In an exclusive preview, the platinum hitmaker unveils his wide-ranging second album, "Unorthodox Jukebox"
It's a special day for Bruno Mars. In a few moments, he'll divulge details about his eagerly awaited sophomore album and declare his musical independence.
The heat is blistering this late September afternoon outside Larrabee Sound Studios in North Hollywood, Calif. Mars strolls in with carefree swagger, removes his gold-framed Aviators and pours a glass of orange juice. He plops into a chair in the lounge area that leads into the studio of engineer Manny Marroquin, the five-time Grammy Award winner who's mixing the retro-pop artist's edgy new album, "Unorthodox Jukebox," due Dec. 11 on Atlantic Records.
| Harper Smith
Bruno Mars + Billboard
The 10-song set is the follow-up to his closing-in-on-double-platinum 2010 debut, "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" (Elektra), which produced two Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 singles, "Just the Way You Are" and "Grenade." The indelible and dramatic pop hooks of those songs, along with his preceding vocal features on two Hot 100 top five singles-B.o.B's "Nothin' on You" and Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" (which he also co-wrote)-helped rocket Mars into global superstardom.
He's anxious for the imminent release of his energetic new single, "Locked Out of Heaven." It debuts digitally and on radio on Oct. 1 and becomes available for purchase the following day. With production by Mark Ronson, Jeff Bhasker, Emile Haynie and songwriting/production team the Smeezingtons (Mars, Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine), the track recalls the upbeat grooves of the Police. It's unlike anything heard from Mars to date. A music video was being shot at press time, but a premiere date hadn't been set.
This is a rare sighting of Mars (real name: Peter Hernandez), who's just two weeks away from his 27th birthday. For the past six months the Hawaiian native, who moved to Los Angeles about a decade ago, has been holed up in Levcon Studios. It's a cozy Hollywood recording spot he shares with Lawrence and Levine. Since hooking up six years ago, the Smeezingtons have not only written or produced solo hits for Mars, but also worked on an impressive list of breakout hits for Flo Rida ("Right Round"), K'naan ("Wavin' Flag"), Cee Lo Green ("Fuck You"), B.o.B ("Nothin' on You"), McCoy ("Billionaire"), Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa ("Young Wild & Free") and Bad Meets Evil ("Lighters").
On Sept. 19, Mars announced the completion of "Unorthodox Jukebox" to his 12 million Twitter followers. The message included a link to a hilarious FunnyOrDie.com video featuring Mars as everything from a dancer clad in gold hot pants to James Bond to the Brawny Paper Towel man, set to Salt-N-Pepa's "Whatta Man." Today is Mars' first interview about his new album, thus officially launching a still-developing promotional campaign that will dominate the next couple years of his life.
It's been a while since Mars last spoke to the press and beads of sweat are forming on his forehead. He's admittedly a bit rusty. "I don't know what to talk about because no one has heard anything," Mars says, pulling off his navy blue captain's hat and running his hands through his thick, uncoifed hair. "This is rough for me."
"I've had big record label presidents look me in the face and say, 'Your music sucks, you don't know who you are. Pick a lane and come back to us' … That was disgusting to me, because I'm not trying to be a circus act."
His thoughts could be muddled from lack of sleep. He was texting with Marroquin about fine-tuning some track mixes until 5 a.m. The singer recalls having to literally turn off the radio when hearing his song "It Will Rain" (written for 2011's "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1") because of his displeasure with the track's final mix. "I felt like I was a mosquito singing," Mars says with noticeable agitation. "I don't want that to happen again."
As the annoyance fades, a devilish grin creeps across Mars' face. He's finally found the proper words to describe the growth that's come with writing "Unorthodox Jukebox." He sits up from a slouched position and reaches for his American Spirits that sit on the coffee table. Pulling a cigarette from the half-empty pack, the artist begins to explain his musical liberation.
"This is me going into the studio and recording and writing whatever I want," Mars says confidently. "This album represents my freedom."
Mars isn't a stranger to rejection. Early in his career, he was signed to Universal Motown and quickly dropped after studio time yielded disappointing results. Since then, he's learned a few lessons and proved himself an undeniably talented singer, songwriter, producer and performer. A quadruple threat, Mars has earned the respect of his music industry peers and is now ready to unleash his full potential and blow some minds.
"I've had big record label presidents look me in the face and say, 'Your music sucks, you don't know who you are, your music is all over the place, and we don't know how to market this stuff. Pick a lane and come back to us,'" Mars says. "That was disgusting to me, because I'm not trying to be a circus act. I listen to a lot of music and I want to have the freedom and luxury to walk into a studio and say, 'Today I want to do a hip-hop, R&B, soul or rock record.'"
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