Mayer Hawthorne says that "I really feel like I found my own sound" on his sophomore album, "How Do You Do," which comes out today (Oct. 11). "I'm really excited for people to hear that progression."
Many fans, of course, might feel that 2009's soulful "A Strange Arrangement" was plenty distinctive. But Hawthorne tells Billboard.com that he found a variety of fresh directions and flavors to mine on the new set. "When I recorded 'A Strange Arrangement,' I had absolutely no idea what I was doing," explains the Michigan native, who returned to Detroit to record most of the album, then mixing and mastering it in Los Angeles. "I'd never really attempted to sing lead on anything, so I really think I found my own style of singing on this one."
And, he adds, "I really feel with the style of the music I found my own Mayer Hawthorne sound. It's still very soulful. It's rooted in soul music, but it incorporates all the other styles of music I grew up listening to and still listen to and love, like surf rock and Steely Dan and Frank Sinatra and New Wave music -- everything that influences me. It's all in there this time."
"How Do You Do" features a guest appearance by rapper Snoop Dogg -- "In a way nobody has ever heard him before," Hawthorne says -- on a track called "Can't Stop." Onetime Motown guitarist and "Scorpio" hitmaker Dennis Coffey plays guitar on "Stick Around" and "You're Not Ready" (Hawthorne sang a cover of Funkadelic's "Don't Know My Love" for Coffey's album earlier this year), while members of the singer's band, the County, "helped me out wherever I needed it." But Hawthorne himself played most of the instruments on the album, including guitar, "which was something I didn't do on 'A Strange Arrangement.' " He's started playing more guitar in his live shows as well and calls his white Gibson Les Paul "my new girlfriend."
"How Do You Do" also marks Hawthorne's major label debut, with Universal Republic. "I've always been kind of terrified of major labels, for good reason," he notes. "I was expecting it to be this huge change and that I was going to be walking into a nightmare, but it's actually been really amazing so far. I've been really surprised by how fantastic they've been to work with and how they've really trusted my vision. They're jumping behind me, and they really believe in what I'm doing. So I've been really happy with everything in that regard."
Hawthorne is currently on the road with Chromeo until early November and is planning "a course for world domination," including tours of Europe and Asia before coming back for a headlining run in North America before the end of the year. Some late-night TV is currently being arranged, and in the meantime Hawthorne reports that he's "halfway through my third album already."
"I'm just constantly working on new music," he says. "Just because an album is mastered and in the can doesn't mean we stop recording. Whenever we happen to have a few hours off we jump in the studio and do something new. It never stops."