregon and Northern California. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been living the good life, which for Hawthorne, involves a lot of food.
Man, mostly I've just been recording as much as possible and touring nonstop," sighs Hawthorne, born Andrew Mayer Cohen. "And eating as much good food as I can." From authentic Swedish meatballs in Sweden ("they were definitely killing Ikea's," he points out), to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives-sourced hash browns in Portland to one of the best meals of his life: coconut-glazed surubim, a Brazilian fish specialty. Describing each meal enthusiastically, Hawthorne's revelry in the spoils of a steady rise to fame is obvious.
In 2008, after moving to L.A. from Ann Arbor, MI, Hawthorne signed to influential, traditionally hip-hop label Stones Throw. After that, things fell into place for the affable, soul-styled singer who released his debut A Strange Arrangement in 2009. He went from performing on Stones Throw-branded tours – with scene heavyweights like DJ Peanut Butter Wolf – to opening for major pop acts like Bruno Mars, Amy Winehouse and, currently, Canadian funk playboys Chromeo. Next year, a headlining tour is in the works for Hawthorne and his band, the County.
But first there's How Do You Do?, the sometimes-tender, sometimes-arch new record, which improves on Hawthorne's Motown-informed cues. "I found my own unique sound on this album, which I'm excited about," explains Hawthorne, 32, who wasn't even alive during the prime of influences like Curtis Mayfield and Smokey Robinson. "I hate it when people say, 'Lets take it back to the good ol' days,' because I want to make the new good days. I'm a new artist making music for my generation."
Odd considering the indelibly vintage sound on How Do You Do?: a loose, fun, 12-song record, which tracks funky bass lines, fluffy '70s-ish knots of vocal harmonies, and breezy orchestral pop. But Hawthorne counters this by asserting that he strives to update all of his arrangements, written mostly on the road. "I've taken what I can from the classic heroes of soul and updated it with the music I grew up listening to and loving like Public Enemy and Juan Atkins and Cybotron."
Hip-hop was actually Hawthorne's first love, which makes sense given Detroit's nascent scene during his youth. "When I found my own voice in music, it was hip-hop," explains Hawthorne, attributing the soul influence to his father who still plays in a band in Detroit. He began to dig for the sample sources to his favourite rap songs. "The one that always sticks out is from Pete Rock and CL Smooth's 'Straighten It Out,'" he says. "The sample on there, 'Our Generation' by Ernie Hines, was killer!"
It's not that Hawthorne is trying to escape the blue-eyed soul clichés that dog contemporaries like Jamie Liddell or even Chromeo's Dave 1. "All I care about is that they're listening to it and talking about it," he laughs. And, to be fair, the crispy drums on album closer "No Strings" speak to his point, but it's hard not to get caught up Hawthorne's nostalgic swoon.