by Ben Fuchs
Dunce Cap Quarterly caught up with emerging soul artist Mayer Hawthorne backstage after his raucous set at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Bowl last month. Two days prior, he and backing band The County had crashed the same venue to help The Roots close out their show immediately after playing to a full house at the new NYC Knitting Factory.
Lacking any sort of identifying credentials at the time, DCQ didn’t exactly get the Rolling Stone treatment: Hawthorne’s manager, the appropriately-monikered Big Worm, ushered us into some sort of murky boiler room, where he informed us that we had “two minutes” with the man (and he did, in fact, mean “two minutes,” looming over us, finger on watch). The resulting interview was not Bangs-worthy.
Hawthorne himself was gracious enough, a thoughtful crate-digger who had clearly been run through the media ringer during his first national tour with the project (he started out as hip-hop DJ Haircut). He took exception, however, at the suggestion that he was a retro artist — a legitimate gripe, though a tad ironic considering his Brooklyn Bowl set was a throwback, almost to the word, of the set he performed at the Knitting Factory 48 hours earlier.
Without further ado, then, our talk with Mayer Hawthorne:
DCQ: We’ve been following Stones Throw (Hawthorne’s record label) for a while. How did this happen? Give us the back story.
MH: I grew up in Ann Arbor, just outside of Detroit, and moved to Los Angeles about three years ago to pursue a career in hip-hop…and ended up becoming a doo-wop singer.
DCQ: How did growing up in the Detroit area influence you in terms of your music?
MH: Man, it had a huge impact on my musical tastes, you know, and just who I became as a person. It’s a hard-working, blue-collar community out there, and it instills a great work ethic and, you know, obviously there’s an enormous musical history out there that we take a great deal of pride in — from Motown to electronic music to Iggy Pop.
DCQ: Right. So you met Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf out in LA at a party or something, right? How did this all go down?
MH: I got introduced to him at a party by a mutual friend and I sent him some tracks, and he wrote me back like a month later and said, “Hey, these tracks are dope, but what the hell is this shit?!” And I said, “Well, (they’re) my tracks! And he said “Whaddya means (they’re) your tracks? It’s like an old record that you found?” And I said “No, these are my tracks — like I wrote them and played them and recorded them and played ‘em and sang ‘em…”
DCQ: He just couldn’t believe a white guy from Detroit came up with it, huh?
MH: He just couldn’t believe it, but as soon as he believed it, it was on and crackin’.
DCQ: Any collaborations with Stones Throw artists coming up?
MH: Yeah, I just did a cover of a James Pants song, and he covered one of my songs, and I’m getting ready to do a song with Dãm-Funk, and I think I’m gonna get a remix from Dãm.
DCQ: Who do you see as your contemporaries in the genre? I mean, obviously you’re a throwback…but who would you like to be compared with right now?
MH: First of all…I’m not a throwback artist. I’m a new artist (who) is living in 2010 and making new music for a new generation. It’s heavily inspired by classic soul and Motown, but it’s new music, and it’s also very hip-hop influenced (in that), you know, there’s just as much J Dilla in there as is Holland-Dozier-Holland. And, you know, as far as artists that I’m feeling right now, it’s mostly non-soul artists — like there’s a Norwegian singer-songwriter named Hanne Hukkelberg that I love right now. I really liked the Santogold album. Lykke Li. Uh, what else…and I listen to a lot of stuff like The Smashing Pumpkins and The Police and Steel Pulse.
DCQ: Gotcha. Well hey, thanks for your time, and best of luck in the future.
MH: Cool. Take care.